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Food Storage: Where do I begin?

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When I was finally convinced that we needed to start a supply of emergency food storage, I kept it simple. I know there are many books, websites, and planners out there to help, and I have used some of those to get some tips and suggestions after I made my initial plan, but all you really need is a pencil, some paper and some time.

woman holding container of mushrooms and looking a grocery products on shelves

Why do you need food storage?

As the saying goes, “I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” In the past few years, we’ve had a lot of very impactful world events and natural disasters. Grocery stores have been closed or their shelves emptied, roads have been closed, and families quickly ran out of toilet paper and fresh food. In those moments, we see exactly how panicked people get when they need something and don’t have it!

If you have found yourself in a situation like that, then you know firsthand how worrisome it can be! Thankfully, it’s possible to quickly stock up on exactly what you need for several weeks’ worth of meals that you will actually want to eat.

I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

1. Start small

I started off with a small goal – having a week’s worth of food. I decided to plan for our most likely scenarios, loss of power or blizzard. The only rules I established was that it needed to be food my family would eat and that the meals wouldn’t require anything that needed to be refrigerated once it was open, like mayonnaise. I assumed that we would just about eat everything that was prepared for that one meal and if not, we have a dog that could eat the leftovers.

A week’s worth of food (or about twenty-one meals) that your family will eat and won’t require refrigeration is a great starting place for anyone wanting to get going with food storage. Power outages are one of the most common ways you can be directly affected in the event of a natural disaster, so thinking of ways you can prepare and store food without power should probably be a top priority. Solar ovens, small gas stoves or a gas range, or a small electric stove that you can power with a small generator, are all good options for cooking without electricity. And of course, if you can build a fire, you can use that as well!

Learn how to calculate how much food to store per person in your home here.

2. Do a meal plan

I used Excel to lay out my plan, but this could be done on paper as well. I created columns for each day and then rows for each meal. It’s important to include snacks and drinks as well. I tried to include a variety of items for lunch and dinner, but some families don’t mind the repetition of food. Learn how to meal plan in six easy steps, or use a system that makes sense to you.

I simply planned oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter, tuna, or chicken sandwiches or soup with bread for lunch, and then chose seven dinners that I knew my family liked. I ended up with chili, spaghetti, rice and beans, chicken fried rice, pasta with chicken and vegetables, tortellini soup, and taco soup. For snacks, I wrote down nuts, dried fruit, and some of the typical items we keep in our pantry, like cheese crackers.

For drinks, I listed one gallon of water per person* and then added in dry milk, drink powder, and coffee(You can use instant coffee or regular coffee grounds, but instant coffee uses less water).

*While one gallon per person is a good place to start, it’s the bare minimum needed in a true emergency. I recommend increasing this to two gallons per person as you are able and if you have room.

3. Make a grocery list for your food storage

After I decided what my meals would be, I went through each one and made a grocery list of what I would need for that week’s worth of food:

  1. One large tub of peanut butter
  2. Four cans of soup
  3. Two big cans of tuna
  4. Four big cans of chicken
  5. Oatmeal
  6. Raisins, etc.

I also made sure to write down seasonings for the meals and ingredients for bread. I added jalapenos to the list since my husband likes his food spicier than ours.

Keep in mind your individual family members’ food and drink preferences while you plan your meals–if someone refuses to eat eggs, for example, then don’t assume they will be fine with eating it during a natural disaster. Stick to foods that are both familiar and tried-and-true. Feel free to test recipes before you commit to adding them to your food storage!

You can keep this grocery list in whatever way you prefer–on a piece of paper, the notes on your phone, or on an Excel spreadsheet. List the food item you need to stock up on and the minimum amount you have as a goal (e.g. “Flour, Goal: 10 pounds”). You can buy the amount of a food item you need all at once or across several smaller purchases, but just make sure you keep a consistent and organized inventory of everything.

Considerations for special diets

Many people suffer from food allergies and sensitivities. If this is you or another one of your family members, the same rules apply–store what you know you can eat and that will not require refrigeration. Buy what you can in bulk–rice, lentils or beans, or other allergy-friendly staples in your diet. Always check labels for allergen info, or get in touch with the company directly to get any questions answered.

If you are purchasing food from a company that is new to you, buy a smaller amount of food first so you can introduce it to your diet and see if it works for you if your allergies are severe. You can always freeze-dry, dehydrate, or can your own allergy-friendly foods and meals if it is more economical than buying them pre-packaged.

Not all allergy-friendly foods come in packaging that is food-storage friendly. Any container or bag that is not vacuum-sealed will need to be repackaged for it to last months or years in food storage. Repackaging food so it’s food-storage friendly is quite easy, thankfully!

4. Look for smart buys

Once I had a grocery list compiled based on meals my family would eat, I could then look for sales and get our supply started. It took me about a month or so to get a full week’s worth of food stashed away, but it felt like a big accomplishment. Keep an eye out for sales at your local grocery store, and any sales that happen around major holidays.

The good news is, you don’t need to buy all the food all at once…it isn’t a race! Twenty one meals’ worth of food storage is not a small amount, so stock up at a pace that is sustainable financially for you and your family.

…stock up at a pace that is sustainable financially for you and your family.

Just do it

If you already do meal planning, using a method like this could make starting a food supply really easy. There are other steps to take once you establish food storage, but the first step is to plan. Then, follow your plan and get the food. After that you can figure out what inventory and rotation system works for you as you add to the supply. After I had a week’s worth of food, I challenged myself to get a second week’s supply, and on it goes.

How did you start your food supply? Did you use an established method or figure it out on your own? What would your advice be to someone just getting started?

Originally published 8/1/14.

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