Knowing what to buy to get your family prepared can be daunting. Where do you start? How much do you need? Where are you doing to get it? How do you store it? There are a lot of questions to answer and this article is going to walk you through our process for food storage. We created a system that works for us and is a different than what we often see being taught about how to do food storage. We've added our personal preferences as a minimalist dietitian and a strategic military man, both money hoarders and both coming from multi-generational food storage families to create a unique food storage system.
Where to Start
Start with what you eat now. Most people eat about 15 meals on rotation (actual fact from a dietitian). This makes planning food storage easy for you because you just need to start by identifying your most commonly eaten meals. Obviously look at recipes that use more pantry staples, not the amazing fresh salad recipe you got from your friend. We suggest starting with 10 commonly used recipes. You can even print out the recipes and keep them in a folder or emergency preparedness binder so you don't forget what they were. After you know your 10 common recipes you'll know what pantry staples to buy in bulk. Maybe you eat a lot of rice, or maybe you are more of a pasta family. Whatever dry goods you eat the most of are what you should store because then you always have the pantry staples for your favorite recipes. From there you can figure out how to make other ingredients in your recipe shelf stable. For example we like to eat jambalaya. We can freeze celery and peppers to have on hand, or we could get freeze dried or dehydrated celery for when we make jambalaya. Maybe you could can chicken and sausage to have on hand for jambalaya. Get creative as you try and make your favorite recipes shelf stable. Pro Tip: If you want to eat healthier just focus on finding healthier versions of your favorite recipes, or try adding in a new type of healthy meal to your rotation like a vegetable laden curry.
Figure Out How Much You Need
After figuring out what you eat you need to figure out how much you want to have on hand. Maybe you're a single college student so you just want to have 10 meals on hand for those busy weeks when you haven't made it to the grocery store that double as food storage when a huge snow storm shuts down your college town down for a day or two. Maybe you are a young family just starting out and you want to have 3 months on hand because that's all you really have space for and you move a lot. Maybe you want 6 months because while you have the money and space for more you just aren't sure how to manage it all yet and want to work in smaller quantities until you get the hang of managing a food storage. You decide where you are at and do what works for you. But by all means please have something on hand to make life simpler.
When calculating how much to store (we keep food on hand for 6-12 months) we base our calculations off of how much we actually eat. This doesn't have to be super complicated or involve a ton of math. Estimates work here; ie we eat oatmeal about 3 times a week and use 3 cups each time so 3 cups x 3 days/week= 9 cups of oats a week. That is about 36 cups per month so multiply 36 by however many months worth of food you want to have on hand (3, 6, 12, etc).
Another way to think of it is how many times in a month do you eat this food. For example we eat four bean salad about once a month. We eat more in the summer and less in the winter so having enough canned beans, peppers, oil, vinegar, etc on hand to make the recipes 12 times is plenty for the year.
For smaller amounts of food just work off how many times you want to make a particular recipe. For example, if you want to make spaghetti three times multiply your recipe ingredients by three. Keep it simple, don't get too technical, it doesn't have to be perfect. While post 2020 is bleak you don't have to be completely set for the apocalypses right now. You are just getting started and that's great. It doesn't matter if your noodle to sauce ratio is off in your pantry or if you are a couple weeks short on oatmeal. Just get started.
Shop for a Discount
With recent supply chain issues shopping has gotten a little more complicated. Currently as I'm writing this Augason Farms and Azure Standard are both having issues meeting demand and are not functioning like normal. Rolling shortages are happening across the United States and grocery shopping can be tricky. Some of our favorite places to shop at a discount are local surplus and scratch and dent stores. Check around; you may be surprised to find you have one in your area. Winco will let you buy items from their bulk bins by the bag (like 25 pound bag). Check and see if a grocery store near you will do the same. Amazon has a surprising amount of bulk food on their site. We've never purchased food from them but you may find it is a good option for you. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has food storage at great prices and you may find what you are looking for through their canneries. You could even look for restaurant supply stores in you area and see what they have to offer.
Don't be discouraged if none of those options seem to work for you. Use what you have near you. Sign up for text alert at the store nearest you. Wait for sales or clearance close out. Use store apps for coupons. We've gotten some of our best deals by checking the clearance section at our local Smith's grocery store (like butter for $0.10/pound). Find the clearance sections at the store in your area and check it every time you go to the store!
Storing Food Storage
We have a food storage room for our food but we get that most people don't have that luxury. If you have a small amount of food just keep it in your kitchen. We like to use dollar store bins to store food and stack them double deep in our pantry. Less commonly used items go in the back and it is easy to remove the bin in front to access them. If you have a shelf in a closet or laundry room you can devote to food storage that is another great option. We've also stored food under couches and beds or at the bottom of closets. With our homeschooling supplies we got an armoire for $50 from the local classifieds and added shelves. It can hold a lot and looks like a decorative piece of furniture. Consider adding storage like that to hold food storage items.
However you store your food keep it away from heat, light, oxygen and moisture. Air tight containers in your house instead of out in a garage or shed is ideal. Five gallon buckets are great for things like flour, oats, or sugar if you buy 25 pound bags worth. No.10 cans can be purchased full of the foods you need in smaller amounts or shelf stable alternatives (ie powdered butter or eggs). We even have spaghetti noodles in a No.10 can. Get creative with your storage and don't be afraid to think outside the box.
We think everyone can and should have a little bit of food storage. Even if it is just for busy days when you didn't have time to run to the grocery store food storage is so convenient. And you never know when life is going to throw something a little more extreme your way like a natural disaster or frantic people hoarding toilet paper. Stocking up on sales is going to save you money and not going to the store as often is going to take a load off you plate. You'll even save time on meal planning because you already did that when you decided on the 10 recipes you are going to base your food storage off of. If it is overwhelming just start with making your 10 recipes shelf stable and keeping enough for those 10 meals on hand. You've got this and we promise it will be worth it.