How to Stock A Pantry for the First Time

Ever wonder how to stock a pantry for the first time?  Does it seem so daunting that you never get started?  Let me show you how to get started and on your way to a fully-stocked pantry, the easy way.

black and white photo of man planting garden

For most of history, families made stocking their pantries a priority and for good reason!

They wouldn’t be eating in the winter time if they didn’t!

Long before the first grocery store came into the American lifestyle in 1916, folks were responsible for feeding themselves!

This was accomplished by hunting, fishing, gardening and canning!

vintage poster grow your own vegetables

Also, during WWI and II, growing your own food at home became an even more critical task.

Our soldiers abroad were given priority in terms of canned food, and so Americans were encouraged to grow what was termed “Victory Gardens”!

Dig for victory garden

Food was grown everywhere, from hillsides to empty city lots!  Wherever there was dirt, you can bet that food was being grown.

Small livestock like rabbits and chickens were often kept for meat and eggs.

Being in control of your own food supply is so empowering! 

Keeping a stocked pantry in your home, so that you don’t have to run to the store every time you run out of something, is not only wise but will save you money in the long term.

Having your own well-stocked pantry is worth its weight in gold!

Situations when a pantry can be one of your greatest assets are :


*Job layoff 

*Severe weather


*Food shortages


Frankly, one of the reasons I keep a large pantry is because I don’t enjoy grocery shopping!

succession gardening

I grow as much as I can for the family and look for great bulk deals to stock my pantry.

We also raise chickens for meat and eggs.

I can meat and keep it in my pantry, and keep meat in the freezer too.

You can stock your pantry however you see fit, at your stage of life and level of gardening experience.  We’ll cover how to do that in a second.

stock pantry under staircase
                                                                Source: Pinterest


closet made into first pantry


Where Can I Put My Cheap Pantry?

But first things first…where will you keep this pantry?

While it’s nice to have a pre-built pantry area, it is not necessary in order to create your own pantry.

My first pantry, in a small rental home, was in a dark space under some steps of a home built in the early 1900’s.

cinder blocks and shelves for pantry

I made some make-shift shelves with old lumber and cinder blocks, and it worked well!

Everything from storing food in an under-the-bed storage box, to cleaning out a small cabinet or closet, you can store food just about anywhere!

There are a few conditions that are necessary for food storage.

  • Your storage space needs to be dry, not damp.
  • Dark is better, but definitely not exposed to full light all the time.
  • The ideal temperature is between 50-70 degrees.
  • Air circulation is important as well.

jar of peanut butter

How to Stock a Pantry for the First Time

I’m a big fan of “low-hanging fruit”.

In other words, don’t make this harder than it has to be.

Think about a few products that you eat a lot of and grab one or two extra containers when you’re shopping.

You can even budget just $5 each week (or  more if possible) and take advantage of loss-leader sales to stock your pantry.



$5 per Week to Stock a Pantry 

A quick way to jump-start your way to first pantry is to make a list of the top 10-15 shelf-stable items that you use consistently and look for the best prices on those items, either at your regular grocer or as a loss-leader.

Using just $5 (or more as you can afford it) a week, buy each item(s) and check them off the list, until you’ve purchased the entire list.

By filling in the above form, you will be able to see how long it will take you to buy the whole list.

$5 is just a beginning, find $10, 15 or even $20 extra in your budget by cutting back other places to fund your pantry!


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woman shopping grocery sales for pantry

Stock a Pantry with Loss Leaders

Every Saturday, I look for the upcoming week’s grocery ads on-line.

Meijer has great sales in my area, Aldi does as well.  

I look for those items that my family eats frequently, and when I see them on sale, I stock up!


Some weeks, I might see pantry items like canned vegetables and beans on sale.  This is the time to grab a case or two.

Take advantage of grains with a long shelf life like white rice, oats and pasta.

When you arrive home, make sure that you store them properly in air-tight containers.  Otherwise, your food will spoil and do you no good at all.

Other weeks, I might see a great deal on fresh produce like tomatoes or other fruit.  Here’s an opportunity to score a case or two and bring them home to can!  

We love home-canned tomatoes as well as homemade jam!


How to Can Tomatoes for Beginners

How to Make Easy Pineapple Jam


Peanut butter is always a good, all-round favorite, and it’s usually pretty cheap pantry food.

Then squirrel your extras away in your new pantry.

Boom.  Instant success.

organize a pantry

What Should I Stock a Pantry With?

Great question!

Let’s begin with what NOT to stock your pantry with.

  1.  Do NOT stock up on foods that your family isn’t familiar with, regardless of how cheap it is.
  2.   Don’t stock up with foods that you don’t eat on a regular basis.

18 Cheapest Foods to Shop for When You’re Broke

stock pantry with family favorites

Stock Your Pantry with:

  1.  Family favorites that you found a great deal on.
  2.  Pantry basics like flour, sugar, yeast, baking power and soda.  These staples will allow you to make bread, pancakes, muffins, cookies, etc. easily.
  3.  Foods that tend to have a long shelf-life.  Always look at the expiration dates!
  4.  Foods that are easily eaten, like soups, crackers, canned beans and pasta, etc.

Long-term, I suggest that you create a list of what your family enjoys eating and look for low-cost ways to consistently stock up on those foods.

I tell people to go and open your cabinets, with a pen and paper in hand.

Make a list of the top 10 foods you consume every week.  

Here’s a possible list:

  1.  Oatmeal
  2.  Coffee
  3.  Sugar
  4.  Peanut butter
  5.  Rice
  6.  Canned soups
  7.  Canned fruit
  8.  Canned vegetables
  9.  Flour
  10.  Cooking oil

Now that you have your Top 10 list, start looking for sales at your favorite stores on these items.

As you see sales, stock up on these items as you can afford it.

How to Take Advantage of Grocery Store Loss Leaders

groceries to stock pantry

How Will I Afford Extra Food?

You might be on a tight budget and not be able to see a way to buy extra food right now.

Everyone has fat in their budget.

I have yet to meet someone who couldn’t squeeze $5 extra dollars out of their budget to buy an extra jar of peanut butter.

At the end of the day, it’s about setting priorities.

Maybe you’ll choose to forego that latte.

Or maybe pack your lunch instead of eating out for lunch.

Skip the movie this weekend and take advantage of the loss leaders at your favorite grocery store.

How to Find Extra Money in Your Budget

Stock a Pantry for the First Time:  Should I Use Coupons?

There are those who swear by coupons.

I used to be one of them, about 20 years ago.

The coupon industry has changed considerably since then and in my opinion, there are no real deals to be found at this point.

Coupons are directed at “key” items than manufacturers want to promote and rarely offered for basic pantry staples.

Don’t waste your time.  

There are plenty of sources that offer cheap, nutritious pantry food.


Stock Your First Pantry at Bulk Food Stores

Here in Ohio, we have Costco and Sam’s as our primary big box stores.  Sometimes they have good deals on foods purchased in bulk, but you need to do your research.  

Bigger does NOT mean it’s cheaper.

Another fabulous way to score bulk food is at an Amish bulk food store!

If you are fortunate enough to live near an Amish community or store, take advantage of it! 

You may need to drive a bit, but let me tell you, it’s worth it!

The food is usually very fresh and good quality….and cheap!

Here’s an Amish store locator and another Amish store list.


What Are Some Other Sources of Free or Discounted Food?

Depending upon where you live, most towns have grocery stores that offer deeply-discounted food.

Here in Ohio, stores like Aldi, Sav-a-Lot and Big Lots have great deals on food and make it easy to stock that pantry on the cheap!

Start.  Just start.

Your pantry doesn’t have to be perfect.  Just take it one day at a time and add one thing at a time to your pantry, on the cheap!




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