Finding the balance

Everyone has a full schedule these days, there is just no way around it. We all seem to be playing the same balancing act between trying to make ends meet and having time with our families. Trust me, I struggle with that balancing act as much as anyone else these days.

So, how do you handle your busy schedule? I love to hear about how busy families make their amazingly busy schedules work. For my family, we’ve seen many changes in the last year. Like many these days, my husband suddenly found himself without a job last summer. Thankfully within a couple of months, he had found a new job. We’ve since been adjusting to a new schedule, longer commute and less family time as a result. While we are so very thankful for his job, it has not been an easy transition at times.

Another change in our home came when our oldest son decided he was ready to live on his own. This also brought about some change in routines and of course brought with it a wide range of emotions and the beginning of a new stage in life as a family.

Change in life is inevitable and to be expected. Being able to adjust to those changes and often find new and totally different ways of living day to day can be hard. I know my family has seen frustration with the adjustments we’ve had to make, even though the changes in and of themselves have not been all bad. It’s all part of life, and for the most part we’ve all handled it pretty well.

Adjusting to any change from employment to an addition to your family, from rising food costs to overly demanding schedules, your attitude and outlook will greatly affect the outcome and result of that change. For me, being the “foodie” of the family, main chef and grocery shopper, the pantry and the constant “I’m hungry” or “What’s for dinner” weighed heavy on me when we were facing new challenges in our lives. After all, just because someone looses their job or the schedule is excessively tight does not mean that your family isn’t going to continue to be hungry. Right?

Trust me, I can totally understand the mind numbing affects of high stress. Many nights this past year I would realize that it was nearly dinner time (or past it) and I had no clue what to fix. We’ve had more “fend for yourself” evenings or quickly thrown together dishes that won’t be repeated on purpose for any reason. That’s just life sometimes.

One “saving grace” for me during the toughest of times was a well stocked pantry. Thankfully, when my husband lost his job, we had plenty of food on hand and grocery shopping was not one of the stresses we had to think about at first. I know not everyone is able to keep a stocked pantry for various reasons, but if you can find a way past some of those reasons it can truly save you in the long run when things are tough. Whether financial stresses, time stresses or just a prolonged snow storm, you are ready.

It doesn’t take much to have a hand full of good options in your pantry. Even if you only add a few extra things with each grocery trip. Get creative with your storage and keep adding to your revolving pantry as time and money allow. I say revolving because you really do need to rotate your pantry “stock”. That way you are always using the items before they are past their prime.

Stocking a gluten-free pantry can be a bit more costly and often tricky than stocking a pantry where food issues are not a concern, but trust me, it can be done. Look at how you cook, what items you use most often and what items you really don’t need an abundance of. Let’s face it, stocking your pantry with items that you use rarely is not going to help you when you are in a bind. Think simply, look at your favorite “must haves” and start there.

Another consideration is shelf life. Some flours and ingredients simply don’t keep well. Brown rice flour, for one is a flour that must be used in a timely manner. Bean flours also don’t have an indefinite shelf life. That doesn’t mean you can’t store them if they are on your “must have” list, you just need to store them in a way that will give those items the longest shelf life. Perhaps you will need to make room in your freezer if longer storage time is needed.

If you don’t store your ingredients in the original packaging, it is helpful to make a note on the storage container when it should be used by, or even just a purchase date is helpful. That way you’ll know how much “life” your ingredients have left as you use them.

Obviously what you stock in your pantry may look differently than what I would, everyone has their own preferences and tastes. Perhaps you don’t cook completely from scratch as I often do. Your pantry needs may include more baking mixes and ready made items than mine does. The same ideas apply, food only keeps for so long and expiration dates need to be checked. Rotating your pantry items as new items are purchased is key. We work too hard for our money to throw it away in expired food.

However you manage your pantry, I think everyone would agree that in todays world it is important to have more than just a few days worth of staples on hand. Take some time and evaluate what is in your pantry, make a list of some basics that store well and that you use often.

The most important thing to remember when stocking your pantry is to make sure you are purchasing items that you will actually use and that your family enjoys. It does no good to buy dry beans in bulk if you don’t truly know how to cook with them, or your family refuses to eat them. While I may have several varieties of beans in my pantry, your family may not appreciate them as much as mine does. Every family is different and every cook has their favorites. Work with what you know and go from there!

For me, having a well stocked pantry helps me to find more balance in my day. I know that I can go to my pantry and freezer and create a meal even on the hardest of days. The storms may be raging outside of my home, but my family will have a comforting meal to come home to.

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