Those of you who aren’t too caught up in the trivialities of life or Hollywood, and are actually paying attention to what is going on in our economy are hopefully coming to the realization that things just aren’t right in our country. There is a feeling of impending turbulence, whatever form that may come in.
More and more people are beginning to wake up and realize how fragile our system really is, and how dependent and they are upon it for their most basic needs. Many are starting to think about what they can do now to get prepared for an unexpected disaster. I have found myself answering a lot of questions and lending a lot of advice to those considering food storage, and I am encouraged to know that so many others are getting their houses in order. The more people who can feed themselves without outside assistance, the better off we’ll all be.
Since it seems I’ve been giving out a lot of the same advice and information to those who are asking (and maybe even loved ones who aren’t asking), I thought it would just be best if I wrote an entire series on the subject for everyone to read, and you can ask me any other questions you may have as we go. I’ll have to write in several parts, as there is a lot to cover, and I will probably miss some stuff but will do my best to be thorough.
Today, we’ll talk about Food Storage.
How Do I Begin Storing Food?
If you are new to food storage and don’t really have anything set aside as of right now, I understand how overwhelming this can feel. Especially if you feel a sense of urgency, like you need to have it all right now! Try to take a deep breath and build your home store a little at a time, as your budget allows. Here are some baby steps to help you decide what to buy first.
Baby Step One: 2 week’s worth of food. This is bare minimum of what you should have in your emergency food storage. If you don’t have enough food to get your family through at least 14 days without going to a grocery store, this needs to be a priority.
Put together a menu for two weeks worth of meals, and buy shelf stable ingredients to make them. Think of stuff you and your family would normally eat. This is especially true if you have children, as it’s extremely important that they maintain nourishment during a crisis. Now is not the time to be introducing strange new foods to kids.
Here are some simple meal ideas for 2 week’s worth of shelf stable foods:
The following suggested meals are designed around items you can grab at your local grocery store. You can find organic or natural versions of each of these foods. Be creative to supplement for food allergies.
Day 1: Oatmeal (packets), freeze dried fruit*; canned tomato soup; canned chicken salad on crackers
Day 2: Granola bars, applesauce; mac ‘n cheese and beenie weenies; chili
Day 3: Pancakes (just-add-water mix), syrup, fruit cocktail; beef jerky, instant rice; canned beef stew
Day 4: Instant grits, trail mix; canned chicken noodle soup; spaghetti (noodles and a jar of sauce)
Day 5: Breakfast bars; canned tuna salad and crackers; Ramen noodles
Day 6: Granola and milk (dried or canned), canned mandarin oranges; beef and noodles (just-add-water); black beans (canned), instant rice, seasonings
Day 7: Powdered smoothie mix (something like this); peanut butter or cheese crackers, freeze dried veggies; just-add-water meal
Don’t forget to include drinks: powdered drink mix, tea bags, coffee, etc.
*Freeze dried foods last MUCH longer than dehydrated foods. We’re talking years vs months.
Baby Step Two: A month’s worth of food. You can follow the same basic idea as above and buy shelf stable foods from the grocery store, or you can buy raw ingredients in freeze dried form and create your meals from scratch. Buying raw ingredients (onions, potatoes, carrots, corn, diced chicken, apple slices, etc) is the most cost effective way to store food, and gives you the greatest flexibility in the meals you prepare. Plus, you can avoid preservatives, additives, and unnatural ingredients this way.
Freeze dried foods are very simple to cook with. Look at your favorite recipe, make an ingredients list, then buy what you need in freeze dried form. When it’s time to make the meal, soak the dried ingredients for a few minutes, then cook just as you would if it was fresh. No other special treatment or preparation needed!
Baby Step Three: 3 month’s worth of food. At this stage I would recommend that you move beyond the basic staples and start adding some comfort foods. If the emergency has lasted long enough that you’re into 3 months of food storage, you’ll be grateful to have some special treats mixed in with your regular meals.
Some comfort food ideas:
- Dessert mixes: cookies, brownies, etc (shelf stable for long term storage)
- Yogurt Bites
- Bread mixes
- Hard candy
- Scrambled eggs
- Mashed potatoes and gravy (buy a packet of gravy mix, or this gravy with a 10 yr. shelf life)
- Freeze dried meats
Baby Step Four: 6 month’s worth of food. Now you’re getting serious. A membership to a buying club, such as Sam’s or Costco… or taking advantage of their ‘open to the public’ days… will help you buy in bulk at premium savings. Start thinking about buckets of shelf stable foods you can store.
Some items that you can buy in bulk and store well in buckets are:
- instant milk
- TVP (soy based) meat
- whole grains (wheat, quinoa, millet, spelt, amaranth, pearled barley)
Do some price comparisons before buying in bulk. Some food co-ops can get these items for less than buying clubs. When buying in bulk like this, you’ll need to store these foods in food safe plastic buckets with oxygen absorbers to prevent weevils from hatching. (You can read more about storing food in buckets here.) Mylar bags are optional, but ensure safer storage. I’ve started using mylar bags after several of my buckets got cracked in storage.
Thrive Life also carries all of the above mentioned foods in buckets with gamma seal lids (easy on/off), mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers for 10-20 years of storage.
Baby Step Five: A year’s worth of food. This should be everyone’s goal- to have enough shelf stable food stored up to sustain every member of your family for an entire year. This might sound crazy in our day and age when convenience reigns supreme and all of our needs are just a grocery store away. Our modern mindset hinges on a dangerous illusion that it will always be this way. It was only two generations ago when the average household had cellars packed full of home grown foods- plenty to get by during the “lean times”.
You would have been thought a fool if you didn’t have provisions stocked away in those times. That wisdom was lost with the Industrial Revolution, as more and more housewives traded their skills for convenience. We need to get back to that survival mindset so that we don’t have to depend on somebody else’s (or the government’s) generosity when times get hard.
Recommended Foods To Store
Keep in mind, these are suggestions to get you thinking about foods you’ll want to have on hand. Please adjust according to your personal dietary needs or food allergies.
Wheat (Wheat Berries)– Flour will go rancid after a few months; wheat berries store for decades. You will need a wheat grinder to turn these whole grains into flour. I’d recommend a hand grinder in case you are without electricity. (We have a Wonder Junior Deluxe Hand Mill, you can check out my review of it HERE.) I’d also recommend storing Soft White Wheat (or pastry wheat) for making pancakes, quick breads, and other breads that don’t need yeast. (You could use hard wheat for these, but pastry wheat is cheaper.) You’ll also need Hard Red Wheat and Hard White Wheat for making loaves of bread and other recipes which do call for yeast. Hard Red Wheat has a bolder flavor, and makes a denser loaf. Some people prefer using Hard White Wheat, as it gives a milder flavor and softer loaf. And yet others recommend mixing the two for a good balance, which is what I am doing. If I could only choose one wheat to store I would choose Hard White Wheat because it’s the most versatile (you can make anything you want with it).
Rice Flour– A gluten free alternative to storing wheat.
Rice– Although Brown Rice is better for you, it will go rancid quickly. White Rice will store for 30+ years, and makes a great filler in many recipes.
Rolled Oats and Oat Groats– Not only for oatmeal, but also for cookies, breads, meatloaf, etc. Store Quick Oats and/or Old Fashioned Oats, depending on which recipes you plan on using.
Cornmeal– Great for making cornbread, breading fish and chicken, hasty pudding, fried cornmeal mush, etc. Cornbread has become one of my favorite quick-and-easy breads to make with meals. It doesn’t require leaven, rising time, nor nearly the time it takes to make wheat bread.
Pasta– Another cheap and filling staple. Store Macaroni, Spaghetti, Lasagna, ABC shapes for the kids, etc. Don’t forget to print out this recipe for homemade noodles as well, just in case you run out. Cheese is expensive, but if you can store up some cheese powder and/or freeze dried cheeses, that would be nice in pasta dishes. Don’t forget spaghetti sauce! You can make your own from canned tomatoes and spices. Find a good recipe to plan on using. Ingredients to make Stroganoff and Alfredo sauce would also be a nice way to mix it up.
Popcorn Kernels– These make a fantastic quick and healthy snack item. Change the flavor up by tossing with butter powder, cheese powder, or make a sweet and salty kettle corn.
- Pearled Barley
Beans and Lentils– Cheap and very nutritious! An important source of fiber, protein, carbs, iron, and vitamin B. Store a variety: Pintos, Black Beans, White Beans, Navy Beans, etc. These go great in soups, chili, with rice, refried for burritos, etc.
Canned and Freeze Dried Meats- Although we plan on having our own chickens and other small animals to butcher, along with hunting for wild game, we know we won’t be able to depend on these options always being available. Buy chicken, beef (you can even can ground beef!), and other meats you eat a lot of and can them yourself, or buy already canned meats. Tuna is another good thing to store, if your family likes it.
Freeze dried meats are surprisingly delicious, and super easy to toss into your favorite dishes just as you would fresh meat. All you do is soak it in water for a couple of minutes, and prepare as you normally would. TVP (textured vegetable protein) is also a cheap, high protein (soy based) meat alternative which is also surprisingly tasty. The only downside to TVP products is that you can pretty much guarantee they’re genetically modified, unless organic or otherwise specified.
Powdered Eggs– although these can’t be used to fry or scramble, they work perfectly when used for baking. You can also purchase freeze dried scrambled eggs which are excellent reconstituted and make delicious casseroles as well. We do have laying hens, but you can’t always rely on them to keep you supplied with fresh eggs. It’s good to have a backup in a shelf-stable form.
Nut Butters– peanut butter, almond butter, non-GMO soy butter, etc. are all great proteins to have stored away. Thrive also now carries Peanut Flour, which has a 5 year shelf life and can be used to make peanut butter, cookies, etc.
*Dairy Allergy Alternatives: One of my children has a dairy allergy, so we give her almond milk instead. Storing almonds in bulk to make homemade almond milk is a great alternative to powdered milk. You’ll just have to keep rotating it out to avoid spoilage.
Powdered Milk– For drinking, and for using in recipes. THRIVE Instank Milk is the absolute BEST for drinking and for cooking with. You won’t find any other powdered milk that tastes as good as this does. If you just plan on cooking with the milk, and won’t be drinking it straight, any powdered milk will do. You can actually make paneer cheese with powdered milk as well! Thrive’s milk will last for 25 years unopened, and 2 years once it has been opened.
Canned Milk– This is another option for shelf stable milk, though it isn’t my first choice. When we first got into food storage, we stocked up on a bunch of evaporated milk. Unfortunately, most of it went bad before we could use it up. If you go this route, be sure to rotate through it within a year or two so that you don’t waste your money throwing it away like we ended up doing. Another downside- flavor… bleh!
Cheese– Freeze dried cheddar cheese was actually one of the first things we ever tried in freeze dried form, and pretty much sold us on Thrive foods. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of having dried cheese. It’s actually amazingly good. We couldn’t tell a difference between the freeze dried and freshly grated cheese.
I like to store different types of cheese for various reasons. Cheddar is mainly used to top dishes, such as chili or casseroles. We store mozzarella to make pizzas. Monterey Jack is also good on chili and Mexican dishes. Parmesan for Italian dishes. Colby for various dishes. And powdered cheese is great for macaroni and cheese.
Sour Cream– Great to top Mexican dishes, as a veggie dip base, in dressings, for gravy… we also enjoy sour cream whipped into mashed potatoes.
Yogurt– My kids LOVE yogurt. They eat it almost every day. Freeze dried yogurt provides a way to have a yummy snack without the need for refrigeration. Yogurt bites can be eaten straight out of the can, or you can add water and whip it up to make it like the yogurt you’re used to. Snack foods are so important in your food storage. We can’t store enough yogurt.
Butter– Great over veggies, spread on bread, poured over popcorn, in baked goods… the only thing you can’t do with freeze dried butter is fry stuff in it, due to the low oil content. If you mix powdered butter up with some coconut or olive oil that will help achieve the oily consistency. Definitely a nice comfort food to have in your pantry.
Canned and Freeze Dried Fruits– Even if you plan on having a garden, you can’t depend on it giving you enough food to last an entire year. Store up foods your family normally eats: applesauce, mandarin oranges, peach slices, pineapple bits, fruit cocktail, freeze dried blueberries, freeze dried bananas, dried apple chips, etc. Don’t forget the jams, jellies, and pie fillings!
The awesome thing about most freeze dried fruits is that they last 25 years. Home canned or even store bought fruits should be eaten within a couple of years for best taste and nutritional value, so keep these types of foods rotated.
I’ve found this to be true, and I’ve heard many others say it as well: You can never have enough fruits stored up. You just don’t realize how much you eat them (I’m especially talking if you have kids) until you’re depending on your food storage.
Canned and Freeze Dried Vegetables– The same idea applies here as with the fruits. Store what you eat, and include some freeze dried foods along with canned goods for longer storage. We eat a lot of green beans, carrots, corn, onions, peppers, potatoes (lots of potatoes!), and peas, so that’s mostly what we’ve got stored. We also use a ton of tomatoes and tomato products. I can our home grown tomatoes for stewed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, ketchup, etc. But I also store diced freeze dried tomatoes and tomato powder, just in case I have a bad garden year.
Since I do a lot of canning from our garden, I try to focus primarily on storing freeze dried veggies that are hard for me to grow enough of (like corn), or foods that can’t be canned (or aren’t good canned), such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach (I don’t like canned spinach), and celery.
Dehydrated fruits and veggies are also a good alternative, though they will only last for about a year before needing to be rotated through your storage.
Chicken and Beef Bouillon– Bouillon is actually one of the main things I focus on storing up. It can be used to add flavoring to so many dishes. And, worst case scenario, if all you have to eat is what you can hunt or forage and some bouillon, you’ll always be able to make a flavorful meal.
Sugar– Even if you’re trying to limit your sugar intake, it’s still a valuable food item to have stored up. Use it to make jellies, jams and preserves, syrups, and sauces; sweeten your drinks, bake comforting desserts, or simply use it as a bartering item. Sugar is one of those things that you can’t have enough of. It’ll last forever when stored in an airtight, waterproof container.
Honey– Use to sweeten home baked goods and drinks, spread on toast, etc. Also good for sore throats and coughs, and for mixing up herbal honey when they kids are sick.
Olive Oil– For baking breads, homemade salad dressing, frying foods, etc. If you prefer a different type of cooking oil, then substitute that instead.
Coconut Oil– Another great oil to always have on hand. Not only is it great for frying and baking, it’s also very useful for homemade skin care products.
Salt– Lots of it. It’s important to store Iodized salt, along with any other type of salt your family uses (ie: Kosher, Sea Salt, Canning salt). Iodized salt contains Iodine, which is an essential trace mineral our bodies need to stay in good health. It can also be used for preserving meat.
Yeast– Don’t forget to store this for baking breads.
Baking Powder and Baking Soda– for home baked goods. Baking Soda is also a useful cleaning product. (Here’s one of my most popular uses for baking soda.)
Spices and Condiments– Look through the recipes you plan on cooking from your food storage to see what spices you’ll need. Learn how to make your own Ketchup, Mayonnaise, Salad Dressings, etc from these spices and other ingredients, or stock up on your favorite condiments.
(Read my post on Food Storage, Bulk Spices, and My Must Haves for a list of all of the spices I recommend storing.)
Vinegar– White and Apple Cider; for cooking, medicinal remedies, and disinfecting/cleaning.
Chocolate or Cocoa Powder– for sanity.
Molasses– for baking, making brown sugar, etc.
Lemon Juice– for cooking, dehydrating and canning.
Vanilla– for baking
Cornstarch or Arrowroot– as a thickening agent.
Pectin– If you plan on canning jellies, you’ll want to store packs of pectin.
Powdered Sugar– Okay, so it’s not an essential. But I’ll tell why I store a few #10 cans of powdered sugar. I figure if there ever comes a point when we’re living on our food storage, what a special treat it would be to be able to make a real birthday cake for my children, complete with buttercream frosting.
Powdered Drink Mix– You can order different flavors of powdered drink mix in bulk, or get them from a restaurant supply store. Thrive has a full line of 100% juice drink mixes that are much healthier than most brands you’ll find at the grocery store. These also make a great addition to fruit smoothies.
Coffee Beans– If you are a coffee drinker, and even if you’re not, this would be good to have on hand. You might need that extra boost of caffeine. I’d suggest storing coffee beans instead of already ground coffee. Again, a good hand cranked wheat mill will do a great job of grinding coffee beans. Plus, they make a great bartering item.
Tea– Whether you enjoy your tea hot or cold, tea bags or loose leaf tea are a great way to flavor drinking water. Many of the herbs you’d find in teas also have medicinal benefits as well.
Once you have enough of these basic staples stocked up, you can think about other treats for your food storage. Some people like having dessert mixes, hot chocolate, pancake mix (like Bisquick), and other convenience foods on hand. I’d say definitely spend your money on more substantial foods before splurging on these things.
How much of all of this food do I need?
Check out this Food Storage Calculator for suggested amounts of each food item you should be storing up for each person in your family for one year. Each family is different and will have different tastes and needs. Use this as a general guideline.
How do I store all of these foods?
It is extremely important that you store your foods properly. Nothing would be worse than to open a bucket of grains to find it crawling with Weevils (ask me how I know), or to find that a mouse has been enjoying your stockpiles before you could! Take a few extra steps to ensure that your food will still be good when you are ready for it. Many of these things can store practically indefinitely if well protected.
Buckets– When looking for a bucket to store your grains in, you need to make sure that you use a food grade plastic bucket. You can’t just run to the hardware store and buy buckets. On the bottom of a food grade bucket will be an HDPE, with a number two within a triangle of arrows. I’ve read that the colored buckets, even if they have the #2 on them, are not safe. If you wanna be safe, get white buckets.
You can find these for free, or sometimes for a small price, at your local bakery. Just ask for icing buckets with a lid. Size doesn’t really matter. Gratefully take any and all they offer you! You can also order them online, but they are pricey. Gamma Seal lids are awesome, and are worth having at least a few.
#10 cans– You can buy some food items already packed in #10 cans, which are about 3/4 gallon; these will already be prepared for long term storage. If you have a cannery in your area you can buy bulk foods and can them yourself using their equipment. Packing #10 cans yourself is definitely the cheaper of the two options.
Mylar Bags– Some people seal their food in mylar bags before putting them in a bucket. Although it isn’t necessary, it is an added protective measure. After having several lids on our buckets crack, I’m now a firm believer in the importance of having your food sealed in mylar bags. You can buy these online and at survival stores.
Oxygen Absorbers– You’ll need to put these absorbers in your buckets, and #10 cans if you are filling them yourself, along with the food you’ll be storing. They will absorb all of the oxygen in your container, killing any bug eggs that might be ready to hatch out in your foods. Make sure that the container you will be putting these in is airtight.
As soon as you open the sealed bag of absorbers, they will begin working. You have about 10 minutes to get them into a bucket and sealed before they start losing their potency. If you will not be using them all, store the extra oxygen absorbers in a small glass jar tightly sealed until ready to use again. They will lose a little bit of strength since they will have absorbed the oxygen in the jar, but not much.
Oxygen absorbers come in different sizes; 100 CC, 300 CC, 500 CC and 2000 CC. It is recommended to use one 500 CC absorber per #10 can. A 5-6 gallon buckets needs two-three 500 CC absorbers. You can get these online, at survival stores, and cheapest at LDS canneries.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)– A naturally occurring substance, safe for consumption as long as it is “food grade” DE, and not what you will find in swimming pool supplies. Mix one cup of DE into every 40 lbs of grains and legumes; approx. 1 cup per 5 gallon bucket. Do this in small batches to ensure that every kernel is covered in the powder. Use a mask when mixing to avoid inhaling this product. You might wanna protect your eyes as well. You can order this online, some garden centers and feed stores also carry DE. Read the ingredients on the bag before buying to make sure that other chemical insecticides have not been added.
Iodized Salt– Add 1 cup of salt to a container of pasta to keep weevils out. You won’t be wasting the salt, ’cause it will still be usable when the pasta is gone.
Where do I store all of this food?
Consider converting a large closet into a storage pantry. Our master bedroom has two decent sized closets. We converted one into a food closet by adding shelves from floor to ceiling all the way around the room.
Build more shelves in existing closets, as high as they will go. Clean out unnecessary accessories, gadgets, and kitchen tools you never use from your cabinets, and use that space for food storage. Take advantage of any unused vertical space.
Raise every bed in your home to accommodate boxes of food or 5 gallon buckets.
Store large buckets in every corner of every closet. If you have a spare closet, build shelves in it to store buckets without stacking them directly on top of each other. If you have a garage, basement, or root cellar, you are very fortunate!! Use this space to the best of its capacity!
Make sure you take preventative measures in protecting your food from water damage in flood prone areas. Just keep in mind that the food needs to stay relatively cool. Hot, humid places should be avoided.
Make sure that you are using the more perishable items in rotation, paying attention to expiration dates. Some things will only last for a year no matter how well they are stored. Use these foods in your every day cooking, and replace them as you go.
Phew! Well, I think that covers that. Did I miss anything? Obviously, water needs to be stored, but that will have to be an entirely different post.
Hopefully that will help you get started, or motivate you to finish storing up your year’s supply. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them for you.