Making Your Food Storage Plan Flexible
Contributed by Rob Hanus
Thinking about purchasing food storage?
Food is often one of the first things we think of when we consider disaster preparations. Though we can survive for weeks without food, it’s neither an easy nor comfortable thing to do. Without food, not only will you be distracted by hunger, but you’ll be weaker, have slower reaction times, and more apt to make bad decisions. All of which impede your chances for survival. So, even though it’s not always at the top of the priority list, it’s still a very important consideration in your preparedness plan.
When creating your food storage plan, it’s a good idea to use all of the different types of food available. By doing so, you can maximize your dollar and maintain a high level of flexibility in meal planning.
The first type of food to store is what you eat everyday. Freezer and pantry food is the easiest to obtain because it’s the food you already buy at your grocery store. The average household has about 3 days worth of meals. However, it is fairly easy to increase this to two weeks or more, by simply buying a little extra each trip to the grocery store. Make sure to always rotate the food, so the oldest foods are used first. This helps ensure the food on hand is always the freshest.
Once you have obtained about two weeks of your everyday foods, the next step is to start working on your long-term food storage. There are several types of food suitable for long-term storage, and you should consider using all of them in your plan, depending on what your overall goal is. Each type has advantages and disadvantages, and you’ll probably find a mix of them will suit your preparedness needs best.
In general, the foods you’ll want to look at for longer storage purposes are: MREs (military Meals, Ready to Eat), bulk foods, Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods and meals, and home canned foods.
Military MREs are great for evacuation and short term traveling foods. Since they don’t require any cooking or preparation to eat them, they can be eaten right out of the package. The disadvantages to MREs are their high cost and relatively short shelf life. MRE’s are also very calorie dense, so ensure to always drink plenty of water to avoid digestion issues.
Bulk foods are items you use when cooking regularly to create meals, like wheat, flour, rice, beans, salt, sugar, honey. For storage, bulk foods can also include individually freeze-dried and dehydrated items, such as fruits, vegetables and meats. Most of these foods, when stored properly, can last a very long time, making them a good option for preparedness plans.
Remember, to have recipes on hand to use these items and store any of the additional seasonings or ingredients to do so. For example: 50 lbs. of wheat flour won’t help much unless you have other ingredients to make something with it, such as yeast to bread. Bulk foods can be purchased in larger quantities, saving you money, but you typically need to properly repackage them for long-term storage.
One of the more convenient foods to store are the pre-packaged meals consisting of freeze-dried and dehydrated components. These meals typically only need to be reconstituted, either by adding hot water to the pouch or adding the food to pot of boiling water. Though not as inexpensive as bulk foods, they offer a high level of convenience coupled with a nice selection of meals. All the work has been done for you to create tasty meals, rather then having to put together ingredients yourself. These meals are relatively lightweight, making them easier to take with you during an evacuation (and also easier to use under less-than-ideal conditions).
Home canning is another option for long-term food storage. This takes a learning curve and good amount of work to accomplish, but allows you the benefit to put away foods customized for your family’s palate and dietary needs. Canning can also be a way to set aside and preserve seasonal produce, either through grocery or garden surplus.
When considering the purchase of long-term food storage, make sure to understand specific storage conditions for each option so you maintain the longest shelf life possible. It’s important to clearly mark the expiration dates on both the food container and in your preparedness plan. Ideally, you would also create a preparedness calendar, so you can keep track of dates and when the food needs to be rotated out of storage. Along with your other preps, food storage should be inspected on a regular basis to ensure conditions have not changed, or if any products have become compromised during storage.
Even though these storage foods have a very long shelf life, as much as 15-25 years, they will still need to be replaced eventually. Much like your pantry food, in order to prevent wasting money, you should eat your food storage before reaching expiration dates. The best way to rotate out stored foods is to incorporate them in your everyday cooking. This not only utilizes the investment you made years ago, but has the additional benefit of getting your family used to eating storage food, which is often different from the foods your family eats everyday.
Illustrating the different options in food storage available, here’s a example of a smart preparedness plan, using the various food storage guidelines above:
Let’s say you live in a hurricane zone and your plan includes both sheltering and evacuation scenarios. If sheltering, you will likely be doing so without power and you (hopefully!) have a camping stove with plenty of spare fuel. Your sheltering plan calls for you to eat as much from your refrigerator and freezer foods as possible, then to start eating what’s in your pantry.
If the emergency continues, you’ll start using the freeze-dried meals you’ve stored, along with the extra water storage you’ve put away to account for what you will need to cook these meals. You will also stretch your freeze-dried meals by including bulk foods, such as pasta, rice, beans, and potatoes.
If you decide to evacuate, you’ll do so before the storm hits, but you also know you’re likely to be in heavy traffic until you get out of the area. Wanting to maximize your drive time, you’ll be using MREs for the time you anticipate it will take you to get to your out-of-the-zone destination. After that, you’ll rely on the freeze-dried meals you brought along in the convenient storage bucket, as local food sources are likely to be tapped for a week or two.
As you can see, food storage is an important aspect in any preparedness planning. Factoring this into your own Personal Threat Analysis, you can visualize how the different options might work better in your “highly likely” events to occur whether you shelter in place or need to evacuate to a safer location. Having a variety allows for a flexible plan, tailored to your family’s dietary needs and preparedness goals.
In our next article, we’ll be covering water storage.