As a homesteader and a prepper I believe in having stored food. However, there's the smart way to do it and the dumb way to do it. I have done it both ways and I'm smarter now than I was before. Not only do I practice emergency food storage, but I have used all my emergency food storage on more than one occasion.
The dumb way to store food is to run to Costco (or Walmart) and buy big institutional sized peanut butter, sugar, flour, etc. The mistake here is buying "bulk" quantities. A 5-pound tub of peanut butter is too much if you are making a couple sandwiches a day. It's hard to keep large quantities of food fresh once you open them—especially if you don't have refrigeration. My recommendation is to buy 5-6 small jars of peanut butter instead of one large one. The same goes for flour, oil, etc.
Another dumb way to store food is to run online and order 250 pounds of "Hard Red Winter Wheat" or go to Costco or Walmart and buy large bags of dry beans and raw rice. Then put all these things into 5-gallon buckets. The mistake here is buying food you don't already eat or buying food in formats that you have no idea how to use. I can use flour. I have no idea how to use "Hard Red Winter Wheat". Yet, when I started prepping I did have 200 pounds of hard red wheat in my storage closet. I have since thrown it away. If you don't already eat beans and rice regularly, don't base your food storage on it.
Another dumb way to store food is to head to the survivalist store (or online) and order $1,500 worth of freeze-dried food. Freeze-dried food stores for a long time and it can be a good part of your long-term emergency storage. I have freeze-dried and dehydrated food as part of my prep. The biggest issue with freeze-dried and dehydrated food is the amount of water they require to prepare. In an extended electrical outage, water stops flowing. Freeze dried food uses lots of water. If you are going to use these foods you need to have a rock solid water storage plan as well.
If you are buying dehydrated/freeze dried food here are a few observations:
- Try a little before you buy a lot.
- Auguson Farms is an inexpensive brand that you can often order directly from Walmart.com cheaper than if you go directly to the company's website.
- Auguson "Complete Meals" may sound like a good option, but try them first.To me some are inedible
- It's just as cheap to buy the items individually, so don't think you need to purchase a mega-package to save money. Also, the mega-package may have items that you won't use, like Hard Winter Wheat.
- Read the reviews. If everyone says it's inedible then don't buy it—even as part of a package.
- You may find it just as easy to buy Knorr Side Dish (pasta or rice) packages for $1.25 each and store them as it is to have a big #10 can full of "Cheesy Rice Soup". Knorr side dishes last two years minimum and store very easily.
Food is a combination of three things: Nutrition, Water and Energy.
If you pick a heavy, prepared food like a can of Campbell's Hearty Chicken Soup then it already has everything packaged into the can: nutrition, water, and energy. You don't need to cook it or hydrate it. You can just eat it right out of the can. Peanut butter, trail mix, boxed cereal, crackers, canned tuna. These are your traditional "emergency" foods. They require no preparation or water. However, they are bulky and often have shorter shelf lives.
Next on the list are foods that just require water. Powdered milk is a good example. Or foods that require some water and minimal energy. Some dehydrated and freeze-dried foods fall squarely into this category. But you need to read the cooking instructions to be sure. Some need to be simmered for 15-20 minutes. If you are trying to eat the lowest-energy-need food look for food that just require you to add some boiling water to the pouch. These are generally found in backpacking stores. This type of food is the most expensive per serving.
Finally are foods that require both water and lots of energy. This is the big mistake of choosing rice and beans in particular as a food storage staple. Rice requires boiling water PLUS twenty minutes to cook. Most dry beans require at least an hour to cook. Dry beans that have been in storage for a year or more require more time to cook than usual. On the plus side, they are cheap and easy to store.
When the lights go out and the water (potentially) stops flowing what will you eat? If you need water and energy to prepare your food, where will it come from?
3.1 Layers of Food Storage
I use 3.1 layers of food storage. Layer 1 is extra of everything that I normally eat. Layer 2 is storage of bulk normal food items that I can make without electricity but with the propane that we have on the farm. Layer 3 is "exotic" food storage such as freeze dried and dehydrated foods that I normally don't eat but will save my family if we need them.
What's the .1 part of 3.1 food storage? The "point one" is my "bug-out food". This is food, water, and other supplies that I can throw into the back of a car for my family to live on for at least 72 hours. My go-to source for this is military style MRE's along with a couple cases of bottled drinking water and a 5-gallon water "cube".
Layer 1: Extra of Everything
Layer 1 is easy and anyone can do it. Instead of buying one can of tuna, buy two and put the extra one in the closet. It's super easy. Since it's food you were going to buy eventually, then it costs nothing more than you were going to spend anyway. Plus it makes life easier. When you run out of cereal you just go to the closet instead of the store. I tend to keep two or three extra of most foods that we regularly eat. This is also true of cleaning and paper products. Just buy an extra one and put it in the closet. You'll never worry about toilet paper again.
Layer 2: Electricity-free Stockpile
What can you cook without electricity? If you have a gas stove then you can use your stove top to cook, but you cannot use your oven because all gas ovens use electric start and electric gas flow control. So, without electricity your oven will not work. Do you have a propane grill? Keep extra propane on hand.
As far as food is concerned, what will you reasonably eat in a month that you can store with no electricity and prepare with the energy you keep on hand? Only you can answer that. I stick with food that I will eat even if there is no emergency. I avoid "prepper" food that my family won't eat (massive quantities of beans and rice). I like storing plenty of dried pasta, jars of spaghetti sauce, flavored rice meals and pasta meals, large cans of chunky soup. Peanut butter and jelly is good if you also store crackers or have a way to make bread... and store flour, oil, and yeast. I also store plenty of canned meat. I prefer to can my own, it's cheaper.
Canning your own meat is cheap, easy, and fun. Start with cheap chicken leg-quarters. Sometimes they are on sales as low as thirty-nine cents per pound! When that happens, I buy 100 pounds and spend two days canning chicken.
Layer 3: The Long Emergency
If you are like me and enjoy going "through the looking glass" then you might want long term food storage. The chances of ever needing long term food storage, in my opinion, is easily less than 1%. Money spent on long-term food storage is almost certainly money wasted. But it's worth it to me for the peace of mind.
If you are going down the rabbit hole and preparing for a long emergency like an EMP, solar flare, financial collapse, pandemic, etc. then you don't need my advice.
Most people don't know that if you go to Walmart.com and search for emergency food storage you will find great deals on food storage. I believe it is better to look at what's actually in these "mega-packs", decide what you will eat or won't eat and then buy your own version item by item. You would think it's more expensive, but really it isn't.
I did a cost comparison the "1 person 6 month" pack which costs $410 and took out the items I won't eat - like hard white wheat and imitation meat substitute. Buying the items individually without the junk I just won't eat ended up costing $211 instead of $410. I can use the extra $199 to replace them with items that I will actually eat. In this case almost half the cost of the "mega pack' would have been wasted.
If you're going to store food then you must store water, and lots of it. A male in a temperate climate needs 3 liters of water per day. A woman needs 2.2 liters. That's minimum. I prefer to store 2 gallons of drinking and cooking water per person per day. For my family of 3 that's 42 gallons per week. The easiest solution is blue plastic barrels. Each will hold 42 gallons of water. They keep contaminates and light out so the water will stay fresh and clean indefinitely. You can buy new barrels from U-line for $55 or used barrels from Craigslist for $20 each. The math is simple: one barrel will provide one grown man with about 2 months of MINIMAL drinking water only. If you live in an apartment and don't have room for something this big then just buy lots of 1-gallon or 5-gallon water jugs and stack them on shelves in the closet.
Keep at least 1 gallon of UNSCENTED bleach in your storage plan. Just a few drops of bleach can disinfect a gallon of drinking water. Your municipal water supply cleans the water with chlorine. That's the same thing that's in basic unscented bleach. This will allow you collect rain water and purify it.
I, personally, use IBC Totes. IBC stands for "Intermediate Bulk Container". They are a standard liquid shipping containers. If you use one for drinking water you want "food grade" that didn't contain anything that would contaminate your water supply. I purchased two IBC Totes for $160 from Craigslist. My two IBC Totes will store 550 gallons of emergency water for my family—105 days of drinking and cooking water.
Lots of batteries, candles and flashlights; cleaning supplies and paper products; personal hygiene; cash; medicine; first aid; disinfectant; extra copies of paperwork; passports; fuel storage; home defense.