#5 – How to Plan a Year’s Worth of Food on a Budget (without waste)

Published by: The Ready Life

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What We Covered

Explore how to reclaim the food independence that our great-grandparents had (and our parents forfeited).

We believe this food planning method is the absolute simplest way to figure out how much of each ingredient you will need. It works for any time period (1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc). You’ll also learn how to gradually ramp up your food storage where it doesn’t break your budget. And as an added bonus, you’ll see how to use your food planning to inform your gardening, so you only plant what you need.

In this episode:

  • Our forefathers’ food independence vs modern total dependence
  • The “prepper” approach to food storage
  • Our approach to food security – the rotating pantry, that wastes nothing and gradually scales to accommodate your budget
  • Spreadsheet tool for food planning (see show notes link below)
  • How your food storage plan can inform your garden plan, so you only plant what you actually need


00:00 – Intro
00:47 – Step Back in Time
04:08 – Placing Our Dependence on Grocery Stores & Big Agribusiness
04:48 – “Prepper” Food Storage
06:51 – Our Solution to Food Security – The Rotating Pantry Method
08:22 – It All Starts With A Menu
09:24 – The Ingredients List
14:19 – Spreadsheet Tool
15:28 – The Totals
18:24 – Gradually Scaling Up Your Storage
20:27 – Using This Method To Plan Your Garden
22:12 – Would You Help Us With Sharing?

Important Links


Howdy and welcome to the Ready Life podcast. I’m Nick Meisner. And I’m Lisa. And in today’s episode, we’re going to take a look at our very favorite method for food planning. There are theories going around about different ways to figure out how much food storage your family needs and how to do this and all of that. But what we use and what we advocate is a really simple way that just plain works.

Step Back In Time

If we could for just one minute climb into a time machine and ride back to visit or meet our great, great, maybe even for some of us, our great grandparents. When we walk into the house, what do you think would greet your eye in the kitchen? Probably one whole wall of canned goods or a large root cellar with loads of potatoes and onions and all kinds of things.

Now, just pause for a minute and ask yourself, why might they be doing all of that? Well, frankly, because back then, grocery stores were miles away and you had to ride a horse to get there or drag a cart. So when you thought about feeding your family as the wife and the mother of your home with four or six or eight children, depending on your family tree, I should say. You would have to stop and think seriously about making sure that you had enough food to get you from one season or one harvest season to the next harvest season. So you would plan your garden accordingly and then you would want to make sure that you put up enough tomatoes and green beans and that you would store enough potatoes and onions and all of these things from your garden or your fields to last you until the next harvest season.

Not only that, but you would have to also consider the fact that maybe one year your tomato crop got impacted by some kind of a pest and wiped out most or all of your tomatoes, or maybe your corn or your wheat. You just never knew. And so sometimes they would even plan for like two years in advance. So that way they knew that they would have something to eat as a family. Obviously, some of their food items, they’d have to source out. But that’s really how they, that was their way of life. That’s how they would think. What if the weather impacted or whatever? You had to plan ahead and you had to plan far enough ahead because not only did you need to eat, but you had a whole family of people that were counting on you. Folks had to take food storage seriously. It was just a way of life for them.

That’s right. I remember years ago, I produced a documentary called Urban Danger. You can actually look it up on YouTube. We put the whole thing there. And as part of that documentary, we interviewed numerous folks who lived through the Great Depression. And it was so interesting to hear stories from them about food preservation and food planning and things like that. I remember one man that my family talked to said, “My family was a family of poor farmers, and if we didn’t put up at least a thousand jars of food, we were going to starve the next winter. That was just the way it was.” Yeah, it was just a part of life.

Placing Our Dependence on Grocery Stores & Big Agribusiness

But of course, as transportation became efficient and distribution of food items accelerated, it became possible and easier and maybe even more convenient to just go and get what you needed at the grocery store. In other words, we started placing our dependence on the grocery store and big agribusiness, which is how we’ve ended up where we are today. And the problem is, if anything disrupts the transportation or causes a panic, the shelves go bare. And then at that point, you have what you have, unless you want to place your dependence on FEMA to do your prepping for you. Yeah, no thank you, no thank you.

“Prepper” Food Storage

And so in response to all of this, some folks have understandably gotten worried, which I totally get, and their answer was to stockpile a bunch of freeze-dried food. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but… We’ve tried freeze-dried food, and yes, I’m sure there are some that are better than others, but we didn’t find it to be very good. There were a few items that were okay, but I don’t know, for the most part, I was like, “Oh, how can I hide this in the rest of the food just so I can use it up because I don’t like wasting food?” It was not our favorite, like, day-to-day food to live on. I mean, it would work in an emergency. Yeah. It would keep you alive and all of that. But not… not an ideal situation.

And what typically happens because of that is it sits in a closet somewhere and gathers dust for many years until it’s so old that it has to be thrown out. I remember hearing through the family of my grandpa back during the Cold War, he got a bunch of MREs. I think they were called, you know what, I forget what they were called back then. It was before MREs. Anyway, he got a bunch of those military dried packaged foods and a whole bunch of them in the basement. And then a couple of years later, something about the packaging didn’t work out well and they had gone bad and it was just disgusting. And I heard about it for years from my grandma. That made quite an impact because it was a really bad experience that they dealt with and left a bad taste in their mouths about food storage and food planning and things like that. If you want to invest in freeze-dried food and just have it stored and realize that you’re going to have to replace it every 10 years or something like that, then you could consider it like an insurance plan.

Our Solution to Food Security – The Rotating Pantry Method

But what we advocate, though, is entirely different. It’s a lifestyle of perpetual preparedness or sustainable preparedness, which is actually the name of our business. That’s right, we call it the rotating pantry method. That’s kind of what we think of it as, where the basic principle is eat what you store and store what you eat. Now just think about that for a minute. Eat what you store and store what you eat. That’s why it’s called a rotating pantry.

I think a lot of homesteaders are kind of getting that sort of feeling like, oh, you know, we want to start producing our own food, making our own cheese or our own sourdough bread. Or it’s really becoming an in-vogue thing to have to make your own food or to create or generate your own food off of your land. And that’s part of it. It is really part of it. So, you just need to figure out what you eat and store that and then use it while replacing what you’ve just used. Then nothing goes bad, no money’s wasted, and no disgusting freeze-dried food. Everyone’s happy. And as you grow some of your own food, you can work that into your rotating pantry as well. So that’s the theory.

It All Starts With A Menu

How does this work in practice? Well, it all starts with something kind of surprising: a menu. What on earth does a menu have to do with all this? Well, I remember when we first got married and I started thinking about food storage planning. I got online and I tried finding some calculators and all of that, figuring out how much food two people might eat or three people might eat for a year. And like, okay, we need to get some buckets and all of this. But it was just terrible. Like, well, do we really eat that much rice? You know, we eat more beans or this or that. We don’t eat much bread, honestly, in our home. So if we buy all this wheat to make bread out of it, you know, we’re just, we don’t, it goes bad and we end up throwing it away.

So what I finally came up with was I sat down and I mapped out a menu. What am I gonna eat for this next week? And so I wrote it down. I see you’ve got some paper stash that looks pretty ragged. These are from quite a few years ago now. I need to actually do this all over again because my kids have gotten bigger and now we’re eating like, I don’t know, four times as much food as we did back then. I did this when the kids were real little, but here is my beautiful menu. I did two weeks of menu. And the reason why is because I’m kind of funny. I don’t like eating the same thing too often. This is true. So, yeah, whereas he, on the other hand, could eat granola every morning for breakfast. Actually, you do.

So what I do is I like to rotate through a number of different items, and one week was just not enough time to go by for me to have the same thing again. So that’s why I did two weeks. So I mapped out two weeks and then I started trying to figure out how much food. But then I realized very quickly that if I just tried to guess how much food we actually ate, I mean, I kind of had an idea, so I wrote down how much I thought. But then I decided, you know what? I’m just going to live by this menu for two weeks and write down how much I actually ate. And that’s what I did. And I was surprised. We didn’t eat as much food as I thought we were eating. It wasn’t just we had this for a meal. You’re talking actually how much of each ingredient went into it.

Yes, like I made a batch of granola, since somebody eats granola every day. Then I kept track of how much granola disappeared over the course of two weeks. And voila, I had a good idea of how much granola I needed to plan for our family to eat in two weeks. Now, like I said, since then… We’ve got increasing appetites that are happening around this homestead, so I’m going to have to kind of readjust a lot of what I had planned initially.

And you didn’t just know how much granola we used, you knew how much of each ingredient that went into that granola we used because you kept track of that.

Now, this sounds like a bit of a pain. It was a bit of a pain. It was a lot of work initially. But it’s only for two weeks. You can do anything for two weeks.

Yeah. And honestly, once I did that for two weeks, how many years has this been since we did this? Several. It’s been more than several probably. Because I did this when the kids were really little. I think Heidi was just a year old or something. So boy, she’s what, seven now? So it’s been quite a few years since I’ve done that. And it really, like I said, I really need to do it again just because, man, we’re eating a lot more food than what we did before. But it really made things so much simpler. And even today, even with the increased amount of food that we’re eating, I still have somewhat of a handle of how much food we actually eat over the course of a year. So this is the menu. This was the menu.

The Ingredients List

I see some other papers that you’ve got there. So once I figured out how much we actually ate, then I sat down, probably the hardest part. I sat down and I wrote out each recipe that I used and how much of it we ate. So for example, back in the day, one recipe of pancakes would last for two meals. So I would make a batch of pancakes and I’d put half of it in the freezer, and that would last me for two meals. And so… I wrote out one cup of soy milk, one tablespoon of lemon juice, three-quarters of a cup of flour. I wrote out all of the ingredients, each one. Salt, how much cornstarch, how much yeast flakes or onion powder. I wrote everything out. The only thing I didn’t include obviously was water. But otherwise, like I used a cup of milk here or… I had a rough idea, I’d make up a quart of milk or something and I’d see, wow, we used a little over half of that quart for breakfast or something. So then I’d write that down. And then I wrote down the whole two weeks. That took a couple of days or more. But once I had this all written out like this, then I broke it down and I started adding all of the oats together. So I used oats in the granola, and then I used oats in our burger recipe, and then I used oats here or there, and I started compiling all of those notes, or all of those oats into one category. That became my shopping list.

Spreadsheet Tool

Here’s a little power tip from a spreadsheet user. Spreadsheet would help a lot with this project. I’m a little old-fashioned, obviously. I had it all written out on paper. By the way, it just so happens that I created a spreadsheet to help you out and make this whole process a whole lot simpler than your archaic paper method.

Well, thank you, my spreadsheet magician.

You’re welcome!

So if you go to the show notes page, we’ll have a link where you can download this. But basically, there are three tabs on this spreadsheet. One where you can plug in your ingredients and another tab where you can plan out your menu with each of the ingredients and the amounts for each meal and all of that. And then there’s a third tab where it will pull together the totals for each ingredient for the entire menu and just total everything. So if you want to access that, just go to the description for this episode, click on the link for the show notes, and you’ll be able to access it there.

The Totals

So then once I went through, and you can see these papers are much used and much loved. Anyway, I sat down and five teaspoons of onion powder, that’s how much onion powder we used in the course of two weeks. And let’s see, I have 28 tablespoons of lemon juice, four cups of flour, like 24 teaspoons of salt. So I combined all of my ingredients to figure out exactly how much we used. Now obviously, there are going to be some variations because I don’t know about you, but I’m not like the menu planner person that has a menu and I stick to my menu like glue all week long. I’m a little bit more of an ad-libber. So today, I feel like doing potatoes and gravy and asparagus or something. So in other words, we’re not locked into this menu. This was just going through the exercise of a typical menu food that we typically like to eat just to get a feel for how much food that would be, right?

Yes, that’s exactly it. So once I had my two weeks written out and I knew exactly how much food we ate over the course of two weeks, times that by two and then multiply that by 12. Now you know how much food it would take to feed your family for one year. Food that you actually normally eat anyway.

I was just looking on here to see if I could find the tomatoes, salsa, six quarts of salsa. Over 12 months would be how many quarts in a year?

Six quarts over 12 months? Yep.

6 times 12 is 72. Thank you. So we need 72 quarts of salsa because there are people in this home who eat a lot of granola, and I mean a lot of salsa. There are certain items in this family that are really popular, and salsa is one of them. So 72 quarts of salsa is what we need in our home for a given year. So that is how I figured out for our family what we needed to store up for a year.

Once again though, I want to emphasize the point that we do not eat the same menu every week or every month or anything like that. This was a once-and-done exercise as far as just coming up with some realistic amounts for foods that we actually eat. But any given meal, we pick whatever we wanna eat. We’re not locked into this menu. So please don’t misunderstand that point. Unless you’re Nick and you eat granola every morning. But that’s by choice, not because I’m locked into it. Yes.

Gradually Scaling Up Your Storage

So we’ve got the concept of how we figure out how much food we need, but does that mean that then we run to Costco or wherever and we buy a year’s supply of all of this stuff tomorrow? Well, I don’t know about your budget, but my budget screens no. That’s not happening.

So here’s what I would recommend. If you’re the type of person that goes out and goes shopping every day, shoot for one week. Try and do shopping on one day this week, where you get all the food that you need for the entire week. If you’re someone who regularly shops once a week for the whole week, which hopefully you do, I know some people who do shop every day, but hopefully you do shop once a week. Try for one month. Try figuring out how much food you need for one month, and then get that and see how it goes.

Then once you’ve got one month under your belt and you get used to that, then try for three months. Save, try and cut your costs everywhere you can, and then try and work up till you’ve got three months in your food storage rotating pantry. Then after three months, go for six. And then after six months, then you can start getting a feel for a food storage program with a rotating pantry that you can build up to where you can have a year supply so that when the power goes out or panic sets in or transportation is disrupted or whatever the situation may be, you’re in a good place.

Not to mention that if you’re into gardening and you want to try and provide for your family from your garden, which by the way, is a whole lot more nutritious than the cardboard tomatoes you get at the store. And a lot more sustainable too. Yes.

Using This Method To Plan Your Garden

So then now you know how much you, like how much you need to harvest from your garden to produce the salsa, the spaghetti sauce, the canned whole tomatoes that you would use in your kitchen. And you can work this backwards, where you actually are now able to figure out how much food you need to grow in your garden. You can look up, you can either by experience, or look up online to get an estimate for how many pounds of tomatoes grow on a plant or whatever. And you can work backwards that way to say, “OK. So this year I need to plant X number of tomato plants in order to feed my family with the amount of tomatoes that we need.”

Which is pretty cool because when you think about it, the way that a lot of folks work this is they just are pulling numbers out of a hat. It’s like, you know, whatever, how many are we gonna do? Well, let’s do this many plants, you know? There’s no rhyme or reason. Now you can actually have a reason for why you’re planting what you are and know what needs to be planted. And we covered a lot of this in great depth in our Preserving the Harvest DVD video set that we did going over more than just preserve or more than just canning. We talked about menu planning and walked you through it and give you all the tips and tricks and everything that we’ve learned along the way there as well. And that’ll be linked in the show notes. Yes, yes.

Anyhow, it’s going to take time. But wherever you’re at, it will be better than where you are now. So one step at a time, that’s how everything happens. It’s one step at a time. That’s right, that’s right.

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