My Mom’s Great Depression and My Pandemic Pantry Plan

“Some days we would have one egg or one potato for the day,” my Mom would tell me. Those words still ring in my ears when I realize the abundance we have. Both my parents grew up in the Great Depression as little children and recalled to us how little they often had to eat. I can’t imagine how Dad went from relative to relative in boarding house accommodations with his sister because their mom had died, and Dad was working or “out.” Dinner on the table was served first to the family, and if there was something left, Dad and his sister were served. I can’t even imagine that mentality, but it happened.

When my children were little I remember times our girls didn’t like what I was serving, and would have 3-4 potatoes just for dinner. I can’t even comprehend just giving them one, or having someone in my home and having them wait until my family ate first before serving them. (Joe recalls this happening to him while sharing a meal with a family in Latvia. He asked why the children weren’t eating and later the family said, “You are the guest, you eat first and then the children will eat what is left.” He had no idea and felt horrible to learn that. It made a difference how he approached the next meal table.)

Bringing this full circle to today, a friend has an elderly relative who was having a hard time figuring out what to cook, her pantry was disheveled, and family was thinking she might even be at the start of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Those 3 reasons were making it hard for her to eat properly and a concern for the family. And now we face the continuing pandemic and have a sense of frustration, lack of food and/or creativity to prepare it, and asking:

Do I have to cook again?

Where is everything? The pantry I just reorganized is already a mess.

What will I cook?

Why can’t I be creative?

I’m tired of this and need a break.

My friend asked for some “organizational” suggestions that would make this chore easier for her relative. I was delighted to use my educational background, the things I taught as a teacher in my Home Economics classes many years ago that still apply, that which I taught in my organizational seminars given around the country, and my own love for order! I further thought others might benefit if they’re feeling this way.

My Pandemic Pantry Plan (is very easy!)

Most of us have cleaned every nook and cranny of our homes in the over 2 months of quarantine we’ve had. But in case you haven’t, here is the way to order your pantry and be ready to be cooking creatively.

Empty the panty.

Dispose of expired goods.

Restock and organize the pantry in this way:

TOP LEVEL (highest shelves) area is for things you use least:

  • Pasta maker, waffle maker, and the like
  • Paper products (cups, plates, napkins)
  • Seasonal products (baskets for summer, etc.)

EYE LEVEL (shelves easiest to see and reach)

  • One area or shelf: (carbs) pasta, rice, quinoa, legumes, potatoes
  • One area or shelf: all your canned vegetable goods (beans, etc.)
  • One area or shelf: all your canned meats (tuna, chicken, etc.)
  • One area or shelf: other foods to use “as is” like soups

LOWER LEVEL (shelf or on the flooring area under the shelves):

  • Plastic containers (all sizes) with lids to store extra food items
  • Other less used items: coffee pots, mixer, etc.


  • Herbs, spices
  • Seasonings
  • Baking goods

If you have a good stock of the items I’ve listed for you at “EYE LEVEL” when you’re tired of your usual meals, need a change, are lacking creativity….I have the answer for you:



  • one of your carbs
  • one of your veggies
  • and one of your meats

Prepare the carb according to directions, lightly add oil to the bottom of a 9X13 glass-cooking dish, and empty the prepared (cooked) carb into the dish. Next empty the veggie and meat and mix together. If it looks too sparse, add another veggie or meat and then add about a teaspoon or two of a randomly chosen herb or spice from your door shelf and mix up again. To be sure it’s not too dry of a dish after it’s cooked, add butter on top, or a sauce like spaghetti sauce (or make a cheese sauce), or a can of soup that compliments the other foods (add and mix).

BE CREATIVE. Take notes on what you added because it might become a favorite and you’ll want to remember it! (Bake it uncovered at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Done.)

On another note: If you’re not sure when you’ll next be able to shop, use your groceries in this order so you don’t have to throw good food away:




In the scenario above, if you have fresh veggies and/or fresh meat, use those first (cooking them before putting it in with the carb). This way you will use what will spoil first-first. And canned lasts the longest, so you can be sure to have something on the shelf if you run out of fresh and frozen.

My friend encouraged me with a call to say that this easy presentation of keeping foods together in the pantry made it easy for her relative to cook. Take some chances and have fun from your own pantry.

As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day I am thankful for my Mom’s example of her childhood, and how she served herself last when she had her own kitchen from which to serve. My memory of her great example out of the Great Depression serves me well today. It’s helped me be resourceful with whatever I have in my pantry, and it’s helped me for years. It would be encouraging to know it helped you, too!

Happy Mother’s Day. Bless your Mom…

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