Some of my best memories growing up were being allowed to join my nan in the kitchen to discuss dinner, and maybe even to do a little bit of cooking myself. Nan’s pantry sat under the stairs, with a row of jewelled Kilner jars (long before they became trendy) wedged in the sloping section. Apples, cherries, gooseberries, green beans: if she could grow it, she’d can it. The potatoes sat in a big sack at floor level, onions alongside, and the remaining shelves had serried ranks of packets and tins.
As we lived in the middle of nowhere, with no access to a car (Dad took it to work, and Mum walked four miles in the other direction to get the bus to her workplace), there wasn’t an option to nip out to the shop. So Nan had a plan, and she shopped carefully every Wednesday when the market bus took us to the nearest small town.
The concept of an emergency stash or store cupboard has now become slightly tainted by the thoughts of Extreme Couponing, and the Doomsday Preppers series on tv. While you might not be preparing for an apocalypse, the potential for any number of personal situations arising where a store cupboard could ease your mind is great. From illness to job loss, whether yours or someone else’s, it’s helpful to know you have back up. When I fractured my arm in three places this time last year, it was good to know there were easy options so that I could fend for myself while husband worked a twelve hour shift.
A store cupboard can also see you managing your money more effectively. Not everyone has the space to store extras, of course, but if you do, then why not stock up using offers when they are available. I never buy my favourite coffee at full price, for example, because I have space to store a couple more jars until it’s on offer next time. That’s £1.99 a month straight back in our kitty.
How To Create Your Store Cupboard
So here are some pointers to think about when creating your store cupboard.
Store What You Use
This is not the time to take a punt on something you will stare at in the cupboard, let the corners of your mouth drop, and decide to order take out. Buy what you know you love, or take a tester can/jar/packet home and try before you buy in bulk.
In the same way, buy to support the ingredients of your tried and trusted favourites. My summer love is a Tex-Mex salad, stuffed with black beans and corn. So my store cupboard staples for that are tinned sweetcorn, tinned black beans, squeezy lime juice (not as fun as fresh, but good enough in a salad), chilli flakes and jar or packet olives. Veggie chilli needs tinned tomatoes or passata, red kidney beans, frozen vegetables and possibly frozen veggie mince. Both dishes need vegetable or olive oil. So that’s the start of my shopping list.
Use What You Store
It may look very pretty, but it’s there to be used. There’s no point in storing those useful bargains and then never eating them. Rotate your incoming buys to be aware of shelf life, and keep a running list of what you need to replenish your stocks.
Buy On Offer
Building longer term stocks gives you the opportunity to buy on offer more often. In fact, I’ve just been through my last shopping delivery note, and more than half the products I bought were on some kind of discount. While this may reflect the way supermarkets now manage their pricing, it’s nevertheless a bonus to know that I am refusing to pay more than is absolutely needed. Despite that, there are some fresh items which are rarely on offer and still find their way into my basket. You’re unlikely to be able to dodge paying full price for some items.
Plan for Promotions and Weather Changes
There are a number of things to watch out for. If, like us, you’re managing around food allergies and intolerances, be aware of awareness weeks, and anticipate discounts at that time. I’ve stocked up on free from cereal during the recent Coeliac Awareness Week, and that will keep me breakfasting twenty per cent cheaper for the next few months. If it’s been unseasonably cold, you could find a whole lot of BBQ items on discount, and suitable for freezing. You might get lucky on yellow stickered goods at any stage, although it’s important to consider if you would really use the product.
A Well-Stuffed Store Cupboard
I’ve set out my suggestions for a well stocked supply cupboard here. Do bear in mind that this needs to be adjusted for what you actually need and use. There’s no point in having more expensive packed lunch options if you all work from home, for example, nor buying a whole lot of worthy items, when in a crisis you’ll be reaching for instant food.
How Much Do I Need?
You don’t need to do this all at once. If you can find a little extra money each week, then build your stores a little at a time. But I can tell you that there’s nothing quite like the relief of having something less to worry about when you are unexpectedly skint, ill, or able to help someone else in need.
Start by aiming for a week in hand. Depending on where you live, that could be plenty. We could probably make it through without shopping for more than a month here, although we’d be eating interesting – or not – combinations towards the end.
What should I store?
This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, just a starting point to get you thinking about what you need.
- Washing up liquid
- Washing powder
- Cling film and foil
- Sandwich bags
- Kitchen roll
- Loo roll
- Cleaning products
- Flour (if you cook)
- Sugar (ditto, or for drinks)
- Tea or coffee
- Salt, pepper
- Herbs and spices you love. For us, that’s garlic powder, smoked paprika, chili flakes, oregano, thyme.
- Baked beans
- Beans: kidney, black, butter
- Chick peas
- Tinned fish or meat if you eat either
- Bread (to freeze)
Fruit and Vegetables
- Potatoes (store in the dark)
- Tinned fruit and vegetables you know you like in that form (for us that’s sweetcorn, pineapple, rhubarb and cherries in jars). In fact, a lot of fruit and vegetables in jars seem to taste better than tinned to me.
- Vegetables (we store mixed carrot, peas, corn and green beans, plus chopped onion, separate peas and corn)
- Fruit (mixed berries, mixed tropical fruit here)
- Veggie mince or mince
- Any other protein sources you love. We keep fish pie mix, fish fingers, falafels and veggie burgers
- A couple of ready meals (if you’re unwell and alone, this can be really helpful)
- Up to you, but if some ready made custard, a pack of biscuits or an emergency chocolate stash is going to make life happier, go to it!