Food: Store What You Eat – Eat What You Store
Perhaps the most daunting task facing the new prepper is the acquisition of several months worth of food. When I talk with folks about starting a long-term food supply, I usually get a response like this:
‘Holy S&%$’, a week’s worth of groceries costs me nearly $200, how am I supposed to buy 6 months worth of food?
OK, stop hyperventilating. The answer is: one can at a time. Unless you plan on using a tax refund or the kids’ college fund to buy it all in one fell swoop, the idea is to spread the cost over as much time as necessary. Buy what’s on sale, as long as it’s something you normally eat. Put one in the pantry and one in the stash. Look for Buy One -Get One specials. Join a ‘warehouse store’ and buy in bulk. There are lots of ways to get started. But you have to get started!
‘Ok, Ok, I get it. So, what should I get first?’
It doesn’t matter what you get first. What matters is that you start now. And with that thought in mind, here are some food types and storage methods to consider.
1. Canned Foods
Most beginning preppers start with canned foods, as they typically have a long shelf life (usually a few years), they’re easy to store, and, in keeping with the post title: canned foods are a significant part of many peoples’ diets. I suggest a good mixture of vegetables, beans, and meats. Work out the meal portions yourself, but the more of these items you stock, the greater the variety in your diet when things go south.
Our canned vegetable supplies include several 6 or 8-packs of vegetables like green beans, corn, asparagus, and spinach (even canned potatoes) bought at a warehouse store, similar quantities of garbanzo, black, red, baked, and other beans, and a variety of meats. The canned meats vary form the quintessential and obligatory SPAM, to corned beef hash, tuna, salmon, turkey breast, and chicken breast. Also, in the meat catagory I guess, would be the dozens of cans of Chili w/ beans – a favorite of our kids. Note: Canned cheese and butter are also available for long-term storage, although not usually stocked in your grocery store. Just enter ‘canned butter’ or ‘canned cheese’ in your favorite search engine and have a look at the web links.
Start by accumulating a weeks’ worth of canned foods, then a few weeks worth, and soon, you’ll have your first month’s worth. Don’t forget to include canned desserts in your preps. Canned peaches or pairs or apple sauce can be considered a ‘comfort food’ if things go south. Remember also to develop some sort of labeling system so you can keep track of the expiration dates of your canned goods and rotate them out before they get too far past their ‘Good Until’ date. In addition, Remember to include in your canned foods supply a significant quantity of tomato sauce and paste, especially if, like me, you are of Italian heritage and would NEVER store jarred ‘spaghetti sauce’, lest the ghost of your little, Italian grandmother haunt you forever!
2. Dry Goods
Ok, you’ve started your canned goods. Sure it looks meager now, but in a few weeks you’ll have stored a significant amount of food with very little effort and minimum negative monetary impact on your normal household budget. Now, it’s time to stock up on dry goods, like rice, beans, pasta, sugar, and flour. The hard-core survivalists out there are now snickering from their Bug-Out locations because I didn’t mention grains for milling into flour. I didn’t mention that because the title of this blog is ‘Practical Prepping’, and for most folks, milling their own grain is, well. . . not ‘practical’.
Rice, a staple food of billions of people, is inexpensive and should be stored in significant quantities. Beans like lentils, split peas, Navy beans are great for making soup which adds a welcomed variety to the diet. Pasta is a great side dish as well as a main dish, and flour can be used in cooking as well as baking breads (just remember to include vegetable oil and yeast packets in your ‘preps’ shopping list). As with all the dry goods I mentioned, the absolute best way to store them long-term is to pack them in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers inside. Note: Click Here for a link to a great article on How To Store Food in Mylar Bags.
But, if you’re just getting started, and haven’t gotten around to ordering mylar bags and O2 absorbers yet, you can store those items quite well with a household vacuum sealer you might already own or can borrow from a neighbor. If you don’t already own one, I highly recommend you get one. Ours has saved our family two to three times what we paid for it in meats and poultry we did not have to discard after a few months due to freezer burn.
‘Ok, that sounds good, but how much rice or beans should I store in one bag?’
Well, remember, this is for long-term storage so you don’t want to make the individual packages too large. Once you open the vacuum-sealed rice or beans they are no longer part of your long-term inventory and must be consumed before they spoil. Therefore, opening a 25’lb bag of rice poses the problem of having to use that relatively large quantity of rice before it goes bad. To be sure, rice does have a fairly long shelf life, but packing the rice in 1-2 lb packages would be a more practical strategy to pursue. Same goes for the other dry foods. Once sealed and labeled, I would store the bags in 5-gallon plastic buckets with lids – the kind you can get at The Home Depot or Lowe’s. Using buckets with lids will keep the food fresher and allow easy stacking to save space. Also, it helps prevent punctures of the vacuum bags subsequent loss of vacuum.
Finally, if you do not have access to a vacuum sealer, you can use large sized freezer bags available from any grocery to store your dried goods for a while. The idea is to keep the food away from the moisture and O2 in the air as both serve as agents of spoilage. This, however, should only be a stop-gap measure for anyone truly interested in long-term storage of dried goods. Mylar bags is the way to go.
3. Meats, Fish, and Poultry
The notion of considering frozen meats (‘meats‘ being a generic term for meat, fish, and poultry) to be long-term storage items is an iffy one in prepper circles. The main reason for concern is fairly obvious. If you are using your long-term supplies, then something of a catastrophic nature must have occurred. The assumption among many preppers is that if that catastrophe has occurred, you have already lost, or are about to lose, electrical power – the power you need to keep your freezer running. See the problem?
Before you decide to invest hundreds of dollars in frozen meats, let me show you how I, and several other preppers, have approached the problem. For me, the idea of storing lots of frozen protein in the form of chicken breasts, meatballs, sausage, steaks, etc was worth the risk of losing some of that food to eventual spoilage should the grid go down. However, I did several things to tip the balance in my favor. First, I bought 2 very efficient chest freezers which stay in my garage. Secondly, I bought a generator; an even more efficient HONDA EU2000i generator to run them about 12 hrs/day if the grid goes down. I’ve tested that load on the Honda generator and it can keep them running with no effort at all – even on a very efficient ‘Fuel Saver’ setting. To run the genny, I have stored, over the course of a few years, enough fuel to keep it humming for several months and oil to keep it lubed. This is enough time to consume all my stored ‘protein’ before I run out of gasoline. More about Generators and Electricity in a future post.
If you decide to choose the route that I’ve taken, remember, I did not acquire all the items I spoke of in a few weeks or even months. It took me years to gather up all the equipment and fuel. I bought the two freezers as close-out items for a great price, but did not scrimp on the generator. Your plans may vary.
The best way to store meat is to vacuum seal it. This greatly reduces the risk of freezer burn and spoilage. I vacuum seal all meats and, additionally, place them in 1 gallon sized freezer bags which I label with the contents and the date packed. Remember, you can also store frozen vegetables in your freezers, even butter, along with the meats.
Just like with your canned goods though, remember to rotate your stock.
4. Freeze Dried Foods
Many preppers have chosen to forgo the canned, dried, and frozen food route in favor of the purchase of pre-prepared, freeze dried meals. Not sure what I’m talking about? Well, walk down the camping aisle at your local Bass Pro Shop or WalMart and you’re bound to find packets of Mountain House ‘Chili Mac With Beef’ or other such freeze dried fare. They are complete, fully cooked meals which have been freeze dried and packaged in pouches. Each pouch serves 2 adults after you’ve added the necessary amount of boiling water and waited until the food ‘reconstitutes’. How are they, you might ask. Quite good. I’ve enjoyed all 5 different entrees I’ve sampled. They are also available in larger packages – namely #10 cans (picture a large can of coffee – that size), and by the case. And Mountain House is by no means the only manufacturer of freeze dried food for long term storage. A web search will reveal several very reputable companies who produce very similar foods.
The upside to freeze dried foods is huge. No cooking; unless you consider boiling water cooking. 10+ year shelf life. A large variety of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, all at your fingertips and all no more difficult to prepare than boiling water.
The downside however, is a big one to those of us on a budget – that is, they are fairly expensive. Buying #10 cans by the case can mitigate the cost somewhat, but it is still considerable. Do your research before deciding to go either route or perhaps, do like I did and store both. My long term foods are largely the types described in the first three numbered sections of this post, but my most recent purchases have been of the freeze dried variety for extra long shelf life – that is to say, beyond the two to three years of many of my stored canned goods. There is no hard and fast rule for the ratio of grocery store food to freeze dried food one should store. That’s the beauty of becoming self-sufficient in foods and other things – you’re the boss! You make the decisions. No two people will have an identical food storage plan.
5. Condiments, Spices, and Other Necessities
Needless to say, if you’ve decided to cook your meals rather than go the freeze dried route, you’re going to need an extensive supply of common herbs and spices. The good news is that many of the most common herbs and some spices can be grown with ease in your garden – but more on that in the next post! You should have large quantities of salt and pepper, parsley, oregano, basil, bay leaf, and any other spices you might often employ to prepare meals. Unless you can grow your own, plan on keeping several containers of dried onion, onion powder, and garlic powder. Cooking oil and/or shortening should be stored also, especially if you intend to do any baking. Ketchup and mustard are important items to store along with mayonnaise. Don’t forget the rubs or barbecue sauce for grilling, while the frozen meats (and electricity to keep them frozen) last.
Powdered eggs, butter and milk are also available. I cannot vouch for the taste of any of them, but I do have some of each in storage and I’m sure I will be presently surprised (I hope) when I sample them. Don’t forget the coffee and creamer. Instant coffee might be best in a SHTF scenario, but there’s nothing like fresh brewed. The choice, as always, is yours.
I hope this post helped motivate you to get your preps started. Good Luck.
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