Introduction to Food Storage: Make a Plan

I like making lists. I make a ‘to do’ list almost every morning of the things I need to accomplish that day. I make a menu plan nearly every week. When we have a trip or vacation coming up my planning time usually starts several months in advance (yes, I’m already planning for next summer’s camping trips).  Making a list for food storage turned out to be a much bigger task than I originally intended!

We decided to get serious about food storage recently and take our pantry up a huge notch from a three month supply to a twelve month supply. While we only decided to make this change a few months ago, I’ve been researching food storage for several years now.  Maybe you could say I’ve been  ‘dabbling’ in food storage.  Increasing from a three month supply to a twelve month supply for a family of five is considerably more food.  Making a plan for everything we would like to stock and where to put it all takes some organization.  And since the goal is to have the twelve months of food on hand to entirely replace going to a grocery store we wanted to make sure we have the right variety.  Making a plan is necessary!

Calculating

Figuring out how much food a family needs for twelve months can get interesting. There are several popular ways to come up with these amounts.  I’ll share four ways that I’ve either used or considered.

The first and way regarding the least amount of planning is the Fab Four or Big Four. With this method you would store wheat, salt, honey and powdered milk.  400 pounds of wheat per person, 20 pounds of salt, 10 pounds of honey and 60 pounds of powdered milk.  Very simple, very little planning needed and fairly economical. Just do the math and buy the amounts. However, this plan has some serious issues. And even though I’m mentioning it we knew immediately that this plan wouldn’t work for us.   Powdered milk is not something we are comfortable consuming. Powdered milk is extremely high in oxidized cholesterol due to the processing. Oxidized cholesterol is believed to contribute to heart disease and cancer.  The second problem with this method is the high amount of wheat. While we are not wheat-free, I have a hard time believing that a diet composed mainly of wheat could be healthful.  I believe that eating that much wheat could lead to a wheat sensitivity. Third problem is the lack of variety.  While these ingredients could create several different meals sooner or later eating the same thing every day is going to be a problem.

The second way, which I sort of used when figuring our three month pantry, is to make a menu plan for the week, write down every ingredient and quantity needed for each dish and buy that amount. You would then have a one week supply of food.  Repeat for as many weeks as needed.  I found this to work well to a point and did use this to loosely come up with 3 months of food.  If you take a look at my 13 week rotating menu you’ll see what I mean.  This worked very well to figure out the quantity of beans, grains and basics we needed. But it didn’t work as well for other things.  I did feel it gave a very good start.

The third way to calculate food storage amounts is to use a calorie per day system.  How many calories do you need per day? How many people in your family? How many days of food storage do you want?  This could work very well if you are storing foods that have the calorie count on them as exampled at this website. If you are cooking foods from scratch such as beans, grains and meats then you will need to do a little more math. How many calories are in a pound of beans? In a pound of grain? In a pound of meat?  Wardee of GNOWFGLINS breaks this all down for you in a food storage video and PDF that she did recently. You can find out more about that here.  (Note:  The cost for the video and PDF is $10 or Wardee offers a way to earn it ‘free’.) I’m sure an internet search would also turn up the numbers needed in order to figure out the calorie per day formula.

And finally, the fourth way for calculating food storage is pounds per person.  You can find a food calculator here that is put out by the LDS church. I have heard from several sources that this calculator figures the bare minimum amounts for survival.  And if you take a look at the calculator you will notice that many of the listed foods are not exactly real/whole/traditional foods friendly and there is not any meat or produce listed with this calculator.  Toward the end of this podcast from Jeff and KerryAnn Foster of Cooking TF, KerryAnn shares recommended pounds per person for those eating a real food diet.

I’m sure that there are other methods for calculating twelve months of food storage that I haven’t mentioned.  What we decided to do was to use the food storage calculator as a guide and substitute foods we do not eat with foods we do eat.  I put together a spread sheet showing the calculator suggestions on one side and our choices on the other side. I figured as long as I ended up with the somewhere near the same quantities in each category it would work out well.  I do wish that I would have heard the podcast from Jeff and KerryAnn prior to making my spread sheet since they numbers were more in line with what we were doing (it would have saved me some serious time). I did adjust our sheet slightly after listening to the podcast since the info was so good and made sense.  I also adjusted our spreadsheet after a conversation with a friend. She is mostly grain-free (her family does eat grains) and is storing a large amount of seeds and nuts. Not only because of the grain-free need but also because nuts and seeds do not need to be cooked. Instant food! Plus nuts and seeds are probably a higher quality nutrition than many grains.  I doubt the spreadsheet adjusting is finished.  We have one more Azure Standard order to put in before winter (we had planned on October being the last order but one of our group needed to get a few more things which works out well for me) and depending on what we get compared to what we order my sheet might change. I love Azure Standard in many ways but it seems that items I really want to have from my order are the ones I get a big fat zero on.  One final note on the spreadsheet, everything on it is foods we already eat and like.  We didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff we had never tried before!

What’s Next?

Now we have our spreadsheet filled in with what we need and the quantities for our family. The next step was determining what we already had on hand (in pounds) and what we would need to purchase in order to reach the final goal.  Since we had started our regular fall stock up we’d ordered several bulk items from Azure Standard that had yet to be used from. It was easy to put those on the spread sheet. Other things I guessed on the quantities that we had on hand.  We also started gathering supplies for long term storage. We needed alot of buckets with lids, mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers.

We have been collecting buckets from the bakeries in town.  This is a slow process since sometimes they have buckets when we stop and sometimes they don’t. Joe goes to one bakery at least one time per week and I go to another bakery when I’m in that area.  The bucket price varies depending on who is working in the bakery. One time I got 5 buckets with lids for $1.  Usually the buckets are $1 each and the lids are 50 cents each.  These buckets have been filled with frosting so do need to be cleaned out.  We have about equal numbers of five gallon buckets and three gallon buckets. The three gallon are perfect for storing most 25 pound bags.  Some of our purchases were in 50 pound quantities which we use the five gallon buckets and a second partial bucket. Three 50 pound bags is just about perfect for four 5 gallon buckets. We also have several one gallon buckets for overflow and smaller quantities of items.

I ordered mylar bags from Amazon since I had some gift card money available there (thank you Swagbucks).  We ordered both five gallon bags plus oxygen absorbers and one gallon bags plus oxygen absorbers . I have to admit the first time we used the bags and oxygen absorbers was a little stressful. I was so worried about doing it wrong!  But it worked out fine and everything sealed well.  You can find many Youtube videos showing people sealing up buckets of food and if you get the video from Wardee she demonstrates how to do it also. We used the iron (is it bad that the main use my iron has seen in several years is sealing mylar bags?) and a two inch by two inch board that Joe had left from a building project.  Keep in mind that the oxygen absorbers do just that– absorb oxygen. Once the sealed bag is open they begin absorbing. They actually get hot. We put ours in a jar and only opened the jars as was needed. We used all we opened on the same day. We still have many buckets to fill and I suspect we will get to a point of having leftover oxygen absorbers. At that point, we’ll shrink wrap them with the seal a meal thing.

Speaking of Seal a Meal, we purchased one.  This is working great for all of the dehydrating I’m doing.  I’ve been using the rolls that can be made into any size bag. This is great for putting small packets of dried tomatoes or squash.  I’m also doing some nuts in the vacuum bags. I should also mention that my dehydrator is nothing special. Joe bought it for me as a gift two years ago. It is one of those little round things that is fairly affordable. I would very much like to have an Excalibur but until that happens this one is working fine. The Excalibur would be better for getting things done in less time since it is so much larger.

Where you going to put it all?

One reason that we never went past a three month pantry fill was because of space.  We live in a double-wide mobile home. We don’t have much of a pantry nor much closet space. We don’t have any extra rooms, no basement, no root cellar (yet).  We do have a 10′ x10′ storage shed (full) and this summer we added a slightly over sized two-car free-standing garage.  I had already been using the cold end of our bedroom closet for ferments, olive oil and other things that like a cold space plus a few five gallon buckets. Plus the kitchen and dining room were well utilized.  Under beds are also use for storage (much to my 15 year old’s dismay) as well as bookshelves.  Joe and I started looking around the house at various areas to put things. It is amazing the space you can find once you really start to look! Since we are still in process of getting product and filling buckets things are not yet organized as we hope they will be. Take a look at the comment from Karen in this post— she shares some great ideas for where to put it all.

Other stuff to think about

We want to keep our gut health in mind as we work on our food storage. Having/keeping a healthy gut is challenging under normal circumstances. I believe that in times of stress (such as a job loss or other reason to be relying exclusively on your food storage) maintaining gut health could be difficult. And considering many of us have comprised guts to begin with this could be very bad. This list from Pat of Heal Thyself is very helpful for thinking about gut health. She notes that this list was developed when someone asked her for a multi-vitamin suggestion. With that information in mind, this list could do double duty for gut health and vitamin needs.  Not everything on the list is suitable for food storage but alot is.  We have been working toward utilizing this list daily.  We made a few altercations that work better for us -more cooked greens and less green smoothies, homemade sauerkraut instead of commercial. The nettles on the list is something totally new to me. I know very little about herbs for healing.

Comfort foods and treats are something that most food storage resources mention are good to add to your stock. Thinking about how you will add these things in with your real/whole/traditional foods eating style is important. For us, having raw ingredients to prepare things like cakes, cookies and other sweet treats is the main plan. We’ll also have a few bought candies.  These are not things that we have regularly (I’m not saying we never have candy just not often) but having them on hand could be a comfort during times of stress. It’s a good idea to store candies that don’t melt and have a long shelf life.  How much you store is up to you, for us we’ll store more ingredients to make things than we will candies.  What other foods that you may have missed on your spread sheet would make things more comfortable? Make things seem more normal? As adults we may think that the bare essentials are enough but will our children be okay with that? I remember reading once from a person very far into her food storage journey that she didn’t want her children to just survive, she wanted them to thrive. Keeping things as close to normal for children will be extremely helpful.

Thinking of preparing the foods on your spreadsheet is also important.  Remember the nuts and seeds my friend is storing?  They are instant food without the need for preparation.  As you look over your list do you have the means to cook or bake everything on your list? What if the power was out? Could you still cook or bake?  If not, now is the time to come up with alternatives to what you do with the power on.  Many beans, legumes and grains can be sprouted which will greatly cut down (or even eliminate) the need for cooking. Of course, you will need water for sprouting (we talked about water storage in this post) and a colander-type item for draining. Last summer I forgot our colander on one of our trips and made one out of a water jug which worked great so there are many options for a colander.  I did a couple of posts on food storage several months ago when we had reached our three month goal but were not yet ready to move to twelve months of storage. You can read them here and here. I talk about different preparation methods and other things to think about.

When first thinking about food storage it is tempting to think “okay, this month we will buy all of our grains and next month all of our beans” while this seems like a good idea it could backfire.  What if next month the car breaks down and you can’t buy the beans? And then the dreaded layoff occurs? You’ve got a whole lot of grains to eat but nothing to go with them. Spreading out your purchases among each category or using the weekly menu plan method insures that you will have a variety.

Where we are

Our plan is far from executed and I suspect that changes will be made as we go along. While we did rearrange our budget to help with the expense of purchasing so much food at one time I think we will still come up short. And we may have supply issues as already mentioned. There may be some things that we wait on until a sale or free shipping for online orders comes up.

Keep in mind, I’m far from an expert on food storage and preparedness. This Introduction to Food Storage series is what we are doing or planning right now.  We’ve used several resources to come up with these plans– many of them from people who really are ‘experts’. 😉 Be sure to check out the links above. Leave your tips and ideas in the comments.

See all posts in the Introduction to Food Storage series here.

 

Please share your favorite food storage resources, ideas and tips in the comments. 

 

Photos: Kids To Do List, our buckets in process, bucket with gamma seal lid— we aren’t using these types of lids but they are worth considering, lemon sourdough cookies with lemon frosting from my eBook Thrifty Food Plan Experience.

Disclosures

2 comments to Introduction to Food Storage: Make a Plan

  • Karen

    Love the last item on the schedule – “Be Happy and go home”.

    I had a copy of the LDS list, too, and found it to include a lot of things we don’t use. And I know we never go through 1600# of wheat in a year. Even with homemade bread used nearly every day. I had been putting all my shopping receipts into an envelope for several months for another reason, but decided to use them to estimate our annual use of different items. I just got a year’s supply of laundry detergent and razor blades for DH at rock bottom prices using those figures. There is a bit of room for error with my way, but to double check I sometimes would make a note on the calendar when I opened something to see how long it lasted, maybe do it a second time.

    Very good point about not getting all of any one product at a time and neglecting to obtain other items. I have been working on building my supply for several years and last year I began buying annual quantities of different things throughout the year. This year I still have 6 months worth of some things, 12 of others, and have been able to do 12 month purchases of one or two items in one shopping trip, others are done in installments. But don’t spend everything on food storage and then not be able to pay your power bill or buy your current food supply. If you typically spend $500 a month for food, having a year’s reserve will cost somewhere in the range of an EXTRA $6000. I know I can’t afford to tie that much money up at once.

    • Millie

      Hi Karen,
      That is an excellent suggestion on keeping track of how long things last. That is especially good for things on regular sales cycles. You always have wonderful suggestions in your comments! Thank you for that.

      Yeah, the LDS suggestions are very wheat heavy. I found a book that lists the previous recommendations. Before there was less wheat and other things like meats, fruits and veggies. We really divided up the grains alot from the recommendation. Less wheat and added in things like millet and quinoa. And we added in meat, fruits and veggies but kept those separate in our calculations.

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