Retirement Remedies: CAN We Do It?

Growing up, my mom had an awesome array of foods in our home.  She gardened and canned and preserved.  She bought foods on sale.  She stocked up a big deep chest freezer.  With a family of five hearty eaters to feed she knew the food end of her household very well.  There were many things we seldom needed to buy but somehow Mama always had a buggy full of food each grocery day.  It used to puzzle me no end.  Then I had a family and understood all too well.

Over the years I've only had a garden a few times and harvested little from them.  I did do some foraging and happily put up any fresh foodstuffs given us as well, but despite living in a rural area for all my adult years, I've never really had the luxury of putting up food that I'd personally grown, at least not in a quantity to feed our family.  However, I did quickly learn that the concept of a pantry is just as easily translated into canned and dry goods from the grocer.

Canned goods have somewhat fallen out of favor over the past few years but in rural households, canned fruits, vegetables, and meats as well as durable dry goods (rice, beans, pastas, oats) were bought in bulk and used liberally to stretch budgets and feed hungry families.  There's been a huge push of late to 'eat seasonally' which has good sound nutritional science behind it.  Then there's the 'eat local' thing which is a little more difficult to translate if you happen to live in a climate that doesn't permit growing nine or ten months of the year.  And there's the 'eat fresh' concept, which is also worthy but are we really getting fresh foods when we buy fresh items in our local groceries.  For myself, I can say that the bulk of what we eat is grown in Florida and is well within fresh limits but it's hardly the same as just picked fresh, which is really what is meant when they suggest you 'eat fresh'.

 I say quite sincerely that in my childhood there were no tomatoes in January nor was there broccoli in July in the grocery store.  Our selections for eating fresh were limited and while the technology of growing has expanded and the marketing and transportation of goods has expanded, we relied most heavily on canned foods, especially during the winter and spring months of the year. Freezing and canning are both wonderful preserving methods for storing up nutrient rich foods.  It allows many to have a broader food base than they might otherwise have.

I truly believe one of the reasons those who do not garden struggle so with food budgets is that today's supermarket does not teach us what is seasonal or best buy at each time of year.  I can buy strawberries and asparagus year round, and yes broccoli and tomatoes, too.  The budget takes quite a hit when we're paying top prices for foods that are not seasonal.  We seldom look to canned or frozen items because we have been led to believe they are inferior quality.  How wrong we are!

During my time recovering from the nasty cold, I happened to find myself watching a program I'd normally not have even noticed.  It was on TheCookingChannel and featured Kelsey Nixon, "Cans Make the Meal".  She used canned foods to make three meals and one dessert for the day and in my opinion she did an excellent job.  Click the link to go directly to episode information and recipes.
What I enjoyed most was her 'facts' injected in each segment.  The average American has only 18 canned items on their shelves.  75% of people only purchase canned peaches for fruit.  These facts just slay me, truly they do.  18 cans?  Gracious goodness!

Now yes, this program is a manufacturing group driven effort to raise awareness of canned goods and the role they should play in home pantries.  You can read what RedGold says about it at their site. It can be seen throughout the month of February TheCookingChannel.

Kelsey Nixon coined the phrase 'Cantry' to designate the canned portion of her pantry.  And she really made me think hard today.  I've noted before that the bulk of the foods I buy are fresh seasonal items.  I do keep a stocked 'cantry' however of many items because I truly believe that it's a wonderful emergency fund of sorts.  But the variety of things she mentioned in her chatter as she walked down the grocery aisles adding cans to her shopping cart and the quality of the foods she prepared have convinced me to explore anew the way my pantry can be made to work for me in convenience, variety and savings.

Another reason I'm thinking hard?  For the most part, canned goods are good for up to two years and sometimes longer.  How much less waste would there be in my household if I returned to purchasing canned items?  Some to be sure, although I confess I am fairly good about not letting things go to waste, I am hardly at the 100% mark.  There are a few things I simply prefer to have fresh, but many items I eat are just as good from a can and with today's low sodium and sugar free options widely available I think canned foods deserve a long hard look.    There are also a few things I just like to have canned now and then that I'd normally eat fresh.  Canned potatoes, for instance, are far more suitable in soups and stews that might be reheated or even frozen and served again later.  The integrity of the potato texture and flavor is better preserved after it's been canned.  I've never been able to tell the difference between canned or frozen whole kernel corn unless I watched it being prepared.

I confess part of this awareness of canned items has been growing because I have wondered what I'd do if the electric current were off for a length of time in my home.  A few years ago the wind damage from Hurricane (Flo, I think or Iris) crossed from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic.  We were in it's pathway and many areas of the county lost power for up to two weeks.  We were lucky to lose it for only three days, but we lost quite a few items in our freezer that thawed beyond the salvage point during that time.

Will I revert to eating canned foods only?  Probably not.  I believe that fresh raw foods belong in every diet but I am definitely going to start looking at canned foods with new eyes for convenience, long lasting quality, added variety and budget wise additions to my household.

P.S.  I checked youtube and you can watch some episodes of Kelsey Nixon's Shelf Essentials videos where she uses items from her pantry to prepare foods.  Apparently this talented young woman offered up a cooking series to fellow students while in college at BYU to teach them to cook and prepare food for themselves.  She obviously has a strong background in the use of a pantry, so head on over to watch a few videos as you have time.


susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

I saw an episode of Cans Make the Meal the other day. I use canned foods quite often. We don't have a separate freezer, just the little freezer part of the refrigerator. I don't grow enough vegetables to preserve any. And even though I like fresh produce better, if I don't cook it in time, it goes to waste. I have quite a few more than 18 cans in the house at any time. We don't eat fast/carry out food very often, so I like to have a variety of foods on hand. I thought the food she made on the episode I saw looked pretty good.

To me, it was nice to see something different than Giada cooking. I like Giada's show, and Ina Garten a bit more, but sometimes I prefer seeing more frugal cooking styles. I don't know why there are so few cooking shows on the cooking channel anymore. Does anyone besides me miss them, I wonder. I like to use them for ideas of different things to cook. Without any inspiration, I tend to get into cooking ruts. I suppose the contest shows must be cheaper to make.

Even though I realized that the Cans Make the Meal show was probably more than normally manufacturer supported, it was nice to see some cooking for regular, financially mindful people.

JoAnn Baker said...

I also have more than 18 cans in my pantry, although I don't use canned goods very often. Like you, I tend to think of them as "emergency" food. I have never heard of the show that you mentioned so I'm looking forward to checking that out!

sparky136 said...

Love the buttercup, it's my favorite flower. Know Spring is on the way when I see them blooming.

Mable Hastings said...

My favorite canned fruit is Mandarin oranges. And I like canned ravioli (Weird, I know!). I do keep a huge garden and when I have kept track, subtracting all garden costs (seeds, increased water usage and so on) from what the vegetables and fruits would have cost me in the store, my savings have always been over $1500 a year. I grow expensive vegetables and fruits(like asparagus and raspberries) and prolific vegetables (zucchini and potatoes and raspberries, for example. Also, I am not good at exercising and I find that after a summer of gardening I am thinner not only because of some weight loss but also because of tightening up things like my thighs). So, all in all, gardening is a real benefit to our home and I anticipate it will be more so as we retire. (The husband does not weed or plant, but he has built all of my raised beds and fencing and so on.)

Living on Less Money said...

I've never kept track of what I save with my garden but I definitely know it helps my food budget. Just like Mable, I grow a few foods that are expensive in the stores like raspberries and blackberries. This year I hope to dry more of my vegetables to use through the winter. This last summer I canned tomato sauce, green beans, pickles and we're still eating raspberries and strawberries I froze. We use them in shakes. But, I also try to keep a well stocked pantry. I always enjoy your posts.

Rhonda said...

I read this post days ago and have been thinking about it ever since. Insured to buy and use a lot more canned goods than I do know. And I am thinking it would be a good habit to get back to. It could certainly save on trips to the store. I also watched the Kelsey from food network videos, very good information.

Thank you for reminding me of this old but good way to do things,

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