I used to manage a full-service restaurant. This meant I was in charge of staff, food, and other items like the plasticware, styrocontainers and such you get with takeouts.
One of the ways we were able to keep from running out of food items was to establish a par level in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. I use that wisdom in my own kitchen now, and I am going to share with you how to do it for yourself.
A “par level” simply means a level that you don’t want to go lower than in your food storage. For example, if you want to have a minimum of 10 pounds of white rice in your pantry, then 10 pounds would be your “par”.
When your rice is only 9 pounds, you are below par and need to stock up. 11 pounds and you can wait to purchase more. Easy enough, right?
What I had to do first was take a month’s worth of meals for my family.
Every pizza, granola meal, coffee in the morning, homemade bread loaves, taco meals, etc. had to be accounted for.
That way, I knew what we ate, in general, each month. Since we usually don’t stray too far month to month on the type of meals, this was a good starting place. Here’s part of what my sheet looked like for a week to give you an idea:
- 2 meals granola
- 3 meals eggs and toast
- 1 meal yogurt w/granola and fruit
- French toast
- 2 homemade pizzas
- 2 baked chickens
- chicken noodle soup
- Swedish meatballs with rice
- PBJ sandwiches, applesauce
- spaghetti and homemade garlic bread sticks
- Stir fried veggies and rice with yumyum
Once I had an idea of what we ate each week, I began to break down the ingredients.
For granola, I would need 12 cups of oats, 1 cup maple syrup, 1 cup brown sugar, and 3 cups dried fruit. For all the homemade bread and dough, I would need 20 cups of flour each week, plus 10 T. dried yeast, 2 1/2 cups sugar, 2 1/2 cups oil, 5 T salt.
Are you starting to see the idea? Once I knew what ingredients we used each week, then I just multiplied that by 4 to get what I would need each month. That was the start of my par levels.
I now know that I use 4 cups of maple syrup for granola plus an additional 2 cups for french toast each month.
That means, if I want to keep one month of maple syrup in my pantry at all times, I have to have 6 cups. Since I can only buy it in quarts (4 cups) or gallons (16 cups), and a gallon is $5 cheaper than buying 4 quarts, I buy it a gallon at a time.
That normally lasts us 2-3 months before I have to think about it again. But, once I am down to just 2 cups, I make sure to put maple syrup on my shopping list, just in case I can’t get to the farm for a week.
For granola, I know that I use 48 cups of oats each month to make it. And, for our bi-annual co-op, it comes in 50 pound packages.
There are approximately 4 cups to each pound of oats, so a 50 pound bag has 200 cups. That means that 1 bag would last us 4 months and change.
That doesn’t get me to the 6 month mark of when the next order would go in, so I order 2 50 pound bags in the fall, and 1-2 50 pound bags in the Spring, depending on what’s leftover.
When I need to make sure I have enough flour, I go by cups of wheat. Each cup of wheat berries will give me about 1 1/2 cups of flour, so to make sure I have the 40 cups of flour each week, I need to plan on purchasing 694 cups of wheat berries in our bi-annual co-op. There are 2 cups of wheat per pound, or 100 cups per 50 pound bag.
That means I need to have on hand 350 cups of wheat every 6 months, or 3 1/2 50 pound bags. Since I can’t get 1/2 bags, I have to purchase 4 bags each time, or 2x a year.
We go through a lot of butter in my house.
A LOT. To the tune of 2-3 pounds a week, for various reasons. That means, my monthly par level for butter is 12 pounds. If I am going to the grocery store that week, and I only have 10 pounds of butter, I pick up 2 packages.
If I need to pick up “yum yum” sauce at the store (don’t judge-my kids eat tons of veggies with it now) I know that I need 4 bottles each month, so I will have a par of 4.
When I am down to 3 bottles, I pick another one up. If I happen to have 4, I don’t worry about it that month.
If you want to build your food storage to 2 months, simply double the numbers of “par”.
That would mean I need 8 bottles of yum-yum sauce in my pantry. Since Walmart is the only place I have found it locally, and since they only carry 6 bottles at a time, I can’t exactly go out and purchase 8 bottles.
I then raise my par level to 5. So, I have the 4 that I need each month, plus 1 to store for later.
When I can, I will raise my par levels on an item and stock up as my budget allows. This way, you are building a food storage system that you will USE and EAT and not strain your budget.
This system also helps me with garden planning.
For spaghetti and pizza sauce, I go through 4 quarts of home canned sauce each week. That means, over the course of a year, I need to can 208-210 quarts of homemade sauce.
Since there are approximately 53 pounds of tomatoes per bushel, and that would make 18-20 quarts, I can begin to figure out how many tomato plants I need.
A reasonably healthy plant can easily produce 20-100 pounds, but I always go with the low side of things, just to be safe. So, 20 pounds per plant is what I figure on. (you can never have too many home canned tomatoes). I need 600 pounds of tomatoes, or 30 plants in my garden to feed my family.
Building a pantry, or planning a garden on the par system can make it very easy in the long run.
However, it took me nearly 6 months to get it established enough to make tweaks here and there enough to really work.
But, grocery shopping is far easier. I just get my par list, take a quick inventory and jot down what I need to build my levels again.
I have saved a lot of time, and have very few excuses for eating out now since I have nearly everything I need to make my family’s favorites on hand at any given time. Try out a par system for yourself and see what you think!
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.