When we think about all the things we need to be ready for an emergency, food storage usually tops the list. Obviously, food is necessary for survival so it’s really a no-brainer. Whether your planning for a natural disaster, a job loss or just “Mom’s down with the flu”, stocking up on food is the smart thing to do.
However, as you get started, the process seems overwhelming. You’re full of questions. What do I buy? How much should I buy? And what do I do with it once I buy it? You’re not feeling confident and what you really want to know is how can I be sure my food storage plan is solid?
I’ve been where you are. I’ve asked myself those same questions. And what I’ve learned is…the best way to build your confidence (and your food storage!) is to avoid making food storage mistakes.
Here are 10 food storage mistakes to watch out for:
1. You aren’t storing enough food.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard my friends say, “I have enough food in our pantry to last us a year.” And honestly, I used to feel that way, too. When you open the cabinet door and see shelves loaded with Cheerios, Goldfish, Doritos and Annie’s Mac and Cheese, it looks like a lot of stuff. But I took a good hard look at those shelves and I urge you to do the same. Ask yourself, What do I really have besides a bunch of snacks?
The next question to ask is how much food storage is enough? First, decide on a food storage goal. I recommend at the very minimum, a two-week supply of meals (plus snacks!) in your home at all times. An even better goal is one to three months and if storing more than that gives you peace of mind, go for it!
Next, think about the meals your family eats regularly. What breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are easy to prepare and only require a few simple ingredients? Is there a meal you normally make with fresh ingredients that could just as easily be made with canned substitutions? If you’re hard-pressed for ideas, now’s the time to experiment with different “emergency” recipes. Once you find a recipe everyone likes, incorporate it into your regular menu planning.
Then choose several dishes for each of the three meal times—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and don’t forget to include snacks. Make a list of all the ingredients in each dish. Next, figure out how many times your family will eat each meal over the period you’ve decided on—two weeks, one month or more. Then multiply each ingredient by that number. This will tell you how much of each ingredient you need to store in your pantry.
2. You buy food your family doesn’t like.
Before you run to Target and load up on tuna, fruit cocktail and SPAM, (Yes, I’m speaking from experience here!), stop and think for a minute. If no one in your family eats SPAM in good times, they won’t be eager to eat it during a crisis.
Stock up on the foods your family likes and will eat. On the same note, an emergency isn’t the best time to introduce a new food to your loved ones. Be sure to test out your latest and greatest culinary creation on your troops beforehand.
Also, if your food storage plan is to buy freeze-dried meal kits like these, buy some smaller individual packs first. Not all brands taste the same.
For example, my family prefers Mountain House and Legacy Foods over all the others. Do a taste test before you buy a huge supply.
3. You only store freeze-dried food.
Freeze-dried meals are busy parents’ dream come true. Entrees like pasta primavera, chili mac, beef stroganoff, and chicken and rice are created from fresh food that goes through a flash freeze process and then is packaged for convenience.
Just add hot water and serve it up! Freeze-dried foods are also favorable because of their extended shelf life (up to 25 years!). While I’m a fan of these meals and have them in my food storage, I don’t recommend “putting all your eggs in the freeze-dried basket”. One of the most important rules a survival-savvy family should follow does not rely on a single plan. Always have a back up (and then a back up to the backup. :)). A smart food storage plan is one that includes variety.
Comfort foods, boxed and canned goods, cook-from-scratch ingredients, home-canned fruits and vegetables, foods that require water to prepare and foods that don’t.
4. You don’t store any spices or condiments.
If the emergency goes on long enough, I guarantee you’ll get tired of eating the same old’ food. Spices and condiments are the best way to change things up and add a little variety. Plus, they don’t take up a lot of storage space.
5. You don’t eat your food storage.
Once you’ve accumulated your food supply, use it. A common mistake people make is thinking of food storage only as emergency food.
They pack it in a Rubbermaid container and tuck it in the back of a bedroom closet and forget it’s there. Taking this approach is risky. Do you want to end up with expired, unusable food when you need it most?
The best way to prevent that from happening is to add your food to your everyday pantry. Then develop a rotation system, like the easiest one known as “ First in, first-out”. When you need an item, grab the oldest from the shelf first and buy a replacement the next time you go to the store.
6. You eat something and don’t replace it.
The “First in, first-out” rotation system will only work if you make a no-exceptions rule for your family: If you eat something, you must write it on the grocery list.
It took a lot of nagging on my part to get my family to remember to do it, but it was worth it. Nothing is more frustrating than going to the pantry to get an ingredient and finding out it’s no longer there.
7. You don’t know how to cook what you store.
You saw that show (Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about. ) where the family had garbage cans full of wheat in their bunker so you bought several #10 cans of wheat and figure you’re all set.
Or you found a food storage purchasing checklist online and everything mentioned—like rice, beans, dry milk, salt, and honey—is now sitting on a shelf in your basement.
But, let’s be honest for a minute. Do you know what to do with it? If your answer is no, I recommend you learn now before an emergency or come up with a new food storage plan.
8. You haven’t labeled your stuff.
Good for you! Your freezer is full. Now the question is “With what?” Get in the habit of labeling your freezer bags with the contents.
And don’t forget to write the date. This will help you to keep track of and rotate older items.
Do the same for any home-canned goods you add to your pantry. And while you’re at it, mark the store-bought canned goods, too. If a label falls off, you’ll still be able to tell what’s inside.
9. You store your food in less than ideal conditions.
A location with consistent, cool temperatures is the best place to keep your extra food. A basement or a spare bedroom closet is a good choice. A garage shed or attic is not. Sunlight, heat and wide temperature fluctuations will shorten food’s shelf life and moisture from humidity or standing water can cause it to spoil.
Also, how you package your food is important. Place your dry food in air-tight containers to help protect it. Glass jars are my containers of choice. They’re great for short term storage and with oxygen absorbers, they work well for longer-term storage too.
10. You forgot about your pets.
My family includes two dogs who are loved very much. Yet, somehow when I first began building my food storage, I forgot all about them! (Yikes! I’m so sorry, pups!) Figure out how much dog food you go through, store it up and then use your “First in, first-out” rotation system.
If you’re thinking, if we’re in a desperate situation, I’ll just cook for them. That’s fine. But be sure to increase the quantity of “human food” you’re putting away to accommodate your four-legged friends.