How to stock your pantry when you use Lean business principles

Do you ever wonder if there’s a ‘right’ way to stock your pantry?  Like, what you should or should not have in it?  And how much?  After all, those Pinterest pantries look awesome…maybe you should just copy one of them?

Actually, the main thing when you’re stocking a pantry is to do it for you and your family.  Here’s a few points:

Know your lifestyle as it is – not as it used to be, or as you wish it was.

When you’re planning out your lean pantry, you must intentionally keep your current reality front and center in your mind.  I know what it’s like to wonder why a task has gotten more difficult – say, having breakfast in decent time in the morning – and then realizing that I’m trying to do something today according to yesterday’s circumstances.

I know, I know – that sounds confusing!  But here’s a tiny example:

Let’s say that this school year, your son’s school bumps the start time up by 10 minutes.  It’s happened to me!  It’s not a dramatic change – and you might not even think it will impact your day!  But you might suddenly find that you’re always having to nag at your boy to eat faster, don’t dawdle, get dressed this second will you!?

You might just feel jangled and stressed, until you realize you’ve been trying to run your current morning reality according to a past circumstance.  In this case, with having lost 10 minutes of the morning, you might decide to get your kids up 10 minutes earlier…or you might decide to have cereal for brekkie more often, instead of eggs and toast.

Whatever you decide, though, will impact how you stock your pantry – more bread in the freezer?  Or more boxes of cereal in the pantry?

Look for balance – everyone knows it’s not lean to have too much of something, but understand it’s not lean to have too little either.

When you’re running your home according to Lean business principles, it’s obvious that you don’t want to buy so much of something that you end up throwing it out.  That’s overproduction – one of the 8 wastes!

What’s not so obvious, though, is that having too little of something on hand is also a waste.  After all, you want to be able to make supper quickly and easily, not counting on fast food all the time, right?  Well, if you’re going to make meals at home, you need food on hand to make it with.  For me, this means I have a little more meat in my freezer than is absolutely strictly necessary.  If I don’t have a batch of homemade hamburger patties or tubs of cooked ground beef in the freezer…guess who is going to be going through the drive-thru tonight?

Same goes for baking supplies.  If baking cookies and bread and scones just isn’t your thing, don’t get sucked into the amazing sale you see, even if the price is so incredibly good.  You’ll end up throwing it out, after it’s gone stale!  But if you bake a lot, go ahead and buy your flour in 25 pound bags.  You don’t want to start your next batch of muffins and realize you can’t make them till you go to the store.

Herbs and spices are the same story.  You don’t want so much on hand that they lose their flavor, but – especially if you’re wanting to convince your family that homemade tastes better than bought – you need to have enough herbs and spices on hand.

So you must keep in mind how much you use something.  Balance is key to a lean pantry – not too much, but not too little either.

Keep your ‘Food & Nutrition True North’ in mind

If you’ve been here before, you’ll remember that Lean manufacturing uses ‘True North’ as a compass guide of where you want to go.  In case you haven’t, let me explain:

Businesses that use Lean manufacturing put time and effort in to expressing their ultimate destination.  This is a guiding principle that helps them and their employees make both big and small decisions.  A business that sees True North as ‘doing the right thing’ will be a lot easier for a customer to deal with than one that believes ‘get every penny out of the customer’ is their True North.  Either way, the employees for that company will know what to do in a situation based on that company’s True North.

So…all that is a long way to tell you…that you need to know your family’s ‘Food & Nutrition True North’ as you stock your pantry.

This is the opposite of your ‘current reality’ that we talked about earlier.  This is where you would like to go.

How much time do you want to spend making supper?  30 minutes?  An hour?  All day?  And how much money?  Take the time to think it through, and try to come up with your *ideal* scenario.  Of course, keep a dose of reality in your calculations – I would really, really like my mom to come and make supper every night, but she lives 3000 miles away, so it would just be a bit too much of a commute.

Are you comfortable with how much fast food your family eats?  Or does your ‘True North’ include more homemade meals?  If you want more homemade meals, it’s important to stock your pantry with non-perishables that you can easily turn into meals.  For me, that would be whole grain pasta, pizza sauce, and olives in my pantry, plus cooked ground beef and cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts in my freezer.  With those few things on hand, I feel like I can do anything! J

How hard is it to get to the store?

Another point to keep in mind with stocking a lean pantry is how hard or easy it is for you to get to the store.

Right now, I have it very easy as far as this goes.  I have a car during the day; Safeway is only 3 minutes from our house and WinCo is 10 minutes; and no toddlers or babies in tow.  This means I can do smaller, more frequent shops – it is literally farther to the closest fast food than it is to the grocery store.

But last February we drove through some extremely remote parts of Idaho and Montana, and believe me, if I lived there, I would lay in a large supply of groceries before winter.  Lean is about eliminating waste, not about being forced to take risks and drive into town when it’s icy outside, because you’ve run out of food.

Same story if you don’t always have a car, or if you have small children.  If your sister-in-law babysits your kids and lends you her car so you can get groceries, feel free to stock up on everything!  This is about making it easier for you, not about binding yourself to some arbitrary Lean Law.

Keep 2 main meals of non-perishable supplies on hand

Finally, keep 2 main meals of non-perishable supplies on hand.  These are your backup plan; you only use them when you have no more ideas on what to have for supper, and your pantry is down to the last few things.  This means that when you have to reach for that box of scalloped potatoes or that tin of sloppy joe meat, you know that you within the next 48 hours, you MUST get to the grocery store.

Of course, if you never get quite that close to nothing in the pantry, that’s fine!  Just remember to rotate your stock – if a bag of spaghetti is part of your emergency rations, make sure that when you buy a fresh bag of spaghetti, you put the new one into the emergency section, and move the existing one into the regular part, so that nothing ends up going stale.