Gaye Levy, Contributor
These days, it seems as though everyone has something to say about emergency food and emergency food storage. You will find advice telling you not only what to buy, but how much to buy, where to buy it, how to store it and to a lesser degree, how to eat it.
For the food storage newbie, all of this information can be overwhelming. And for the experienced food storage maven, every new piece of advice will have you wondering whether you have done it right or whether there is a better way. To use one of my favorite laments, it can all be too much!
Today I am going to do us all a favor and offer some crazy simple strategies for building an emergency food supply.
Take Your Time and Go Slow
If I can cite the number one reason people become overwhelmed when even thinking about putting aside an emergency food supply, it is the perceived sense of urgency that it all needs to be done right now. And this, for many, results in complacency and inaction. Don’t fall in to this trap. Begin with a three-day supply and gradually build that up to a week. After that, add to your emergency food supply week by week until pretty soon, you have three months of food stored away for you and your family.
Remember, it is perfectly okay to pick up only 4 or 5 extra cans of meats, fruits or vegetables during your weekly trip to the supermarket. Do what you can at a pace that your are comfortable with and ignore any message you get from others (including prepping forums and websites) to do it all at once.
Spend Your Money Wisely
There is no reason to break the budget while building an emergency food supply. Before heading out to the supermarket, view the local ads and find specials that will allow you to purchase more for less. If you are so inclined, use coupons; and if allowed, shop on “double coupon” days.
Warehouse clubs such as Costco have coupons, too, so don’t overlook those booklets that are sent out monthly. Often times the savings are huge. If you do not belong to a warehouse club, perhaps you can tag along with a friend or call ahead and see if they will give you a one-day shopping pass.
Don’t overlook shopping at one of the many Dollar Stores or even in the back aisles of the drugstore. Bargains abound as I recently learned when I picked up a half dozen cans of DAK ham for less than $3 each.
Scope Out and Optimize Your Storage Space
Finding a place to store your emergency food supply can be a challenge, especially if you live in a small home or apartment. Get creative, starting with a walk around tour of you living spaces. Places often overlooked are under beds, way up high in closets where you can add another shelf, and under dressers, desks and sofas.
My number one tip, though, is to go through your cupboards and closets and remove those items that are duplicates, that you rarely use, or that you do not use at all.
For example, in your kitchen, how many different pots and pans do you need? My guess is that you use the same two or three over and over again. Stow away the extras in the basement or storage locker or give them away to charity. Trust me, they will not be missed. The same thing applies to seldom-used clothing, shoes and sports equipment.
If you are truly serious about finding the space for your emergency food supply, you will toss those miscellaneous items that are only used once every three years in order to free up space for some additional canned or dried food items.
Stick to the Basics
Monitor what your family eats for a week and use that as a guideline for getting started. The advantage of doing this is that you will learn what your family likes so that you can shop accordingly. You would be surprised at how many people can’t remember what they ate yesterday let alone a week ago. Try to write everything down so that you don’t have to rely upon your memory.
Keep in mind that bulk foods such as beans, rice, oatmeal and powdered milk are staples in the survival food pantry. Relatively speaking, they are all (with the exception, perhaps of the milk) inexpensive. These are basics, yes. But if you are just getting started, why not begin with the food your family eats – but only in canned form?
Also, do not forget to store at least one gallon of water per person per day along with your emergency food supply.
Don’t Make it a Chore
Storing food for an emergency can be challenging but it does not have to be a chore. Eliminate the panic of attempting to get it all done at once and the process can almost be fun and game-like. Searching out deals – either with coupons or at sales – can be an adventure in and of itself. Involve the kids by asking them for suggestions and helping them make selections that they will enjoy eating.
Continue the adventure by learning to cook with traditional storage items such as the bulk food items mentioned above (beans, rice, oatmeal and powdered milk). Adding condiments of various types will result in delicious meals not only now, but after an emergency when good tasting food will be a comfort.
Pay Attention to Storage Conditions
Notwithstanding finding the space for your emergency food supply, consider the storage conditions in your home. The enemies of food storage are temperature, moisture, oxygen, light, pests and time. Then there is the two-legged variety (such as teenagers!) who eat everything in sight, including your emergency food.
While not all household conditions are perfect, be aware of the six enemies of food storage and do your best to mitigate their effect on your precious food supply. This means you should avoid storing food in garages that are 90 degrees in summer and 30 degrees in winter. Empty your cupboards and closets of excess stuff and stow these items in the garage. This will make room for you to store your food inside your main living area where the ambient room temperature is stable.
Rotate Out, and Replenish In
Nothing lasts forever, so periodically go through your emergency food supply and rotate out the oldest items. You can do this once a year or even every two years. Just remember to replenish what you remove.
The exception to this rule is if the food items have been packaged for long-term storage, either by the manufacturer or yourself. How to package for the long term is beyond the scope of this article, but you will find plenty of tips in the following three articles here on Backdoor Survival:
Keep Track of Your Stuff
Once you get going, it will be easy to lose track of what you already have. The best way to overcome the state of confusion you will experience six months down the road is to start keeping track of your stored items now – from the beginning. Use a spiral notebook, a computer spreadsheet, or a clipboard and a pad of paper. Update your inventory with the item and date of purchase as it goes into storage and of course, mark it off as it rotates out.