When it comes to preparedness in my home, I work diligently to make sure that it flows with the normalcy of our routine as much as possible. Rather than viewing preparedness as a staunch concept that runs perpendicular to who we are, it is a parallel vein of sustainability in the life that we live. A good depiction of what this looks like is evident in the way I handle our food storage. While you may think of Mountain House, Augason Farms, and so many other freeze-dried options when you imagine food storage, it's not the only option. While having a pre-made emergency supply such as these may be helpful, I find it easiest and most budget-friendly to begin by bulking up whole foods that store well and that we already eat and love. I also make sure to keep in mind local access to complementary parts of the dish that could serve us well.
An example for me is that we have an abundance of smoked sausage in my area of the country. This meat stores well and would make a dense meal when mixed with beans and cornbread--two items that I make sure to keep in my food storage supply. If you grew up in a more rural area of the country like I did, the concept of maintaining a supply of food on hand might seem second nature. I personally can speak to the efficiency and comfort of having a food supply after the many hurricanes and loss of infrastructure that I have lived through. Anyone still reeling after the consumer panic of March 2020 and beyond? Stocking our homes with the things we need is indeed smart and extremely useful, as you'll find in the paragraphs to come.
If you're new to food storage or looking to organize your supply to certify efficiency, I would use one of my favorite suggestion methods: the rule of twenty.
- 20 pounds of beans
- 20 pounds of rice or grain
- 20 cans of vegetables
- 20 cans of fruit
- 20 cans of meat (chicken/tuna/beef/etc)
This will give you an excellent start to your food storage, and you can manage the purchase time frame to fit into your budget. I like using bulk food suppliers like Azure Standard to purchase 25-pound bags of most beans, grains, and even flour. I store these in food-grade buckets with airtight Gamma seal lids, which you can find at larger hardware stores, Uline, and many restaurant suppliers both online and local.
Once you've established your twenty items, you can continue to add to this while expanding your purchases to other items. My personal suggestions are:
- canned tomato products
- pasta sauce
- powdered milk
- powdered goat milk (can be used as infant formula in an emergency)
- canned soups
- boxed soup (Imagine brand sells soups in 32 oz boxes that would travel well if need be)
- boxed milk (almond, etc.)
- spices such as cinnamon, chili powder, garlic powder, minced onion
- dried fruit
- beef jerky
- peanut butter
- powdered drink mixes (preferably those with nutritional additives)
- tea and/or coffee
- jam or jelly
- pancake mix
Here's the crazy part. You're going to use some of these items in regular rotation in your weekly meals. Some might ask if this defeats the purpose? In reality, it expands your purpose!! As you use your products, you will realize that you didn't waste your time and money on things you'll never use because while canned goods are shelf-stable, they still expire. As you use products, you'll replace them. This ensures that your supply is continually fresh and applicable to who you are as a family. It also allows you to practice cooking your meals in various ways to discover what is the most including cooking methods, as well as how easily you can get it into everyone’s bellies. If you've never cooked beans from scratch, for example, you can learn which beans require long soaks and longer simmering (ex: kidney beans and pinto beans) and which ones can be cooked quickly with little to no soaking (ex: black-eyed peas). I would suggest making a plan 2 or 4 times a month to cook something from your supply that you would be able to prepare in whatever circumstances you may find yourself in during an emergency.
Most people do not include frozen and refrigerated foods in their food supply because you can never ensure that they'll remain viable options. If electricity is lost, a generator may be available to operate them, but only as long as you can access the fuel to run that generator. If you have solar power, you may feel more confident. Still, suppose you were ever to have to leave your home to safeguard your family at an alternate location. In that case, you couldn't easily take the contents of a freezer or refrigerator with you in a way that would allow them to be preserved for an extended time like you could the stable shelf options. I do, however, like to point out what I choose to keep in stock at all times for the normal rhythms of life:
- frozen vegetable and fruit
- meat (best bulk options are finding local farms/butchers and purchasing an entire animal, half an animal, a quarter of an animal, etc.)
Water is the one preparedness item that you never want to leave yourself without. Thankfully 71% of the Earth's surface is water, so there's typically access close by, but we must always be prepared to collect and filter water outside of our basic prep. Water is a survival item that I never take for granted. I am humbled by the fact that I can turn a faucet and have clean drinking water in seconds, but believing that this is never subject to change or interference for even a short while would be foolish. Here are my multiple forms of water storage that I choose to employ.
- Three gallons of water per person in my family in gallon jugs (I utilize and restock these regularly because they do expire after some time. My philosophy is that these would operate for a short term emergency and can also work as collection and purification jugs if needed in alternate forms)
- External water purification system for your home (think: Berkey)
- Bleach Unscented (and all of the crunchy mamas like me screamed, "NO," but one ¾ teaspoon of bleach can treat 50 gallons of water in an emergency, so it's a staple in my preparedness)
- Water purification tablets
- Water purification straw or reusable cup (like Lifestraw or Sawyer)
- I keep a WaterBOB. It's a single-use 100-gallon bladder that you place into a bathtub and fill with water when the need arises. We use these for natural disasters when potential clean water loss is imminent.
You also want to consider the cooking tools that you may use in an emergency as well. Cast iron pots and skillets, wooden and metal spoons, and metal cake pans/casserole dishes/baking sheets can all be used on fires/grills when necessary. Keeping aluminum foil on hand in larger quantities can also be used when cooking outside when necessary. I also like to ensure that I have a selection of physical recipes that I can reference if I weren't able to access the internet. Making sure to have access to a conversion guide for measurement reference and things like bleach to water ratios is essential.
You'll also want to consider the fuel you need to cook your food. Charcoal, wood, and items like lighters and matches are easy to keep available and together in large storage bins.
Mason jars, mylar bags, and food-grade plastic buckets with gamma seal lids make excellent food storage vessels. If you plan to store a particular loose good for more than two years, you may want to consider adding an O2 absorber to the bucket.
As an avid gardener, I also like to maintain an adequate supply of seeds for items that grow easily, quickly, and readily in my growing zone. If I were to find myself in a long-term emergency, this method of feeding my family would not be immediate (so this is where the cans and buckets come into play). Still, it could provide the sustainability I would need to move forward. Seeds are pretty cheap, and you can store them easily in a cool, dry place. Don't forget to include a physical planting guide specific to your zone for reference!
To round out your preparedness when it comes to food and water, there's another component that I find just as important as the actual cans and buckets, and that's a community. Your emergency stash could only sustain you for so long if you had no alternate way to procure food. Thinking outside of the box is essential here. You need to ensure you are making connections with a local community of people who think similarly to you and who can bring their unique skills to the table. That may mean forming a connection with a local cattle farmer, someone who owns a dairy cow and sells fresh milk, or someone with chickens who could share some eggs, a small nursery owner who can suggest the best-growing plants for your garden set up, a friend who has frozen breast milk in her freezer and could lend a hand if something happened to your own baby's milk supply, or a local outdoorsman who is familiar with the best fish and places to find them/the easiest ways to find wild game, clean them, and prepare them. These connections start with simple conversations and help you form a network with which to lean on when times get hard, and they can also offer you rich knowledge about their specialties as you grow and learn about new ways of living and procuring your food.
I think it's also useful to endeavor learning a new skill, like canning your own preserved food, processing your own meat, and maybe trying your hand at hunting or fishing. This may also include things like cooking goods from scratch that you never have before--like cakes or loaves of bread to discover what ingredients are incorporated, or understanding why you would use each item to learn how you could more easily replicate it with items you have on hand if the need were to ever arise.
As with everything in preparedness, the lifestyle brings you abundance and learning every step of the way. Food storage is no exception, and you will find so many thrilling new things to love about the wonderful gift of food and water and how best to ensure our family is given access to both no matter the circumstances of our lives.