(Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out the podcast on the same topic)
Your food storage is one of the most important aspects of your preparedness plan. Food is one of the critical needs we have to maintaining life and the ability to continue functioning. Therefore, it is vitally important to ensure your food storage is going to meet your needs when the time comes for your family to rely on it. Below are ten questions to ask yourself about your current food storage to see if you are on the right track.
1. Do I Have Enough Food Diversity?
There are four main types of food you can use in your food storage. These types are:
- Pantry and Canned food
- Ready To Eat meals
- Convenient Meals
- Bulk Food
Each of these types serves a different purpose and you should have some of each in your food storage plan, as each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Pantry and Canned Food – This is the food you eat everyday and what you buy at the grocery store. Pantry food, including that which you keep in your freezer, is the easiest food to stock up on, as it is readily available in your local area. This food is also easy to increase the amount in your storage over a period of time, because you can buy a little extra each time you go to the grocery store.
Most preppers will find they can store and rotate about two to three months of pantry food relatively easy. After that, it becomes more difficult to manage the expiration dates on such a wide variety of food. This food needs continual rotation, in order to maintain its freshness in your food storage plan.
Ready to Eat Meals – These are the food or meals you can eat that require no cooking and can be eaten as is, right out of the package. The obvious military MREs fall into this category, but so do protein and granola bars, cereal. This also includes the plethora of packaged meals from the grocery store, such as pre-made mac and cheese, pasta and sauce, and many of the soft- and hard-canned food available. Even though they require water, protein and meal replacement shakes also fall into this category.
This is the food you need when you are evacuating and cannot take the time to stop and prepare and cook a meal. Oftentimes, you will not even be able to, or want to, stop in order to heat up water. Food that can be eaten on the go, without having to stop to prepare them, have distinct advantages for quickly moving out of an area.
Convenient Meals – These are the meals that take little effort to make, though do require some form of cooking, usually by adding boiling water or heating up. They are convenient when you have limited resources, in either fuel, time, and/or gear and cannot make a fully prepared meal (such as those made from scratch or require a recipe of ingredients). Most food falls into this category, but so do the wide variety of freeze-dried and dehydrated food available.
Typically offering more variety than MREs, many of these types of food closely resemble what you would eat for a typical home meal, only they are processed and packaged for a longer shelf life. Because the water has been removed, this food are much lighter than their pantry food counterparts, making them ideal for evacuation scenarios, particularly if you need to bug out on foot.
Bulk Food – This category includes foodstuffs like wheat, rice, beans, salt, sugar, and powdered milk. What separates them from the other types of food is they generally need to be processed, prepared and cooked before they can be eaten. Bulk food can be stored for long periods of time and purchased at low cost, making them ideal for long-term food storage plans. However, their weight and cooking requirements do not make them a good choice for mobile situations.
2. Will I Eat Everything in My Food Storage?
The reason we are preppers is due to our ability to look at current events and project possible future outcomes and situations. This ability, however, sometimes creates a wee bit of panic within us, and we can find ourselves buying things we normally would not, just in case. Occasionally, this panic buying leads us to buy food we do not normally eat, like, say, canned whole chicken, in gelatin.
It may have seem a good idea at the time to buy whatever you laid eyes on at the store, just to quickly bulk up your food storage and add variety, but chances are if you do not already eat it as part of your normal everyday food, you will eventually end up throwing it out. Which turns out to be a waste of both time and money, and nowadays, who can afford to waste either?
In reference to food storage, one main axiom of preparedness is: Eat what you store, and store what you eat. It is best to have a plan and then work that plan, staying within your budget. If you do feel the necessity of making a stock up run to the store, stick to food you know your family will eat.
You have done yourself proud, made a plan for your food storage, stuck to your budget, and have bought some food from each of the four categories. As you are looking over your storage food, you suddenly realize you have no idea what to do with all the wheat and beans you now have stacked in the corner of your closet. Do not fret, all is not lost. Most of what we eat is derived from bulk food, after it has been processed and cooked according to a recipe. You can do the same thing.
For example, wheat is used to make bread, biscuits, pasta and just about anything you would normally make using flour. The issue is you need to process the wheat into flour using a grain mill. Look for recipes showing you how to cook or bake from scratch. This does require an investment of time on your part, so you learn how to do it. Once you have made a few loaves of bread, though, you now know how to make bread and can move onto other recipes, to include other bulk food. Sometimes, as in the case of rice, it is simply a matter of having the right seasonings to make the rice more palatable.
Though bulk food require more preparation before they can be eaten, their long shelf life makes them worthwhile to include in your food storage plan.
4. Do I Have Comfort Food?
Let’s face it. For many of us, when we think of comfort food, we immediately think of chocolate. Though, your comfort food may be a bag of salty potato chips, or Lipton Noodle Soup with egg drop dumplings. Whichever food you turn to in times of stress, you should have some of that as part of your food storage plan. There is no place where it is written which states you must eat bland food during a crisis.
Comfort food can also have a calming affect on children and those that may not understand what is happening during a crisis. Do not overlook the powerful affect a candy bar can have on someone who just had their life turned upside down. Not only is it perfectly fine to store comfort food, you definitely should.
5. Will My Kids Eat My Storage Food?
If you have children, you may already know how picky they can be when it comes time to eat diner. Now, imagine you are in a crisis, and the only food you have is what you have stored. Children often would rather go hungry than to eat strange and foreign food. Not a good thing during a survival situation.
It is important to introduce your kids to any food you are storing which they are not already eating. In fact, it is best to see if they will eat it in the first place before laying into a large supply of it. Crisis situations are stressful enough without the added stress of seeing your child grow increasingly weaker because they will not eat. And do not make the mistake of assuming you will be able to get them to eat “if you really had to.”
If your children will not eat anything from your food storage outside of pantry food, then make sure to stock up on plenty of the food they will eat. But keep trying to work in some of the storage food into their everyday meals. Some kids may like the idea of eating freeze-dried “astronaut food,” while others will shy away from everything once they learn it is part of your food storage.
6. Have I Tried All My Storage Food to Ensure None Will Give Me GI Problems?
Not all storage food is alike. There are many companies selling storage food, and each of them uses different ingredients. If you are gluten intolerant, make sure to check to ensure the food you are buying are gluten free. Likewise if you have a soy or other food allergy. Many people experience “tummy issues” when eating food designed for long term storage.
Sometimes, this is due to the additives, such as MSG, or the preservatives used to ensure the long shelf life. For others, it is the different composition of the food, such as a higher content of salt or fiber. Whatever the issue may be, it is best to first test the food you will be storing. Do not buy several months of food before conducting a thorough test of the food to ensure you and your family can, literally, stomach it.
Oftentimes, it is just a matter of your body becoming accustomed to the new food, much like you may have a period of adjustment if you were to start taking fiber supplements. Other food may simply disagree with your digestive system, no matter what. It is best to know this before making a sizable investment in the food.
You can check how your body reacts to the food by eating one meal per day for about a week. If you have no tummy issues, or initial issues disappear within a few days, the food is probably good for your food storage. If, however, you are still having issues after one week of trials, you are probably better served by looking at another food storage brand. Only you can make that decision.
7. Does My Menu Plan for Serving Size Take into Consideration Daily Calorie Needs?
It is ironic that in our everyday life, we are often looking at ways to cut down on the amount of calories we consume. However, in a survival situation, it is quite the opposite. When food is scarce or is rationed, caloric intake is vitally important. Without the proper amount of calories, you will begin to lose weight, which may be good at first, but eventually your body will start to cannibalize itself in order to keep the brain and heart functioning.
When you are making your food storage plan, calculate how many calories your family needs everyday. If you divide this into the total number of calories you have stored, you will have a rough estimate of how many days of food you have stored. In general, each person will need between 1500 and 2500 calories every day. Children need a little less, and very active males will need more. You will need less when sitting around a shelter and a low level of physical activity, but more – sometimes much more – when doing hard labor. Consider this a rule of thumb, but you can calculate your exact calorie needs online at the Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.org/calorie-calculator/itt-20084939.
Another thing to keep in mind is serving size has zero relationship with a proper sized meal. Serving sizes are only a convenient way to describe how much nutrition and calories are in a given sample of the food. You need to make sure you calculate your food storage based on calories and not serving size listed on the package or the number of servings.
If you have infants, seniors, or anyone with food allergies, you have a special set of circumstance you need to make sure you are accounting for. This can complicate the way you calculate whether or not everyone has enough food for a given duration. In some cases, depending on the severity of special needs, it can be extremely difficult to accommodate everyone’s dietary needs.
One way to approach this is to group those people in your family that can eat the same food, and then calculate what you need for each group. This prevents having to mix your calculations when making replacements. For example, if some of your family can eat wheat, but others cannot, trying to calculate the replacements can be frustrating. Instead, make an entirely new list for each group, then tally up what needs to be purchased as a whole.
9. Have I Prepared for Evacuations by Having Food that Does Not Require Extensive Preparations Before Eating?
Whatever decisions you make on the types of food you store, make sure you have some grab-and-go food. As discussed in question #1 above, not all food is well-suited for evacuations and traveling when stopping is not a good idea. When putting together your food storage plan, particularly if you are trying to calculate for a wide diversity of food needs, it is easy to forget you need to have specific food designated as the ready to eat meals.
This food does not have to be the most exciting, but it does need to provide the energy and nutrition for, at least, several days of extended travel. Today, food suppliers are more in tune with the wide variety of food allergies people have and it should not be too difficult finding something in this category that everyone can eat.
10. Did I Store Extra Water for My Food Storage?
Most of the storage food you will store will require water, in some form, to prepare. Freeze-dried, dehydrated and convenient meals often require a lot of water to prepare properly. If you are only storing 1 gallon of drinking water per person per day, you may find yourself quickly running out of water.
Though you will find directions for preparing each meal on the package, it is strongly advised you actually make some of these meals to find out exactly how much water they need in order to make them. When you are conducting your food trials, as outlined in question #6, keep notes on what it took to prepare the meal. Good notes would include, not only how much water it took, but also how long it took to cook, how much fuel was used, the type of cookware and utensils needed to prepare, the taste, who in your family would or would not eat it, and so on. Use these notes when calculating what food to store and how much extra water and supplies you will need for meal preparation.
Not specifically related to food storage, is the cleanup that comes after the meal is done. Do not forget you will also need extra water to clean and sanitize the cookware and eating utensils. Be sure to include this in your calculations.
Food is a critical need for survival and your food storage is a necessary component for a successful preparedness plan. Make sure yours provides for your family. If you prepare early and prepare properly, when it comes time to needing your stored food, you will be thankful you took the time and did it right.