Long Term Food Storage Resources
There are many wonderful posts out there that will discuss the need for long-term food storage. Let’s assume for a moment that you agree that it’s a good idea to have some food on the shelves, be it for a temporary power outage, ice storm or car failure, or something more catastrophic, like job loss, a hurricane, breakdown in the distribution system (like if no semis were on the road) or even a war or martial law.
How do you know what to store? How much should you store? You can have a field day Googling this, and you’ll get everyone’s advice, and it will all differ. I don’t have the answer either, but I have a few specific resources to share with you.
First, an important concept.
“Eat What You Store, and Store What You Eat”
What does that mean, really? It means that if you don’t like to eat something, or you won’t eat something, don’t buy it and stash it in your pantry because someone online said it was a good idea. If you don’t like pinto beans, don’t buy a #10 can of pinto beans. And certainly don’t buy 12 of them! Buy things you’d eat anyways. If you are just getting started, try taking advantage of grocery store sales and buy one/get one offers on your favorite foods. See this well stocked pantry, made entirely of normal “grocery store” foods.
I used to live on a farm, out in the middle of no-where, about 5 miles from a town that was still in the middle of no-where. The power went out regularly in the winter, sometimes for 8-10 days at a time. My mom thought ahead, and we had a propane stove and a kerosene heater, so we could still cook and stay warm with no power. Somewhat warm at least. But the well was electric powered, so when the power went out, so did the water. And you might get snowed in, or the mountain pass to the next nearest town might be closed… basically, all kinds of wonderful reasons to store food and water. And so we did. We had rows of gallon water containers, and a respectable pantry about twice the size of the one above. You’d think that would last awhile, wouldn’t you? Not with two teenagers in the house, it didn’t. It was usually enough to go through an outtage, or get us to the next big trip into town.
How do you figure out how much to store?
Start small. If you have bare shelves in your kitchen right now, aim for 3 days of extra food. Think about what you and your family eats, and buy enough so you don’t have to go shopping for the next three days. If you already have 3 days of interesting foodstuffs, shoot for two weeks. You don’t have to plan every meal ahead of time, just think of the types of foods that your family likes to eat. Can’t afford it all at once? That’s OK! Just grab an extra can here, an extra Tuna Helper there. It adds up surprisingly quickly, even with hungry teenagers. Take advantage of sales, or better yet, invest a bit of time into couponing. For resources and advice on couponing, see the Krazy Coupon Lady.
Let’s make another assumption here, and assume you’ve worked your way up to 3 months of food that you eat regularly. You’ll start to notice expiration dates, and start wondering about rotating your supplies. Consider getting a can rotator to help you keep track, or make extensive use of a sharpie pen. It’s better to spend the money on a rotator or on lots of sharpies than it is to throw away food you don’t feel comfortable eating anymore. Little sidenote: expiration dates are kinda a load of crock. Do some research before you toss or donate your food.
Now what? How do you save for 6 months, or a year, or two years? If you buy two years of food, will you ever eat it all before it expires? This is where long term food storage comes into play.
Long term food storage is generally lumped into the following categories: Grains, Beans, Milk & Dairy, Sweeteners, Fat, Leaving Agents and Spices. And somewhere in there, if you can afford it, is protean. Advice on food storage tends to come by weight, like 350 pounds of grains and 75 pounds of dairy products, per person, per year. Food Storage Made Easy has some neat guides to food storage, including their 10 Baby Steps to long term food storage. Specifically, their Long Term Food Storage page has one of the best calculators I’ve ever seen. It’s adjustable – if you think that 350 pounds is too small, just change it in the downloadable spreadsheet. It starts out with some decent recommendations, though I would caution you to read Kellene Bishop’s post “Do You Have Enough” before deciding on what “poundage” works for you and your family. Remember that most calculators don’t discuss spices or meat (because between rice and beans, you end up with complete proteins, as you’d get in meat – see Utah State University’s page on Beans for a brief, non-technical overview of beans and proteins).
So say you do your research (or just cheat and use a good calculator) – where do you get your 75 pounds of wheat or 5 pounds of lima beans (ehhh… lima beans.. – this comes back to storing what you eat)? There are plenty of companies that will sell you pre-packed long-term foods that are already made into meals, like MREs or freezed dried “hiking foods”. Lots and lots and lots of companies. Just be cautious, and make sure you are getting a good product. Buy a sample pack and try them out. Try Directive21 for Wise Food Sample Packs, but really, most food storage companies sell sample packs. If you are looking for straight up base materials though, not prepacked meals, you can start small at your local grocery store with a dollar bag of beans or rice, and work you way up in quantity.
If you are ready to buy in serious quantities, consider an LDS Cannery if you have one nearby. Or go down to Costco or your local warehouse club and buy in bulk, and pack them yourselves in Mylar and 5 gallon buckets. You can take those bags of rice that expire next year and extend the expirations out to 10-15 years with proper storage. Here’s a really good resource on Mylar bags for food storage, and here’s a quick video on the use of mylar to seal food in 5 gallon buckets.
I digress a bit. The point of this post isn’t to walk you through how to store your food, or where to get it. It’s to share some resources to help you figure out how much to store.
If you are storing in 5 gallon buckets, here’s a neat little chart on how many pounds of food fit in a bucket, to help you convert the weight measurements from a calculator into something a little more useful. The LDS order form also has useful pounds to #10 can ratios listed. If I use the Excel Calculator given earlier, for my family size for 3 months, it tells me I need 15.5 pounds of flour, which will cost $11 at an LDS Cannery. Between these tools, you can get some very specific ideas of what you might want to store. In my case, I’ve done some of my shopping at an LDS Cannery, and some at local stores. I don’t have any corn meal just yet, so I might want to buy more flour to make up for that deficiency until I address it with properly stored corn kernels or meal.
Let’s jump back for a second to “Eat what you store and store what you eat.” Made anything out of corn meal lately? I haven’t. Flour? Are you crafty in the kitchen, or do you only cook things with the word “Helper” attached to the end? If you truly believe in having a long-term supply of food for your family, you’re going to want to incorporate more base materials into your cooking, like flour and rice and beans. I’m starting now, because I don’t want to be thrown into a situation where I need to use my food storage, and discover that we all hate pinto beans. I already know we don’t like lima beans, so I can find a substitute for them early on.
Find a few good cookbooks that will help you use your food storage. Some recommending reading includes:
- The Family Emergency Preparedness Manual from the LDS Church – these folks know their stuff with long-term food storage.
- The Joy of Cooking, but make sure it’s from before the 1970s. The new ones work more with preprocessed foods and are less useful for long-term food storage recipes.
- Household Discoveries and Mrs. Curtis’s Cookbook – my copy is from 1914. There are some well priced copies on Amazon at the moment, and in much better shape than mine. This is an incredibly useful book for a prepper, both for the cookbook aspect and the household discoveries aspect. I’ve mentioned it a few times, and continue to find interesting snippets to share with readers.
- A Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook from 1960 or earlier.
The take-away bit here, besides the horde of links, is to get started. Start small, and grow with time and as your resources allow. If you are ready to jump right into long-term food storage, use some of these resources to figure out how much, and place your first order. We live in an age of opulence – take advantage of it while you can.
Because in the end, in every war, in every emergency, in the truly scary moments of someone’s life, it comes down to food. Can you feed yourself? Your family?