How much should I can?

Got an e-mail from a canning compatriot in Colorado today, asking

Have you ever seen an annual family food budget that was set up for canning and freezing?   I mean, your August food budget looks much different than your Jan if you are putting up your own food.  You have to buy now to consume later.  So how do you help people to plan for that?  How much to spend and when?

I thought I’d share my response, since it’s such a great question!

My first response, of course, is that it totally depends on what you eat. 🙂

Here’s an interesting bit of history – my grandmother’s home ec notebook.

You should be able to see the list of canning recommendations for one person for the non-growing season (she lived in Tennessee at the time). But that assumes you won’t have much fresh food like cabbage, beets, etc. that could be in a root cellar.

What I tell people about planning an annual pantry is this: start by listing the top meals your family eats. There will probably be about 10 dinners, 3 breakfasts, and a few lunch standards. That will probably represent 80-90% of the food you eat. How many cans of peaches is that? Multiply that out to figure out what you need for a year.

Now…how much of that is “storage” food? Do you rely on salads in February? Would your kids rather starve than eat canned green beans? Figure you’ll need six months of food to be “from storage.” Not hard for pasta and beans; impossible for delicate fresh vegetables. Where will your veg come from in the winter? Root cellar or cold room? Freezer? Cans? Start changing your family’s tastes to include more winter squashes, potatoes, root vegetables, and cabbage, which will keep with little processing, and also frozen or canned things.

As for paying for food, yes, it can be hard to switch from a monthly budget to an annual budget. But think of it this way: fruit and veg are cheapest when in season (and your garden is probably supplying a lot of your food then, too) so you’ll have spare money in the summer for produce. In the winter, your meat and produce are coming out of the pantry, so stock up on dry goods then. True, some folks will not be able to scrape up a “spare” $250 for half a hog or a quarter beef all at once…but most folks, if they start saving now, would have enough by hog harvest in the fall. Shoot, trade one family trip to McD’s for a home-cooked spaghetti dinner and you can buy enough raspberries to make a year’s worth of jam.

Finally – don’t try to do it all at once. Take a year to pay attention to what you actually eat. Maybe record all groceries for a month. Decide you’re going to try to put up a year’s worth of one or two things, and see how it goes. When peach season comes around again, are you eating the last jar from last year? Or are you drowning in peaches, or have you been pining since March? Then adjust for next year…



  1. Aimee said,

    June 22, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Great advice and can’t wait to check out your grandma’s notebook! High canning season is upon us though I admit I rely more on my freezer.

  2. Cynthia said,

    June 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Loved your grandma’s book! Can’t wait to tell me eldest daughter about her new breakfast serving responsibilities.

  3. Jennifer said,

    June 23, 2010 at 5:14 am

    One thing to note about buying in season — if you are canning or freezing in bulk, you might talk to the farmers at your local farmers’ market, tell them you’ll be preserving food for winter, and ask about “seconds.” “Seconds” are the blemished, not-so-pretty, or eat-it-now! produce that the farmers don’t think make the market grade, but they are still perfectly good if you are going to deal with them right away. When I can tomatoes, I talk to one of my farmers and get a great deal on a bushel of “seconds” Amish Paste tomatoes — they need spots cut out, but they are definitely more affordable.

    These farmers have to be frugal themselves, so most will totally get what you’re doing and be helpful — and encouraging!

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