Food Storage For People Who Don’t Hate Food

In the preparedness world, things like this list go around periodically:
food storage list copy This is a guide to building your food storage on $5 a week. Ignoring for a minute that food prices have clearly gone up since this list was put together (5 pounds of honey for $5? I don’t think so), my reaction every time I see something like this is: whoever is following this must absolutely hate food and want to make it as disgusting as possible.

Food Storage

Now, I know the hard core preppers will say, “In an emergency, it’s all about maximum calories. Screw worrying about whole foods or organic or GMO crap – this is TEOTWAWKI!”

Maybe societal end times will come and I’ll be proven wrong, but I’m more interested in being prepared for financial instability from job loss, earthquakes and the sweet bliss of not having to run to the grocery store every other day than from hoards of roving zombies. Unless you have the means to buy $3000 worth of freeze-dried bug out food (in which case, hey, do whatever you want for food storage – stockpile caviar and melba toast for all I care) food storage only makes sense within the context of regular food usage.

You should not separate them, but preppers fall into this trap all the time, putting away #10 cans of oat groats for a family that regularly eats drive-thru. Store what you eat and eat what you store. Stockpiling 1000 pounds of wheat berries if you swell up like a Zeppelin when you eat gluten is a terrible idea. Filling your shelves with Kraft Mac & Cheese if you are hard-core into traditional foods – equally dumb. And if you are a paleo prepper and eschew all beans and grains, well – start making jerky now and buy a good local foraging book.

I believe in being prepared for the likely hiccups of life, but I take a different approach to food storage to many preppers, one I learned in professional restaurant kitchens. In a commercial kitchen, items are purchased in large quantities, in bulk, but you don’t keep a bunch of food you won’t use on hand just-in-case.

Managing food inventory is based on the twin concepts of “FIFO” – First In, First Out – and “Par” – the amount of staple items you like to keep on hand at all times. Applying these concepts to my home has allowed me to build up a deep, secure food store while filling my pantry with food we actually eat.

Here’s how it works, in a nutshell. I don’t wait until I’m out of something to go buy more. I buy more when I’m about to dip below my “Par” level of backstock. So, I don’t buy a tub of coconut oil when I run completely out of coconut oil. I buy a tub when I only have two tubs left (two tubs is “Par” for coconut oil around here) on the shelf. Similarly, I don’t wait to buy another case of tuna or 10 pound bag of sugar when I’m down to my last can or last cup. Backstock of these items is purchased when 6 cans or a lonely bag of sugar is still on the shelf.

Older purchases move to the front of the pantry and the newer purchases get tucked behind, which naturally rotates our food stores for maximum storage – that’s FIFO. This isn’t prepping the way most people think of it, but over time it has turned my pantry into something I could really use to feed my family for months, using staples to which they are already accustomed.

Treating food storage this way is how our grandmothers or great-grandmothers managed their larder. Those farm mama’s didn’t go out and buy bunch of nutrient-devoid processed food then throw a bottle of multi-vitamins in the cart to ward of scurvy. Nah, they managed a rotating (seasonal) inventory of staple foods and used those and garden produce to fill hungry bellies.

Thinking of building a larder instead of hoarding beans, bullets and band-aids is more versatile, too. Prepping tends to focus very heavily on emergency grains that can last for years, whereas building a deep larder allows you to incorporate all kinds of delicious seasonal foods into your “preps” – root cellar items like winter squashes, potatoes, carrots and cabbage – traditional cured meats, nuts, hard cheeses and even coffee, chocolate or wine can be items you choose to maintain at “par” levels.

This isn’t to say I don’t also store flour and grains and oatmeal and rice and beans – I do. But I do because these are foods my family already eats, and in a protracted emergency – a job-loss, say – I could stretch those staples for a very long time without asking my kids to substantially change their diet. My goal is to have enough food that, if I had to, I could feed my family for six months to a year just from the food in my larder.

That may sound a bit crazy, but just think about canning jam, or tomatoes: I try to put by enough strawberry jam or canned tomatoes in season to last us a year, typically. Now just apply that idea to everything you routinely use in your kitchen and you have your own personal “Par” list to start building towards. Having a year’s supply of strawberry jam sounds crazy, until you realize that might only be six half-pint jars. As long as you’re talking about foods you’d eat anyway, food storage through larder building starts to really make sense and can, over time, save you money.

I figured out approximately what we eat per week, then extrapolated that out to get a rough inventory of our annual consumption of larder items. My “Par” level for most items is 50% of that level – so at the point when I’m down to six months of stored staple food, I try to purchase, order, grow or make more as soon as is reasonable.

This doesn’t work with certain very seasonal items. If I run out of jarred tomatoes in February, it will be late August before I can make more. Salmon is the same way. I only buy it in the summer when the Alaska salmon are running and the prices are good. That’s the way it is.

Some items I do like to keep a lot of on hand for reasons that are a little bit more “prepper.” I like to have a lot of salt and vinegar and canning jar lids in my pantry. If we face an extended power outage (very rare in my area) we don’t own a generator. And before I watch my freezer full of perfectly good meat and fish thaw and spoil, I will preserve it in more traditional ways: salting, curing, picking or pressure canning (if gas is still available to us). A case of salt is a fraction of the cost of a big generator, and doesn’t require me to keep a ton of gasoline on hand in my home – something that, with two kids and in a tightly-packed suburban environment, makes me uncomfortable.

So you can adjust your par levels for ingredients up or down based on your concerns and comfort levels.

Some people aren’t going to sleep at night until they have a thousand pounds of wheat berries buried in the woods around their bug-out shelter, and that’s cool, if you want to take preparedness to that degree. My method of incidental preparedness through larder building works for me and puts my family in a very good position to weather the bumps of life I think are most likely to impact us.

I don’t think there is any kind of one-size-fits-all Food Storage plan – it’s about what keeping on hand what your family eats, after all – but I offer up my attempt at a real foods version of the above list based on the foods my family eats, and with an eye towards that goal of keeping between 6 and 12 months worth of basics on hand.

My Basic Pantry Par List

This list doesn’t include the massive quantities of veggies I grow and can, or the meat I buy in bulk and keep frozen. It’s just a representation of my pantry, and as such doesn’t really represent the full value of my larder, which stretches far outside and into my garden and chicken coop and community. But it’s a start, and if everything else fell apart, the food in my pantry would keep us going for months.

Download Par List as a PDF.

Par List

Whole Foods Preparedness List

I created my own version of the meme-like list I shared at the beginning of this post. It’s not perfect. It’s way more expensive, coming in at about $20 a week, and not everything on the list is organic. But it assumes that the person looking at this list for inspiration is attempting to juggle the same tricky balls I am: financial reality, accessibility of specialty items, overall wholesomeness and healthfulness of food, food storage optimization and food palatability for multiple family members.

This list further assumes that the prepper looking at it has a garden, or access to fresh fruits and vegetables. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. I rely on my pantry (dry goods) and my freezer (meats) for calories, but I rely on my garden and my relationships with local producers for nutrition.

In any event, take it as inspiration and adjust as is appropriate for your situation.

Download Real Food Prep List as a PDF.

Real Food Prep List

How do you handle food storage?

Resources

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons) are the reigning champions of food storage info. The LDS church promotes food storage as a duty for members and provides a ton of info to help folks in and out of the church get their food stores in order. Start here.

The Marmalade Old Fashioned
Relaxing Bed Time Bath Soak

Comments

  1. Sheila -GypsyBiscuit says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Not only for having taken the time to work out these numbers and the generosity of sharing them with us, but also for corroborating some of my same thoughts exactly! I thoroughly enjoy this blog and your viewpoints. Except for the little fact of you being in the Pacific Northwest and me being in the South, I consider you the kind of neighbor I’d gladly share a beer or a cup of sugar with and I can totally imagine us involved in cooperative canning marathons. Keep up the good work!

  2. Betsy True says:

    I love this post because I’m constantly trying to figure out how much to store, how/what to grow. We actually make lots of our stuff from scratch, so would modify your list dramatically, tap our own trees, raise our own honey, grind our own WWF, roast our own coffee beans, make all our own condiments, jams, tomato products, brew our own mead, etc. and a lot of it using information from your blog, THANKS!
    Here’s the reason I’m writing: I am wondering if you meant to leave out the actual items in your par list. I am curious what the quantities are of.

    • Ohmygosh. I have no idea how I managed to delete that column before uploading, but NO, I certainly didn’t mean to leave that out. Thanks so much for alerting me to it – it’s all fixed now.

  3. Carol Young says:

    hi erica–i am really enjoying your blogs, and all your comments and ideas. we just made our first batch of the salted lemons….sounds so good! i have stored lots of dry staples for years, but not with the same organization you have. two things i have noticed: it seems like dry beans dont store too well–sometimes when i cook them, they will stay crunchy no matter how long i have soaked, cooked or done all the things to make them soft! so is there such a thing as a too old bean? also, i have noticed with rice and some other things that when they get stored too long they get that sour or rancid smell, and have a bitter taste. is this rancidity or what? thank you! carol youong

    • One idea I have learned (but haven’t needed to try) is to grind your beans and then add them to a soup or broth so that your old beans aren’t a total waste. I believe rice can go rancid so I don’t think you can use it (make rice bags to use for heat packs or ice packs) . Both of these items I rotate into our regular meals so that this won’t happen.

    • I think brown rice and WW flour absolutely go rancid. Storing in the fridge would solve that problem.

      • I would caution against storing dry goods in the fridge. Lack of moisture is the key reason they have the extended shelf life that they do!

    • Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking, says that persistently hard beans can be caused by ‘hard seed’ growing conditions, where high temperatures meet low humidity and water supplies – these will never soften on cooking. He says ‘hard to cook beans’ are different and become resistant to softening when they’re stored for a long time at warm temperatures and high humidity, and there is no way to fix this and make them soften on cooking.

    • Yes, brown rice and whole grain flours will go rancid. They have the natural oils intact, which gives them a shorter shelf life. I keep my primary stores in the pantry – enough to last 3 to 6 months – but keep back-up stocks in the freezer.

  4. This is how I do things as well. I actually have an LDS pantry nearby and many years ago stored up on beans and wheat berries. The rest is what we normally eat. Since we don’t really eat much processed food, it’s all about ingredients. I grow what we eat and store it as best we can. Meat is bought by the animal from local farmers as much as possible.
    For those that are worried about beans getting hard, there are a few things I’ve found. First, if you store them properly, they’ll keep for ages. If they get too hard, a pressure canner, or pressure cooker will solve that problem for you.

  5. Excellent article Erica! I would recommend buying an inverter for your vehicle to help keep your freezers going during a long power outage. I purchased a 1600w Whistler inverter and can easily power two frig/freezers, a deep freezer, and an upright freezer off of it. It has a 10 second 3200w surge so the compressors on your frig/freezers kicking on wont fry it. I spent just over a $100 on it so much cheaper than a generator and as long as your vehicles have fuel your good to go.

  6. Heather Irwin says:

    I found out the hard way last summer that a single package of pantry bug infested beans can contaminate – or even destroy – your entire pantry. After a thorough cleaning and re-packaging and seven months of rigorously re-packaging everything pasta or legume that comes into the house, I’m still finding these cussed bugs. (Not very many. I’m slowly winning. But the kind of pantry bug I got eats everything, including sugar, dried fruit, and nuts, so it’s been particularly difficult to control.)

    I strongly recommend re-packaging *all* grains and legumes, and grain or legume containing items, purchased for storage longer than a month, into glass or heavy plastic containers with good seals. Some bugs will get into sealed cardboard and plastic bags without any trouble, so the containers must be tightly sealed. And don’t put more grain/legume into a single container than you can stand to lose if it happens it’s got bugs in it. Putting bay leaves into the containers may help, but isn’t going to prevent an infestation if you get a buggy batch of something.

    Yes, you can sift out the adults, if they are large enough. and then heat the infested items in the oven at very low heat to kill the eggs and larvae. I did that with some of my infested pantry items. But it’s very time consuming, and it’s almost impossible to get all the adults out of things like pasta, especially shapes like penne. And they will eat the nutritional value from your grains, even if it doesn’t look like they’ve eaten much volume.

    • Cleaning out the pantry and washing the shelves just doesn’t seem to root out the little buggers–but vacuuming will. They just can’t hide from the suction. As for bay leaves–they work best if they go into your food as soon as you get it home–and repackage it into airtight containers. LOL
      Food grade diamataceous earth is what commercial granaries use to control insect pests, but I don’t know what the recommended amounts would be for home storage. There are people who regularly eat up to a tablespoon of DE a day and say it makes their hair and nails beautiful…check it out??

    • Freezing bulk grain purchases for a few days before storing should kill the eggs and help prevent infestations in the future.

  7. After I first started learning how to can/preserve, I had mini goals on producing my own pantry items gradually: could I can all the tomatoes we use in a year? How about salsa? And to do this, you have to know how much you actually use. We did some guesstimates, but the best way was keeping track of what we bought (or made) and seeing how much was left after X amount of time. It takes practice, but eventually has totally led to a change in how we eat, shop and plan our gardens. When people see a shelf full of jars and joke that they’ll show up in case of Apocalypse, it’s hard to explain that it’s just one year’s use for 2 people, or one season’s harvest. (I really don’t want to be that crazy old lady with 20 years of jam on the shelf!!) We’re now starting to do this for non-pantry sundry items, trying to do a 6-month shopping trip at once–not because of prepping needs, but because we HATE to shop and this way, we do a lot less of it!

    Thanks for a great post and some excellent tips, your posts lately have been so practical and awesome.

  8. Oh dear, I know I really should do this, or some version of it. After living for years and years in London, in 500 square foot flats, then selling everything to move back to Canada… to move into an apartment only a bit bigger! Which is fine with us really, but it means limited storage space. But in a earthquake-prone city like Vancouver, we need to have at least some food and water set aside. I’m going to have a look through your lists and see what we can do. Thank you for sharing them with us!

  9. I spent a summer in France with an elderly woman who survived WWII by taking in washing–from both sides. At the tender young age of 15 she drilled it into my head to never not have dried beans to feed my kids and cocoa powder to barter for everything else. Cocoa powder, she said, was worth more than gold. I have heeded that advice. I don’t even really like chocolate that much, but my “par” on cocoa is 25 lbs.

    • Good point, Kat. I think even better than chocolate is coffee. It’s funny to watch all the coffee addicts going crazy during extended power outages. The lines for coffee places like dunkin donuts is usually just as long as for the gas stations.

      • I love this, and not just for bartering. We are coffee junkies and do keep several pounds of unground beans on hand, and if our income were to plummet suddenly, if would be comforting to still be able to make a batch of cookies for the kids.

  10. It is quite amazing how much food we actually go through. If you buy it in dribs and drabs, little bits flow through your front door to your cupboards to your plate and you don’t realize how much you use.

    I grew wax beans and green beans for the first time this past summer. I had no idea how absolutely awesome they were. We had a bad green bean crop, so we were able to eat all of them off the plant, so to speak, and the wax beans grew better but not awesome. I canned probably 14 pints of wax beans, though, thinking that would last us for a while. Welp, my husband absolutely loved them. Always wanted wax beans for supper. Got to the last pint, and we hoarded it for a while, before finally eating them. I was thinking how much I should grow/can this year, and it is stuck in my head that I will need enough for 1 a week. 52 pints of wax beans!?! Well, ok. I’ll try.

    Also, a question about canning dry beans. I have a recipe for making Baked Beans that requires soaking overnight, cooking for hours with the additional ingredients (tomato products, bacon, onions, etc), then putting them in jars and pressure canning them. I am fairly confident that I could soak overnight, cook for hours, don’t put the additional ingredients in (except maybe salt) and pressure can for the same amount of time, and that would be safe. I have seen some on the internet say you can skip the soaking and cooking, just put dry beans in your jars, add water/salt, and pressure can then. They say that the beans cook up just fine in the jars. My question is, though, is it safe from botulism?

    • Don’t just put dried beans in a jar with water and salt and can them. They will swell and you will probably pop the lids in the canner and lose your food. It doesn’t take much time to bring beans to a boil in a big pot and soak them for an hour, drain them and then go on with your recipe. For plain canned beans, I fill the jars about 3/4 full of soaked beans and fill up the jar with hot water. If I want chili or ‘baked’ beans, I either layer the ingredients (soaked beans, raw meat, veg. etc.) in the proportions I like and then seal and process ,or I cook the beans with the spices, meats, etc. (being careful of fat content) and process. The second method allows me to taste the food and correct seasonings. Since these are low acids foods, they need to be pressure canned. Any thing with meat or dried beans needs to be processed for 90 min.(quarts) or 75 min.(pints) at the pressure that’s right for your altitude. When canned properly, there is no danger of botulism. Remember, botulism spores are killed by either an acid environment or being heated to 248 degrees for an adequate amount of time. So, since boiling water can only reach 212 degrees, all low acid food, meats, veggies, fish, etc need to be pressure canned. I recommend buying a weighted gauge for any canner that only has a dial gauge. It goes on the nozzle where the steam escapes to exhaust the canner before it is brought up to pressure. The gauges come in either ten or fifteen pound sizes–if your elevation is below 1,000 ft. use the 10 lb. weight; over 1,000 ft. use 15 lbs. If your county extension office offers a Master Food Preserver class, it is well worth your time to take it. If not, the Ball Blue Book is a terrific, inexpensive, and accurate source of information.
      Food canned in glass jars stays good for much longer that food canned in metal, so the shelf life of home-canned food is way better than commercially prepared.

      • I knew to not fill the entire jar with dry beans and then fill with water. I think from what I have gathered, they say to only put in like 1/2 a cup or so in a pint jar and then the water. I also knew the only safe way to can beans was pressure canning. What I don’t know is if it is ok to start with dry beans first, not soak them, and pressure can them.

        Are you saying you can boil beans for an hour and then can them? Or bring them to a boil, lower heat, simmer for an hour, then can them?

        • You need to soak the beans before hand (either a quick soak or an overnight, just like most people normally do before cooking beans to eat immediately) and then they need to be heated to boiling before adding to hot jars and being processed in the pressure canner. While I know there are people on the internets that can beans directly from dry I have never seen a tested recipe that used that method.

          If you wish to pressure can I really cannot strongly recommend enough that you get a good canning book with tested recipes (as MQ suggested, Ball books are great, as is any publication from an extension office) and following the instructions to the letter. I am a Master Food Preserver and I still take out my recipe book(s) and double check technique, processing times, and jar fill/headspace requirements before I pressure can anything. Any reliable canning book will have instructions including processing times for plain beans, as well as guides for necessary altitude adjustments.

        • I cover the beans with water, bring them to a boil, turn off the heat and adda couple of tablespoons of whey if I have it on hand (helps make them more digestible), soak them for an hour, drain the water, fill the jars about 3/4 full of beans, pour in boiling liquid (one inch headspace), get rid of air bubbles (I use a skewer), add more water if needed to maintain the inch headspace, wipe the rim of the jar, put on hot lid, screw on ring and then can them.
          Lily, I still double check my times, headspace, etc. before pressuring anything, also. However, my curiosity is aroused–I am going to try a pint of dry beans with water just to see what happens. 1/2 cup of dry beans to one and 1/2 cups of water–Hmmm, interesting, but you’d lose the beano effect of the first soak even if they don’t push the lid off the jar.

          I have found some very strange canning information (along with some very good informative videos) on YouTube: water-bathing corn with ‘corn acid’ comes to mind. After searching, I found that ‘corn acid’ is citric acid–I suppose with enough citric acid corn would become an acid food, but the taste????? and how could you be sure that you had the right amount. If you want acidic corn you might as well pickle it. Anyway–enough ranting…

  11. Erica,
    I FULLY am in the same boat with you regarding prepping “methodology”! My husband is a little more on the “prep whatever we can just in case even if it’s processed!” side of things, which is absurd considering his daily diet is whole foods based and traditional. Being the one who does the majority of canning and preserving (not to mention grocery shopping) in the family, I disagree with that line of thinking, because I know that every item has a shelf life, so you damn well better be prepared to eat it on a regular basis if you stick it on my shelf. I have battled the hubby’s line of thinking with the following strategy: every once in a while, I pack him a lunch for work containing such delicious items as an unopened can of tuna fish, a large container of peanut butter, and some freeze-dried vegetables. It might sound cruel, but it gets the point across in a funny way that we need to be storing REAL FOOD we actually eat on a DAILY BASIS, or stuff will spoil or be wasted.

    But, I am not NEARLY as organized as you are with your inventory. Part of this is because our storage space is so small (we live in a TinyHouse so can’t expand that) that I have more of a mental inventory list. One of my goals for this spring is to get a spreadsheet going for food inventory in preparation for summer preservation season, so this will be a wonderful tool as I brainstorm what works for us.
    Thanks so much!
    -Margo

    • I think a mental list is fine if you know that when you are down to three cans of tomatoes you go buy more or whatever, and your pantry is organized so that you can see that at a glance. That’s totally fine. It doesn’t need to be an Excel spreadsheet. I have tiny house fantasies. I think there are advantages to small, too. :)

  12. During Hurricane Sandy, we were without power for 10 days. While my chest freezer will maintain temps (as long as I don’t open it) for about 72 hours, 10 days was never going to work. Since you couldn’t buy a generator for love nor money, my husband found (the last!) power inverter at AutoZone: for about $50, you can buy an inverter and have an emergency source of limited electrical power. I ran the chest freezer off of my VW Bug for days. Not the most efficient thing in the world, but I saved hundreds of dollars worth of food in the freezer, and it’s compact to store, doesn’t require gasoline stores, and the entry price is low. Very handy all around.

  13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOLuIApyNPc

    This is an awesome video about food storage. Wendy says the same thing that Erica says–store what you eat and eat what you store. I’ve been canning, drying, pickling, fermenting foods for years and I learned a bunch from this video. I like to have canned meats, soups, chilis, etc. on hand for when I’m lazy and just don’t want to cook or when I’m rushed and don’t want to cook or when I don’t want to heat up the house——-or when I just plain don’t want to cook! Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook, but sometimes coming up with the menu defeats me. Then a jar of minestrone or white bean chicken chili is a total godsend. Dried melons or bananas keep kids happy (and big kids, too) and you can pick up over-ripe produce in the ‘abused fruit and veg’ bin for less money. It is impossible for most of us to go to the market and only buy the one thing we went there for, so storage saves us from impulse buying.

  14. Kinda maybe along the same lines, it might be good (okay, it IS good) to see how fast you go through other things as well. For example – toothpaste, vaseline, TP, etc etc… Next time you get an item put the date on it if you can… (yes, I know you use baking soda but the same principle applies)… I have no idea how long a tube of toothpaste lasts me – I’d guess 4-5 months, but I’m gonna find out. No sense in my going out and buying 10 tubes of toothpaste if it’s 4 times what I really need for the scenario you describe…

    Not doing as much cooking/feeding as you do I am labeling everything from olive oil, corn oil, aforementioned items, sugar, flour – ALL of it….

    • Oh, this is a great point I should have mentioned – when I buy new stock I write the date I purchased with sharpie on the food item. That’s super important to keeping your stocks properly FIFO’d.

  15. Great great post I totally loved it. As a former pastry chef, we do the bulk buying and FIFO; my par for coconut oil is also two tubs! Anything that helps me to not have to go grocery shopping more than once a week is worth the investment. And going to Costco once a month or less is also great; that place is nuts, even on a weekday morning. This is why I am in love with Azure Standard, too!

  16. Carolyne Thrasher says:

    Erica I’m curious about the salmon. Do you buy it whole and freeze it in portions or can it or a combo? I’m wanting to do that this summer as well and am looking at canning (if I can summon up the courage) at least some of it and smoking some.

  17. Love your post today! But I had one thought, don’t forget your pets and backyard chickens! We have an indoor cat and backyard chickens and I always have a few months of food set aside for them. Just a few cases of cat food in the closet and a few bags of chickenfeed in the garage, just in case. It’s not for a whole year, but better than nothing. I also store extra grain and corn which could feed the chickens. Azure Standard is a great place to buy bulk food.

    • I concur. I try and keep at least a full (Costco) bag each cat and dog food on hand (that’s a couple months worth for them) as well as a couple bags of poultry feed. I also try to have enough scratch and sunflower seeds on hand that we could stretch out the poultry feed a bit if we needed too, especially if we’re supplementing with greens and garden surplus. I get my poultry feed from Azure, which is usually great… unless they don’t ship the feed due to lack of availability.

      • For along time I forgot to include the dogs in my planning. But when you think about it they are consuming food and water too and should be included as “family members” when stocking up certain items. You don’t want to have to give up your precious home-canned food to the animals all because you forgot to stock up on kibble! I can make some great dog food with kitchen scraps it’s not something I want to have to rely on in any type of emergency.

  18. I’m continually disturbed by the amount of processed food that seems to fill up the average American household pantry. My fiancé and I live in a small apartment, and every day we feed ourselves and our rabbit with whole foods. We do have the occasional processed indulgence. My fiancé likes frozen pizza (a relic of bachelorhood, I imagine) and has one about once a month. I like pretzel crisps (those deliciously addictive crackers!). He also eats cereal on a daily basis. And we buy bread (sigh, but I wish I had more time to make it homemade since it tastes better and is actually less expensive!). Since we moved into an apartment without a microwave, we have stopped living off of anything that can be made quickly or conveniently, and thus, without thought to what the heck is in it!

    Although we are on the relatively low end of the income bracket, we do our damnedest to eat whole foods. They aren’t usually organic, but sometimes I do indulge myself with organic produce. I try to buy things I can make at home. And I’ve taken up freezer canning to help preserve more and toss out less. I think I’m going to save a copy of your Par list and check it out. Maybe I will even make my own.

    Thanks for the blog post. I really wonder what anyone would do with so much powdered milk and cream soup. Yuck.

  19. Tiffany McLeod says:

    Wonderful article, and so sensible. As some of my family members are on a low-sodium diet, following the “Prepper” idea has never made sense for us. Who cares if you have 10 cases of commercial chili if only 1 person in the family can eat them (and hates canned chili)? Simply stocking up on things you actually use is much more sensible.

  20. david michaud says:

    The best I have read.
    You are such a cook.
    You have a lucky hubby.

  21. Love this post. These kinds of things alway motivate me to do better on food storage. I went the route of storing grains that we don’t really eat before. What a waste. Question on the coconut milk. 1 13.5 oz can for $29.10???

  22. I would like to be your next-door neighbor. :)

  23. Great post! While not a perfect pantry, mine has withstood the assault that being out of work for 2 years has brought. There are still a few relics left from when the kids still lived at home (does boxed Mac & Cheese ever really go bad?) in case I ever really get that hungry, but it hasn’t come to that yet. I managed to raise meat chicks last fall to add to the larder (frozen and canned), the milk goats are pregnant now, and hopefully the garden will cooperate when it warms up.

  24. Exellent counsel! Thanks for the shout-out to us Latter-Day Saints! But it grieves and pains me to offer a couple words of caution to those seeking guidance from the Storehouse ( pantry) or LDS individuals: I am the “Provident Living Specialist”( actual title) in my Ward and more often than you’d think I run into older Sisters( and a lot of Brethren) who are still clinging to crusty-dusty old wheat/white rice/powdered milk food storage. And every Storehouse has at least one such well-meaning individual working there. “Well, that’s how my grandmother did it”; except it probably isn’t. Their grandmother probably did exactly the things you’ve talked about but they’re not remembering that Granny’s long-term staples ran parallel to the garden, foraging, canning, fruit trees, fishing,, hunting, chickens, etc. And those activities were also great character builders and could be a lot of memory building family fun. I’ve even stopped using the term “food storage” so that people who aren’t interested in buying 1000lbs of wheat will actually listen.

    Second : for some people, especially more prosperous ones or living in more prosperous states, growing your own food is vaguely shameful. As though its only done by people who don’t have a choice and smacks of either the trailer park or the hippie commune. This is improving due to concerns about what’s in processed foods but its still out there.
    Third…, and I know I’m going to get tarred and feathered for this, but ….as late as the early-mid Nineties a supper or party at Church boasted rice and bread that were typically brown, veggies and fruit that were often homegrown/homecanned. Soups and casseroles…with the notable exception of the iconic and awesomely awful “Funeral Potatoes”…were typically from scratch or nearly so. Even desserts tended toward fruit, whole grains, honey, etc. and even when they were just the fluffy stuff at least they weren’t from a box. Or, dare I speak the S- word?… storebought. When and why this started happening and what to do about it is another conversation, but just include it in your math and take lists and cookbooks that include shortening , boullion cubes and Slime of Chicken soup with a grain of non-iodized sea salt.

    • My mother-in-law still does her funeral potatoes from scratch. You are so right! They are awesomely awful.

    • Slime of Chicken–gotta remember that!

    • LOL, thanks! I have had nothing but positive experiences when I’ve called the local LDS cannery. And although I am about the least religious person you will ever meet, I respect very much some of the practical aspects of community building of the Church of LDS: the emphasis on savings, avoiding debt and building a food store that will see you and your community through hard times has always seemed to me eminently practical.

  25. Cat Haggert says:

    Thanks for the post, it has inspired me to track my food consumption more systematically. Quick question- What’s the physical size of your pantry?

  26. One great approach , especially for those just starting out, is the concept of “survivalizing” recipes. The website and book “The Survival Mom” explains it . Basically, you take recipes your family already likes and that are made of shelf-stable items. Measure the ingredients and multiply by 12 ( well, 13 really) and you’ve got that meal once a week for 3 months. Some recipes work better than others, obviously. Soups, stews, casseroles pilafs , one-skillets work best Things that depend on a lot of cheese or fresh veggies like lasagna or stir fry , not so much. Over time , you realize you’ve got the ingredients on hand for tons of other stuff.
    I love the whole website! But here’s the link to this system:http://thesurvivalmom.com/2013/11/23/plan-food-storage-can-make-favorite-recipes-years-now/
    My next recipe for this is semi-vegetarian chili..

  27. Great post. I love being able to shop my larder instead of having to run to the store every time I’m out of something. I do rather suck at tracking what we use though, and keeping a par quantity of our most used items on hand. I really need to get better at that.

    I don’t keep anything on hand that we don’t use at all, but I do keep a few things in larger quantity than we would need just for us, for barter purposes if TSHTF. My picks for that are alcohol (which also has practical uses besides drinking in an emergency) and chocolate/cocoa, and I also usually have plenty of sugar on hand, especially if I count honey, maple syrup, and preserves.

    I realize that you’re primarily addressing food in this post, but I think it’s important for people to consider related items in their storage plan, for critical, non-extended disaster situations. We almost never use paper plates or napkins or disposable utensils, but I keep a supply on hand for emergencies. Water becomes a big issue in certain emergencies and especially since we live in water-poor southern California I need options for minimizing my water usage in short term but extreme disasters. I also keep extra wood chips on hand (which we use for bedding in our poultry coop/run) so that if the water does get shut off we can use them for a composting toilet set-up. Additionally, I try to keep in mind actually cooking in the event of an emergency, so I keep some chafing dish fuel around, we try not to run out of firewood, and we keep a second propane tank on hand of of which we can run our grill or camp stove. I have pressure cooker, which I am sure will be invaluable for minimizing water and fuel usage if needed. A solar oven is on my wish list.

    When I first started doing intentional food storage I used some of the LDS info for guidelines, which has been a mixed bag of helpfulness (turns out we don’t eat that much cornmeal so the whole dent corn I bought is being used verrrrry slowly, whereas we blow through popcorn like it’s our job). Plus, we just don’t use a lot of the things they recommend, or we don’t use them in similar quantities. Knowing how your family eats is key to successful food storage. That said, I am only half-joking when I tell people that everything I know about food storage I learned from LDS and crazy survivalists.

    • http://solarcooking.org/plans/

      http://www.cdc.gov/safewater/solardisinfection.html

      Lily, your advice about wood chips for a composting toilet situation is something rarely mentioned, but if, as was the case with Sandy, you have either no or limited water, you sure don’t want to have to use it to flush the toilet. I used to be the EMS Captain for a volunteer fire dept. and was also involved with Red Cross Disaster training. You do find out that just because ‘it’–storm, tornado, earthquake, fire, even ‘just’ job loss and loss of income hasn’t happened–that sure doesn’t mean ‘it’ can’t happen. A large trash can with a wood round on top if it covered with a nice tablecloth makes a very good place to store water, cash, copies of important papers, clothes, TP, food, etc. and is easy to take to your car and either put, as is, into your trunk or empty into your vehicle. There are many disasters that can cause either a neighborhood or a town to be evacuated–wildfire, train derailment w/toxic spill, etc. It just makes good sense to be prepared as well as we can be. Kinda like having family fire drills or having a planned meeting place if you’re separated in the mall.
      As for stocking our larders? A very good way to live. Takes a huge concern out of our worry-boxes.

    • Excellent points – and while you are correct that this is really about food, water stores in relation to your geography are critical, and it’s important for folks to think about the issues like those you’ve addressed here. In addition to the wash/poop/clean issues we all face, as a woman I also recommend thinking feminine hygiene and birth control.

  28. I’m posting this out to permies.com, too, but we are struggling with storing whole grains: whole wheat flours, brown rice, quinoa, oats, etc. We are building up the “par” in our pantry for feeding 8 adults at community meals with 25-50 lb sacks of these things.

    As others commented, I want these in glass (preferred) or plastic containers ASAP after purchase to reduce bug and rodent temptation.

    I also want to prevent these whole grains from going rancid. I don’t want to “dry can” them, so we are left with freezing or refrigerating (in air-tight containers only), or we are also experimenting with burning a candle to replace oxygen with CO2 in some of our containers.

    I’d love to hear what other people do to keep large quantities of whole grains fresh over long-term pantry storage.

    • I do a few things:
      1) I purchase whole, unground grains and grind them myself as needed. Whole, unground grains stay fresh a great deal longer than flours (and freshly ground tastes *a lot* better). There are a variety of grinders at different price points available to make this doable. I purchased a manual mill first, which works really well and offers a lot of flexibility in terms of texture (cracked grain to pastry flour fine), but does require quite a bit of effort to achieve a fine flour. So we got an electric mill that works great for my everyday baking needs and was more realistic as far as space and price constraints than trying to convert the manual to either a motorized or bike-powered grinder.
      2) I repackage all my grains and legumes into mylar bags with oxygen absorbers (or some smaller quantities in vacuum seal bags). Light and oxygen are the enemies of fats, so the bags reduce/eliminate both elements. The mylar bags I use hold about 8 quarts (6-12 lbs, depending on what you’re packaging) so I don’t have 50lbs of wheat or whatever open at once which works better for my small family. Those bags I store in rugged totes or 5 gallon buckets. I don’t completely love this system because it creates more waste than I’m really comfortable with. However, I live in southern California and we never really freeze, so pests are a year-round threat. The bags protect against bugs, oxygen, and light and the totes against larger pests and light.
      3) For things that we don’t go through as quickly which have an inherently shorter shelf life (like brown rice) I just store less of it and package it in smaller quantities so I have less open at once. I don’t know how long-term you are aiming for, but if stored in a dark, air-tight, oxygen-poor container/bag in a reasonably cool place you should be able to stretch out the shelf life of brown rice to a year, or maybe two, without having to take up valuable freezer or refrigerator real estate.

    • Hey Jocelyn, I took a look at the Permies thread. (http://www.permies.com/t/32998/survival/Deep-Pantry-people-food)

      Since you are strongly against plastic buckets with an airtight seal, which are really ideal for this kind of thing, I second the half-gallon mason jars and the food saver attachment to remove air. I think you could bulk process quite efficiently with a work party, and repack the filled jars into their cardboard boxes (6-up) for a very efficient “back store” of long-lasting grains, beans, etc. You could even stack the filled boxes if you had to (not recommended but possible.)

      The half-gallon jars aren’t really that expensive when you consider that they will last forever. I like the glass jars you have for everyday, easy-access stuff, but wouldn’t like them for back storage. For one thing, you can’t stack them. For another, I have serious doubts about the air-tightness of that glass-on-glass resting seal. I suspect it’s totally porous, and the effort to burn the candle and displace the O2 probably doesn’t change the atmospheric composition inside the jar for more than about 15 minutes of storage. :( But those jars are lovely, and I think they are great for countertop usage.

  29. This is awesome. Thanks for the motivation to get back on track with food storage. We had a great larder, but then ate a good portion of it during some no-spend runs, and the canned items are getting low this time of year.

  30. Jennifer G says:

    Looking at your pars and weekly usage for your family, just curious: do you really use 1/2 lb of baking soda per week? What do you use it for? I’m totally just curious (not judging) but 1.5lbs dry rice and 2lb dry beans seem like more than I’d expect for you, the hubby, and a little one (just one, yes?). Maybe I can’t picture the quantities. What typical things do you have each week with these?

    • tons and i mean TONS of uses for baking soda…..http://lifehackery.com/2008/07/22/home-4/ and as for beans and rice…. being a Celiac household we can easily go through 1.5lbs of rice…. 1 cup of uncooked rice is about 0.5lbs, 1.3 cups of dried kidney beans the same……mmm refriend beans…. hummus….. and other tasty treats!

    • We are a family of four, and my nearly ten year old eats more than I do on occasion. The three year old is selective: sometimes he refuses to eat, sometimes he out-eats everyone.

      I use a lot of baking soda. Mostly it gets used for personal and home care. I brush my teeth with it twice a day, make facial exfoliants, use it in deodorant when I’m feeling ultra hippie, dab it on zits to dry them out overnight, scrub stainless steel with it, use it to deodorize stinky areas of the house, sprinkle it on spills on the carpet, etc. etc.

      Oh, and sometimes I bake with it too. :)

      For beans and rice, I was ballparking, but a generous cup of dry beans is about a half pound, and this makes about a quart of cooked beans. I will often make a garbanzo bean salad for lunch and eat a quart of garbanzos that way over two days just by myself, plus figure another quart for a side, another quart in a soup or chili…you know, roughly. It varies week by week.

      For rice, I just measured it out and a “standard” batch of rice like I’d make for dinner is one pound exactly. That’s a slightly rounded two cups. Less than you’d think. That’s enough for a rice-based dinner like a stir-fry or something, with enough left over for my husband to take in a lunch. And on average, that happens about 3 times every two weeks.

      I think part of it that seems shocking is a lot of people are just thinking about dinner, but figure 4 people each eating 3 times a day is 84 meals a week. I probably cook 80 of them (plus maybe 14 snacks) from scratch. That’s every week. So there’s just a lot of meals to account for.

  31. I’d love to know where you shop! Some of this is Costco, I know, but where did you find kosher salt for $2.78? I just paid $4.50 for 3lbs on sale.

  32. man, do I feel unprepared. I guess that’s a good thing, if it gets me to do anything about.

    I have serious issues around buying bottled water, but living in earthquake-prone SF Area, I really should get some and keep it in hiding for an emergency. And thanks for one of the above commenters for reminding me about things like tp. hmmm. I think I see a Costco trip in my future

    Erica, can you reinstitute the option when commenting of getting replies by email?

    • I will ask my technical support division (aka Homebrew Husband) to toggle the right switch on the comment thing. :)

      You can get large bottle jugs in 3 or 5 gallon and fill those -they aren’t so wasteful as the individual bottles. With water, a good rule of thumb is, “Change your clocks, change your stocks!” In other words, when you set your clocks back and forward every six months, use old water (drink, water plants, irrigate, whatever) and fill jugs with fresh.

  33. quick question on butter…. i see your Par is 13lbs of butter….. does this live in your fridge, or do you can some Ghee??

    Also wondering about the Pork shoulder that you can. do you have a list of how you use it? the only thing i could find when searching was chili…. i can think of several dishes i could use it in, but just wondering if you have something particularly delicious you like to use it in…..

    p.s. love the reference to Wheaton’s Law…

    • I freeze my butter. It doesn’t take up much room and lasts for a long time frozen. In an extended power outage, I would clarify it for longer room-temp storage and keep it as cool as possible. I know you can buy canned ghee that is very very shelf stable. I’m not sure about the safety of DIY’ing that product, I’d have to look at it.

  34. I must make my husband read this post. I have been trying to get him to embrace more home canned, whole foods, organic ingredients. Then I started dressing it up as Prepping and he showed some interest. But now he wants to stock up on cases of mac and cheese and ravioli. So we found a balance and I am working hard to create a solid, sustainable pantry. Your post is a great way of showing him why we can’t just have mac and cheese ALL the time :)

    Besides, I never hear him complain when I whip up a delicious meal made from pantry staples where 5 minutes earlier he looked in the cupboard and said “there’s nothing to eat”.

    • Also talk about cost. The nutrition per dollar of whole foods prepping is far greater. Sure ramen and mac and cheese can be cheap, but you get nothing beyond the calories. In a situation where everyone is having to step up, work harder, rely less on convenience, do you really want to be dependant on powdered cheese to get you through the day? I don’t.

  35. THANK YOU! I’ve just been trying to get more organized in terms of food storage. It’s interesting, I have preserved a years worth of strawberries and blueberries into jam and freezer for quite a few years… and I have a par 1 on most pantry items but it’s still the same few things I end up buying every week at the store. I just made it a goal to get a few month supply going, but I eat so differently than the silly internet lists it was a problem (sorry LDS church I won’t eat mayo if it *is* the last thing on earth and a we eat 8lbs of peanut butter in 2 months!)

    Your list is a much better starting point for me – thanks!

  36. Erica:
    I have been back to reread this post about a half-dozen times since it went up. My biggest question – how do you go about starting to keep track of what you use and what your par list is? I’m trying to figure this out and start a small (3 months) stockpile, as I don’t have a lot of storage room in my condo. Any links or recommendations as to how to quick-and-dirty keep track of what you use and/or buy? Thanks!

  37. michelle priddy says:

    I agree that $5 a week is the key to food security, just $5. Your prices are low for where we live. Sugar runs around $0.50 per pound, pasta is seldom under $1, I haven’t priced honey, a friend gave us honey for Christmas, but I can tell you if it was $1 per pound around here, we would eat it more often.

    So we just buy a little less and stay on top of it, (lot less sugar than most families because sugar is expensive) We make home made pasta and home made ‘cream of anything’ soup for half the cost of canned soup and 2/3 the cost of store bought pasta.

    I agree building food security is a skill and that it can be learned and any one can do it. There is a $4.50 per person per day challenge at the gleaner group we belong to face book page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/McMinnville-Harvesters/273911425983975. There are costs, recipes and such on the face book page

  38. michelle priddy says:

    I agree that $5 a week is the key to food security, just $5. Your prices are low for where we live. Sugar runs around $0.50 per pound, pasta is seldom under $1, I haven’t priced honey, a friend gave us honey for Christmas, but I can tell you if it was $1 per pound around here, we would eat it more often.

    So we just buy a little less and stay on top of it, (lot less sugar than most families because sugar is expensive) We make home made pasta and home made ‘cream of anything’ soup for half the cost of canned soup and 2/3 the cost of store bought pasta.

    I agree building food security is a skill and that it can be learned and any one can do it. Head over to McMinnville Harvester’s facebook page. There are costs, recipes and such on the face book page

  39. Love the post! Now I’d love to know where you’re getting beans for less than a dollar a lb. I can’t seem to find them anywhere and my grocery does bulk candy, not bulk beans. :p

    Keep up the good work!!

Trackbacks

  1. […] as-you-know-bob, I’m kind of a preserving nut. I don’t go nearly as hard core as, say, Erica over at NW Edible Life (link goes to a recent post about maintaining a working larder/pantry), but I forage and I glean […]

  2. […] that… I guess one way of putting it would be to say that my idea of “par” – to use another concept I learned from Erica – fluctuates depending on what kind of money I have lying around and how willing (or wise) I […]

  3. […] They have a 10-year shelf life and they’re also great for camping. Also keep in mind that food already stored in your home can be used to get you through emergencies, though it may not be as transportable if you need to […]

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