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The Pantry Principle or Some Reasons Why I Don’t Plan Menus

People are always talking about menu plans.  Making them for a month, checking them before going shopping, how wonderful they are, and so on.  They say menu plans save time, money, and energy.  I’ve thought about it (rather defensively, I admit), and have come up with some reasons why we do not make menu plans.

  1. We have freezers and a pantry, stocked from our garden and from sales, and we keep staples on hand.  If a necessary ingredient is not in the house, we substitute something else for it.   In over twenty years, we’ve only gone to the store a dozen or so times just to get an ingredient for a special recipe we’re cooking.  Because we eat the sales and things we grow ourselves, this is a huge money saver.  Of course, I make sure to stock the staples:  gluten-free flours, spices, baking soda, rice noodles, oats, dried beans, cocoa powder, oil, and tinned fish, getting them on sale whenever possible.   We don’t need to plan ahead to make sure we have the ingredients; we almost always do…like my mom, Amy Dacyczyn, and the Salatins.  This is called The Pantry Principle and it’s flexible, stress-free, and a huge time, energy, and money saver.
  2. If we bump into discounted produce at the store, we buy it.  That could easily change a whole week of menus.  For example, a few weeks ago we found 6 enormous cauliflowers at an amazing discount.  We ate cauliflower soup twice that week.  Yum!
  3. We like to cook according to the weather.  On warm days we like cooler foods; on cold days we like soup or something nourishing.
  4. Sometimes my husband comes home with some special treat he wants to cook…or at least eat.  We can be flexible.
  5. My kids cook, and I want them to have some say in what they make.  In fact, I want them to take ownership of their weekly supper and plan it on their own.  That does occasionally lead to repeat suppers, like spaghetti-from-scratch  every Friday, but we’re fine with that.  Occasionally the children will request a special ingredient for their next week’s supper turn, for some special event, or for a baking splurge.
  6. I have a few quick and easy meals to make when I have no energy; we rarely feel the ‘need’ to go out for supper.  Having a menu planned would make no difference to us in this regard.

Of course our methods would not work for everyone, just like menu planning does not work for everyone.  And there are seasons in everyone’s life.   When I was gardenless, in charge of 21 meals a week,  and busy with a handful of little ones, I did need to have some vague idea of what we would eat for the next few days.

However, after reading so many menu-planning posts, articles, and book chapters, I think it’s time someone pointed out the benefits of the pantry principle in home organization.  It saves our family huge amounts of money because we grow food, shop sales, and preserve food.  It saves us time because we never have to rush to the store for a missing ingredient.  It saves energy, because there’s always something healthy and delicious that we can put together.  And we avoid the stress of putting together a menu and tweaking it daily, as our family would end up doing.  I tried menu planning and it didn’t work for usThis does.

In conclusion

  • If you make menu plans and that’s working for you, that’s fine.
  • If you don’t make menu plans and it’s working for you, that’s fine.
  • If you do (or don’t) use the pantry principle, that’s fine.

But if you’re always scrambling for meals and find you’re wasting time, food, money, or energy with your method, then you might want to rethink what you’re doing.

Shared at No Ordinary Blog Hop, Encourage One Another Wednesday, Women Living Well Wednesdays, Works For Me Wednesday Simple Lives ThursdayRaising Homemakers, and Frugal Friday.

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22 Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    True, true, true! I make a menu suggestion or list of meals I have on hand and then we pick from those to fit the whim of the moment or what’s going on that day. I may write a plan for the week, but it never turns out that way, but I am OK with that as I go into it knowing it’s a sketchy plan at best. I am usually the one with strong food preferences. The husband and kids just And it boils down to how it works for the individual. Just like cleaning routines and laundry days.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, just like cleaning routines and laundry days. 🙂 Good point.

  2. Becca says:

    I do plan menus, but often I make a plan that requires no new shopping, because we keep a lot of food on hand and stock up on whatever’s on sale. I plan no more than a week in advance, usually only 3-4 days.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, if you keep food on hand, you can plan so you don’t need to go out shopping. I like that.

  3. I really LOVED this post. You dis-cribbed what we do in a nutshell. And yes it was fine time that you did share the pantry method. It is a very good method indeed. [o= Well said!

    Blessings and ((HUGS))
    -Mary

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thanks, Mary!

  4. Elise says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one! I gave menu planning an honest try, but it just didn’t work for us.
    We also use the “pantry principle” although i’d never heard it called that. 🙂

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, I, too, felt like the only one who had tried menu planning but not gotten it to work. Different people are different, and what works for one family will not necessarily work for another.

  5. JoAnn says:

    We don’t use menus like I use to, and I guess we sort of use the pantry method, though we don’t grow our own things. I guess we do an in between the two. 🙂

    1. Annie Kate says:

      That’s a great way of approaching things! 🙂

  6. Jamie says:

    I do monthly menu planning & it works great for me. It saves the wondering of “what will i make today?”. I am flexible with the menu though & change it up as I go.

    I agree with all the reasons you listed & they all describe me but for me that is all the more reason to menu plan. It saves time & money & stress.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      You know, I think for some people planning causes stress, and for some people it saves stress.

      This also seems to be true for menu planning, daily schedules, homeschool planning, and housecleaning.

      I’m glad you’ve found what works for your family.

  7. Kim says:

    There are many ways to tackle the issues of running a household, and I appreciate your take on the pantry principle. While cooking with a group of women once a month sounds like fun (I used to run an inn with my family, and we would cook breakfast as a group), I think that at this season in my life, where my hubbie and I are pretty much empty nestors, the pantry principle is probably the better solution for us. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I was a fan of Amy D. very, very long ago, and had completely forgotten about it.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Oh, that sounds interesting, cooking with lots of women once a month! It must have been a lot of fun.

      Yes, I think that you probably need to rethink everything when you become an empty nester, just like you do when you first get a baby. I hope that the pantry principle will work for you.

  8. christinemm says:

    I don’t plan menus either. Could never put my finger on why. Now I know. We have a stocked pantry too. Until the recent move we had a full freezer and 2 fridges, one a sub zero, whose vaccuum system keeps food a long time (deli meat from grocery = 10 days).

    We also shop sales.

    We buy in bulk at Costco and Restaurant Depot also to save money.

  9. Annie Kate says:

    Yes, if you have a pantry, life is much different.

    According to Salatin, eating from your own stores is the historically normal way to live, barring famines, etc. (http://anniekateshomeschoolreviews.com/2012/03/review-folks-this-aint-normal-by-joel-salatin/) I find it fascinating how many ways we have become an abnormal society, depending on fossil fuels (transportation) even for the basics such as next week’s food.

  10. Yes yes yes!!! I’ve been seeing so many posts about menu planning, and feeling guilt about it, like I’m somehow being a slacker. Menu planning worked great for me when I had no kids and my husband lived at home and didn’t commute for work. Now that I have a 4 year old, an 8 month old and my husband is gone for a week at a time, it does NOT work. Why would I plan a meal nightly when it is just for me and my preschooler?

    I have been living the Pantry Principle but didn’t realize there was a name attached to it. It just works so much better. I love being able to be flexible for all the reasons you stated, AND I feel so much more prepared in case of.

    Thanks for the great post.

  11. Lee says:

    I do menu plan, but I’m pretty loose w my plan. Do you keep a running list of potential meals, or are you pretty good at putting that together? I try to put together a list that has the stuff that is going out of date so that I don’t waste it. I am no good at lookin at food in fridge, freezer and pantry and “waving my wand” so to speak. :). Glad you have a way that works for you.

  12. […] all of this seems a little overwhelming, at least consider the Pantry Principle, as wonderfully explained over at Tea Time with Annie Kate, self-professed non-menu […]

  13. Bugs says:

    Hmmm, I’m probably halfway between the two. I do menu plan, but we pretty much eat the same things, so it doesn’t really look very different to when we weren’t menu planning. I just probably have a better idea now. We often don’t stick to the plan and swap a night or something.

    My husband often works away too, so I need to plan ahead for those nights or I would never eat properly. I make one person sized meals ahead of time and put them in the fridge or freezer so all I need to do is microwave – much easier than trying to cook with a little one underfoot.

    I totally agree with your ideas that 1) if it’s working, keep doing it, 2) if you don’t need it, don’t do it and 3) if it’s not working, try something else!

  14. Amen. Great post. In the time it would take me to fill a calendar with every meal I plan to eat for the next week or month, I could have stocked my pantry and had supper on the table.

    My family is planning-resistant in every way so trying to be so rigid would just be a source of friction and frustration for all.

  15. […] we don’t do detailed meal plans, although we do have food goals. For this challenge we have added a few goals to the usual ones of […]

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