When I tell people I used to live 8 hours from a grocery store and shopped every 8-12 weeks, they usually reflect on how they could NEVER do that. “I wouldn’t know how to plan or what to buy”, they exclaim. I didn’t either, at first. In the beginning, I planned out my menus (for 8 weeks at a time, yes) and bought groceries according to whatever recipes I planned to cook. And being in far rural Africa, there was a lot of cooking going on. We had no restaurants to run to for back up and no convenience foods to rely on either. Needless to say, every meal was from home and from scratch. Consequently, I learned very well how to cook our favorite things, how to cook anything from scratch, and how to save time and money doing it. Now that I’m no longer homesteading in Africa, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned with you.

One of the things that helped me was realizing there are certain items that I used over and over again in various recipes and dishes. These became my pantry staples. While these things vary somewhat from one kitchen to another, depending on the type of cuisine you cook most frequently, many things are common. Categories will include baking goods, condiments, pastas, dried beans, canned goods, and spices. You might like a variety of oils and vinegars or certain spices over others. An easy way to begin figuring this out is to just start jotting down things that you cook over a period of 3-4 weeks. At the end, you’ll see what you use most frequently.

I’m including the basic inventory list of items that I used for shopping in those days. To be honest, even though we are now back in the land of plenty, my shopping list hasn’t changed that much. I still try to stick mainly to whole foods, and less packaged and processed foods. Our budget and our bodies are better off because of it.