If you’re like most families, you want to be better prepared and figure out how to store food so you can be more self-sufficient during tough times. These 15 commandments of food storage are really practical tips on getting enough food, making it last, and preparing for unexpected situations.
When the Blizzard of ’78 hit New England in the days before Doppler radar, folks had no idea how bad it was going to be. People were stranded all over or housebound. Stores ran out of supplies in hours. Everyone was unprepared and pretty scared.
Instead, imagine being well-prepared for this or any situation, especially when it comes to having enough food? You can be! These 15 practical tips cover everything from getting started with food storage to making sure your pantry contents lasts a long time and help you create a well-rounded preparedness plan for your family.
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15 Commandments of Food Storage
1. Start now
Start your journey to preparedness by taking small steps today. If you buy even one extra can of tuna tomorrow or box of crackers tomorrow, it will give you a sliver of peace of mind until next week. Repeat on your next shopping trip. Over time, every bit adds up.
2. Store water, too
Having enough water is crucial. Without it, even having lots of food won’t help. Remember the Rule of Threes: you can go three weeks without food, but only three days without water. While canned food is good, it doesn’t have much water, and it often has salt or sugar. Make sure to store water, and and have at least two ways to collect and purify more water if needed.
3. Store what you use and use what you store
We’ve all heard this, but what does it really mean? Simply, make sure the food you buy and store is the food that your family already eats.
A couple years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons or LDS), the original food storage experts, reiterated the call to start with three months of ordinary foods your family eats every day while building up basic staples like dry milk and wheat.
4. Eat and cook real food
Opt for real, whole foods over processed alternatives. It’s cheaper to eat the real thing, it keeps longer, is healthier and far more versatile! A can of chili is a can of chili. But a can or bag of kidney beans combined with meal-stretching rice opens up a whole world of possibilities and doesn’t contain a nutritionally criminal amount of salt.
You can pay the grocer or the doctor when a poor diet gets the best of you, and the grocer is cheaper. Eating well saves you money in the long run. The idea that healthy food is pricier than processed junk is just not true. Many resources, like Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, can show you how to eat better without breaking the bank. It’s a small investment for a lifetime of benefits.
5. Don’t buy a years’ worth of one thing at a time
Buying basics in bulk is economical and absolutely should be part of your plan, but what happens when all of one item expires or goes stale at the same time? If you spread out your buying, then you spread out your expiration dates, particularly with basic staples.
6. Condiments will save you
Extracts, herbs, and sauces spice up a bland diet, and a years’ worth of cinnamon only costs about $6! (Ok, so maybe you do want to stock a year’s worth of something!)
I talked to someone a few years ago who was living on their food storage due to prolonged job loss. One day she realized that she had a vast array of baking ingredients but no vanilla. Or any other extracts. Every family is different, but for most families the most versatile ones to start with will be ketchup, soy sauce, and something spicy like chili powder.
7. Have a few convenience/luxury foods for barter and illness
Imagine your 9-year-old having to feed the family because of sickness or a bad situation. Now, think about a prolonged disaster with no power or fuel. People are cooking simple meals in fireplaces or makeshift pits. In these tough conditions, basic and easy-to-use items, like a just-add-water pancake mix, take on new importance, and even “luxury” items like clams or chocolate chips gain new value.
8. Replenish supplies
What if the emergency went on for years? It doesn’t have to be Zombie Apocalypse. It happens in war all the time. How do you get more food? Sharing and trading might help, but t’s folly to count on them.
So, you’re left with three options: foraging, hunting/fishing, and gardening. Do you know how to find and identify wild edibles? Do you have even rudimentary fishing/hunting equipment and knowledge? It’s harder than it looks.
To prepare, store heirloom, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds and learn how to grow them. Include grains, beans, herbs, and fruits if possible. Protect them from moisture, heat, light and oxygen in that order. Storing them in a brown paper-lined canning jar in the fridge or freezer works well. Consider creating your seed “vault.” If you buy one, make sure it’s from a seed company, not a food supplier.
9. Store the rainbow
Eat all the colors of plants. There are different protective chemicals attached to each color and you don’t want to miss any. In both food and seeds, make sure to have multiple sources of all colors plus some vitamin tablets, just to be safe.
10. Multiple layers of storage
Simply put, have some dry goods, some canned goods, some freeze dried, some frozen, etc. When the fridge is gone, there’s dry. If you can’t cook at all, there’s canned, etc. Multiples of different types. Just make sure you have a good can opener for the canned goods.
11. Store multi-use items
Your food storage can include medicine, hygiene items, and household cleaners. Vinegar, baking soda, coconut oil, lemon juice, peppermint, and ginger, among others, serve myriad purposes besides cooking and baking. That’ll save space, money, and toxic chemicals.
12. FIFO and Par
Those aren’t Norse gods. They’re restaurant concepts. FIFO means “first in, first out.” Write the date you buy it or the use-by date ( whichever works for you) on items and rotate them so the oldest is used first. This also helps you track how much you really use of an item.
Par is the amount you’ve decided to keep in stock. When do you buy/make more? At half-par. Let’s say you’ve decided to keep 40 pounds of sugar around. You buy more at 20 lbs. Going lower is a good way to invite disaster. Kind of like the way washing your car causes it to rain.
What are you going to eat all this food on? Traditional dishes and dish washing eats up a lot of precious water and space. Buy some multifunctional dishes like shallow bowl/plates, pie tins, sporks, and metal cups that can go on a fire. Dishes can be wiped with a damp cloth and sanitized with alcohol or witch hazel.
Cast iron pans and can go right onto coals and should never be subjected to soap. Sturdy paper plates can be used several times and then composted or used for tinder.
14. Location, location, location
This means store your supplies in more than one location, like mini caches. There’s potentially some loss at any one location due to pests/rodents, water, natural disasters, or whatever. The rest is safe.
Operational Security (OpSec) is important for your family’s safety, both at home and during travel. Striking a balance in sharing information is crucial. This includes everyday aspects like being mindful of what bumper stickers on your car might reveal. It’s essential to practice situational awareness, teaching your family to avoid trouble proactively. Additionally, protect information about your location while traveling by not sharing details on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook. Equally important is safeguarding your hotel room number.
Yes, consider including essential non-food items like medicine, hygiene products, and household cleaners in your storage for comprehensive preparedness.
While frozen food is valuable, power outages can jeopardize this source. Diversify storage with non-perishables to ensure a continuous supply.
Emergency kits complement food storage by including essential items like first aid supplies, flashlights, and important documents for a comprehensive preparedness approach.
Want More Help?
Would you like help putting together your emergency food storage? I created a FREE ebook to help you build a balanced pantry to help you do that! In it I share more simple tips and explanations to help you create an emergency food supply that will provide nutritious and simple meals in an emergency. Get that free build a balanced pantry ebook here.
Being prepared for the unexpected, especially in terms of having enough food, is a valuable goal for everyone. By following these tips from the basics of starting food storage to ensuring its long-term effectiveness, you’ll build a strong foundation for a comprehensive preparedness plan. Remember, preparedness is not about panic but prevention, and these tips aim to empower you to face the future with confidence and resilience.