Prepping basics: How to build a pantry


A pantry is probably the most important prep you can do, it covers you against more scenarios than almost anything else you could do. If you have a well-stocked pantry, you're still going to be able to feed yourself if you lose your job, if you get snowed in, if a virus hits and you need to isolate yourself, you're even covered for a short period of time if the world actually comes to an end and you're waiting for your garden to grow or for community markets to start.

You don't need a huge pantry

First of all, don't go nuts. The important thing to remember here is that planning for an 'End of the world' scenario is pretty pointless unless you're also building up a ton of skills that will help you survive or joining a local community of like-minded people who have those skills and the willingness to help.

If you spend much time on prepper sites or groups, you see a lot of pantries like this one:

And that's great, I'm really glad they have all that but I can tell you now that a lot of that food will expire before it's ever used (even the guy in the video above admits he recently threw a bit of expired food away), many people think that tinned food doesn't go off but I promise you that it does, I've fallen into that trap myself and believe me, opening a tin of rancid chicken soup mixed with rust is not a pleasant experience.

People who actually doomsday prep are usually kidding themselves. Stocking your shelves with enough canned food to last a lifetime isn't going to help you even if there is an apocalypse and in reality, it's likely to just be a waste of food and money.

Also, if you're like me, you don't have a ton of space to dedicate to what essentially amounts to a warehouse of food in your home. A small pantry will do just fine.

Ok, so how do I get started?

First of all, you need to work out a few things.

  • How many people are in your household (don't forget pets!)
  • How much food does each person eat per day
  • What foods do/don't you like
  • How long do you want your emergency supply to last

This will help you to work out how to stock, your pantry. When I first started prepping and built my pantry up, I bought 2 huge trays of tomato soup but I'm not that keen on tomato soup so guess what else I ended up throwing away when the tins corroded. I also vastly overestimated my ability to eat tinned fruit regularly, we managed to get rid of those tins without wasting them but only because I knew someone who said they could ferment them, otherwise, they would have ended up in the bin too.

When building your list of foods, remember to consider food ingredients, a lot of people hear 'tinned food' and think only about ready meals which they may not like. However I often buy tinned vegetables as they are great ingredients in things like stews and curries, they taste the same and are often more nutrient-rich than their fresh counterparts.

Lastly, work out how long a supply you'd want to have to feel comfortable. We don't have children so for us, we decided that a 2-3 month supply of food and a 1 month supply of water (with enough collapsible containers in storage to quickly increase our water stores to 3 months if we need to) will be enough for our needs. Our justification for that number is this: We are terrible gardeners but we live next door to an allotment where we have a lot of people who are happily helping us to learn and would also be more than likely to start a community garden if the times called for it. We don't expect an overnight apocalypse to happen but if it does, our food stores will get us through the winter if that's when it happens. After that, we believe that with the help of our community, we'll be able to live off the land until local stores or markets start to return.

Buy in bulk but not for everything

Once you've got your list, it's time to head to the supermarket but here is where a lot of people make a mistake, don't stock your entire pantry in one shopping trip. Look for savings and offers, bulk-buy shops are often a great way to save a bit of money. Remember that you're not planning for an imminent disaster, if you are then you're not prepping, you're panic buying and that usually leads to food shortages and people taking more than their fair share. So just buy a few items that are on sale and only buy things in bulk when it makes sense. Most prepper pantries are filled over time by buying a little bit extra each trip.

Here's what I recommend bulk-buying:

  • Rice: If you go to an Asian supermarket, you'll get a sack of basmati rice for a really good price, bonus points if you can get it on offer, shops like Costco often also have good prices on rice sacks.
  • Pasta: You'll rarely - if ever - be able to get pasta as cheaply as rice but it is also available in very large sizes, again Costco is your friend here, they often have bags of 1kg or more for a very reasonable price.
  • Flour: The caveat here is hopefully obvious now, only get a lot of this if you will use it. We rarely bake so we don't buy this in bulk unless there is a really good offer and even then we get multiple small packs instead of big sacks of it, however, if you go through a lot of flour then this is a good staple to bulk-buy.
  • Sugar: Same as above but more people tend to use sugar
  • Tea and coffee: You can often save a fair bit if you buy your tea bags and coffee in larger quantities so it's quite an astute move.

Remember that with dry stocks like this, keep a small 'working' supply in some airtight containers and keep the bulk amount in airtight food-grade storage buckets, (I use these) and for extra protection, instead of putting them directly in the bucket, store them in mylar pouches with an oxygen absorber. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the pouches I use are not in stock, however, the oxygen absorbers are.

Otherwise, buy small amounts of everything regularly, operate on a variation of the rule of threes, three is two, two is one, one is none. For example, to me if I have less than ten tins of chopped tomatoes or less than 5 packets of spaghetti left in my pantry, it's time to restock as I'm likely to run out in the near future and that won't do. However, I eat tinned mince so rarely that I never have more than three in my store and I if I use a tin of it, I just always buy a new one to replace it.

I find it's practical to keep a digital shopping list near the pantry (we use an Amazon Echo but it can be anything you can share with your family.) and get everyone in the habit of automatically adding something to the shopping list as soon as they notice a dip in that items' minumum threshold.

Where should my pantry be?

It entirely depends on your circumstances. In my current house, I don't have a huge amount of room in our kitchen so when we had our boiler reinstalled, I asked the plumber to move it out of the kitchen boiler/broom cupboard and into the utility room. We then moved our cleaning supplies into the downstairs bathroom and built some shelves into the old cupboard.

In our old house - which was a rental - we had no spare room in the house at all so I bought some cheap garage shelves and stored my food in the garage. Fair warning though, if you do this, make sure you are aware of rodents and other pests, make sure all of your food is protected from entry by mice and wash your cans and bottles before use.

Cycle your stocks

It's a very good idea to keep your pantry organised and one day, that's a rule I will adhere to myself.

My pantry
Pictured: chaos.

However an organised pantry is one that is easier to keep track of, in an ideal world, you'd rotate your stocks so that the oldest stuff gets used first and the newest stuff enters at the back, for cans this is relatively easy to do and when I can find the time, I intend to build one of these:

By the way, the guy who makes this video, Steve Ramsey, is a fantastic YouTube teacher, he runs an online course called 'The Weekend Woodworker' and I highly recommend it if you want to brush up on your woodworking skills.

Pasta, rice and other stocks that you keep in a bucket can be a little bit harder to rotate, that's one reason I divide mine up into mylar pouches as then you can date each pouch and take them out in the correct order.

What about water?

Personally, I don't keep water in my pantry, I have a bottle cycling system, we have about 20 VOSS Bottles which we constantly refill from the tap, this for us was the best way to do it, we used to have a constant supply of bottled water that we bought from Costco but it was tremendously wasteful, not to mention a terrible amount of single-use plastic, so a year or two ago we decided to buy a crate of VOSS water in glass bottles when it was on offer, whenever it comes on offer again we buy a few more bottles, this is great as it means we have sealed bottled water in our stores and also a constant supply of glass bottles we can refill for our daily needs. These bottles usually live on top of (or in) our mini-fridge in our utility room depending on how hot the weather is.

It should be noted that this is our third attempt at a water cycling system but is the most successful, our 2nd attempt after the constant supply of plastic bottles was to have a load of smaller glass bottles which we still drank from but sterilised after every use. This was a chore and quickly resulted in a ton of glass bottles building up in our kitchen. Our current system has larger (800ml) bottles which we never directly drink from, this allows us to just constantly refill them, we only sterilise them every few months, which is a lot easier.

What about other products?

So to me, a pantry is for human food. We have a separate pantry-like area for the food for our cats and another storage area for non-food items. We keep a regular stock of toilet paper in our house which is delivered every 4 months from Amazon. We keep an eye on deals and will occasionally replace one of our regular deliveries with a bulk-buy of rolls which were on offer. Generally speaking, we probably have around 90 rolls in the house at any one time. Anything more than that is just a waste of space as far as I am concerned.

We also keep around 6 litres of thick bleach in the house, 6 litres is just because that's the volume of 3 large bottles and feels like a good amount, we usually dilute it to around 1% strength and store it in a few bottles under our sink so 6 litres will usually last us for about a year (if not longer), which is more than enough for us.

We also keep a rolling stock of things like Soap and toothpaste in a cupboard under our bathroom sink, usually around 10 bars of soap and 5 tubes of toothpaste. We also have a pack of spare brushes under there too.

Otherwise, that's pretty much it.

Article author: Merdok