emergency food supply

Beginner’s Guide to Building an Emergency Food Supply

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Have impending food shortages got you concerned about how you might feed your family? Or have you experienced a natural disaster that made you realize how unprepared you were? Building an emergency food supply is a no-brainer. It no longer holds the stigma it did years ago. But how do you go about doing it?

I’ve heard many people say that can’t start an emergency food supply. One of the biggest reasons I’ve been told is “money”. I get it, times are tough. But as someone who has lived on next to nothing and still fed my family, trust me when I say there is a way. I’m going to show you how easy it is to get started building a backup food supply for your family in case of an emergency. Let’s break down what you should store, how to store it, and what your best options are.

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Why Do You Need an Emergency Food Supply?

Not too long ago the idea of having an emergency food supply was considered “fringe” at best and “tinfoil hat thinking” at worst. But with the events of the last few years, I think many have woken up to the understanding that it’s better to have extra food and not need it, versus needing it and not being able to get it. I’ve always tried to explain it to people as another form of insurance. Because that’s exactly how it should be thought of.

empty shelves in the grocery store why you need an emergency food supply

There is a prepper’s motto, “One is none and two is one”. It’s the idea that only having one of something is not a good plan because anything can and will happen. You always need to plan for the unknown. The same goes for our food supply. A great example would be like the day I went to grab the bag of flour off the shelf and discovered bugs in it. Eww, right?!? (Still learning that I need to store things differently out here, compared to our old state). Luckily I had a backup supply of flour that was bug-free. Imagine if I didn’t though? And with how things keep disappearing off our local grocery shelves it’s a good idea to start grabbing a little extra. This is just one example of why having an emergency food supply is a great idea.

The Very First Step to Building an Emergency Food Supply

The very first step when you are starting an emergency food supply is taking inventory. You’ll need an inventory of what you already have on hand so you can get a better picture of what you need to start stocking up on. You can get my free printable to keep track of your food storage inventory here. Take note of the type of foods your family enjoys or uses the most. From there you need to decide what foods and calculate how much of each you will need.

What Should Be in an Emergency Food Supply?

There are many opinions about what types of foods store best (and you know what they say about opinions). So, I am going to be recommending foods that have a long shelf-life are generally enjoyed by most people, and are nutritious. Also, an important strategy to remember with creating food storage is learning to cook more items from scratch. Not only will this make stocking up on food easier, but it is also very cost-effective.

Emergency Food Supply List

This is a very basic list of foods you should store for emergencies. As an addition to the foods listed below, I can’t recommend enough that you also buy seeds and grow what food you can. Comment on this post what you might want to see me add to it.

foods to store for emergencies graphic

The Importance of Diverse Types of Food for Emergency Use

Beginners guide to building an emergency food supply

It’s really important to make sure that you are storing a variety of foods for emergency preparedness. I don’t just mean the types of food in general, I also mean how the item is preserved or not. There are 3 types of food storage you need to take into consideration when choosing food for your emergency food supply. The foods listed below are just a few examples of the different levels of shelf-life you will see.

Short-Term Food Items

Foods that have a short shelf-life fit into this category. Items you use up quickly and eat regularly. These types of foods need to be consumed within a week or two on average before they go bad.

  • Fresh produce
  • Soft cheeses
  • Milk
  • Deli meats
  • Bakery items
  • Refrigerated meats

Mid-Term Food Items

Foods that I say have a mid-term shelf-life are usually ones that last from about a month to six months.

  • Oils/fats
  • Hard cheeses
  • Peanut/nut butters
  • Butter
  • Fermented/pickled foods
  • Frozen food (before it starts to get freezer burnt and depending on how it is packaged)
  • Flour
  • Smoked/ salt-cured meat

Long-Term Food Items

These are foods that are preserved for more long-term, from six months up to 25 years depending on how the food is preserved and stored.

  • Canned foods
  • Freeze-dried food
  • Dehydrated food
  • Vaccum sealed frozen meat
  • Grains
  • Wheat berries
  • Dried beans
  • Honey
  • Sugar
  • Salt

Methods for Building Your Emergency Food Storage

As I mentioned above I know one of the biggest obstacles to starting an emergency food supply for most people is the expense. Many people have fallen on hard times in the last few years and I of all people know what it’s like to live on next to nothing. But, trust me when I say where there is a will there is a way. My best advice is to start small. These are some of the strategies I used when Aaron and I were struggling to get by.

  • Start a garden: Aaron and I lived in a small town house with a cement patio and we still managed to grow some food. Container gardening is a great option for this. If you are fortunate enough to have a yard, you would be suprised by the amount of food you can grow even on less than a quarter of an acre.
  • Baby Steps: One of my biggest tips is to start small. Every time you go to the grocery store buy a little extra of something. Whether it be a can of beans, a box of pasta, bag of rice, or a package of noodles. These foods are still relatively inexpensive and you will be suprised how quickly you can build up a stock pile.
  • Shop Sales: Always check your stores for sales, and if you can, buy those items. Also don’t shop at the big box stores, you aren’t always getting a deal. One of the biggest tips my dad taught me about grocery shopping was to check the price per pound or oz. Buying the family sized can of soup isn’t always as good a deal as buying multiples of the small cans.
  • Gleaners: I know these aren’t available everywhere, but it is an amazing resource that everyone should know about. You should definitely search to see if you have a gleaners in your area. They work by distributing food left in farm fields after harvest or almost expired foods and produce from local stores. Usually you have to volunteer some time in order to participate in the shops. But the service is available to all and not determined by your income.

How Much Emergency Food Should a Family Have?

One of the biggest issues most people face when trying to build up an emergency food supply is how much should you be storing? It really depends on how long you anticipate being in a situation where you need a backup food supply. And of course, that can be difficult to figure out.

emergency food storage calculator

It is recommended that at the very least you should always have 72 hours of emergency food and water for every member of your family. I honestly believe that is nowhere near enough. I suggest a bare minimum of 2 weeks of food supply for each family member. I found this handy calculator that can help you determine how much food you need for a variety of time frames. Remember not to be overwhelmed by the amounts, if done properly you can get enough food stored surprisingly fast even on a tight budget.

How to Properly Preserve and Store an Emergency Food Supply

So you’ve gone through the trouble of getting your emergency food supply stocked. You’ve spent time and money. But are you storing/preserving it properly? There is nothing worse than feeling confident that you have a backup supply of food and when you go to use some of it; you discover mold, pest damage, or spoilage.

The Five Enemies of Food Storage

In order to understand how to best store your food storage, you need to understand what you’re protecting it from.

  • Heat: The ideal temperature to store food is between 40-72 deg. farenheit. Outside of that range and your food will start to lose it’s flavor, color, texture and most importantly its nutritional value.
  • Light: Light can damage the quality of your food and similar to heat can cause your food to lose it’s nutritional value.
  • Pests: I think it’s obvious what pests can do to food, as apparent from my story from above. Not only will they eat your food, they can also spread disease via their excrement.
  • Humidity: Water/humidity is another very dangerous enemy to your food supply. Water=mold
  • Oxygen: We all know what happens to a half eaten apple when it gets left out on the counter, browning/mushy (thank you toddlers). Creating an oxygen free environment for your food can not only protect it against quality issues, staleness, and nutritional loss, but it can also inhibit bacterial growth.

Preservation Methods for Your Emergency Food Supply

If you’re wanting to ensure your food supply lasts for as long as possible in the best condition it is important that you are not only storing it properly but preserving it as well. You can’t just throw fresh fruit in the pantry and expect it to last for a month. The preservation method you use can extend the life of your food immensely. Learning and utilizing some of the common food preservation methods listed below will level up your food storage skills to “Boss” level.

freeze dried food emergency food supply
  • Canning: One of the more popular methods of preservation is canning. Whether it be water-bath or pressure canning this is a great method to use to preserve foods from your garden or meats for semi-long-term. If foods are properly canned they can last anywhere from a year to 10 years.
  • Vaccum Sealing: I use this method to store meat in my freezer because it helps prevent freezer burn. You can also use vaccum sealing to preserve dry goods. We have a friend who vaccum seals his flour in bags flat and stores them in the freezer to kill bug eggs that are normally in flour.
  • Smoking: Smoking is one of my favorite methods of food preservation. You just can’t beat the flavor as far as I’m concerned. I like to smoke fish and meat and freeze it to get more milage out of my meats. Whether you have one of those fancy new pellet smokers (drool) or you have a smoke house its a pretty easy method for preserving food.
  • Freeze-Drying: A relatively new method to preserve food compared to some of the others, freeze-drying is one of the best long-term methods. If done properly and packaged right freeze-dried food can last up to 25 years. And out of all the methods foods retain more of their nutritional value when freeze-dried. That’s why if it is in your means I highly recommend getting a freeze-dryer.
  • Fermenting: One of the oldest methods of preserving food is fermenting. I just started fermenting foods a couple years ago and I absolutely love it. Fermented foods have an amazing taste and are really good for you. You should check out my video about learning to make your own sauerkraut here.
  • Curing: Curing or salt-curing is the other old-school method of food preservation methods on this list. It’s literally been around for thousands of years. Salt curing is usually used for preserving meat and if done properly it can last months and possibly as long as a year.
  • Dehydrating/drying: This is another method of food preservation that many people are more familiar with. Dehydrators can be purchased in many stores and are pretty easy to use. This is more of a mid-term preservation method. Because the dehydrator cannot remove all moisture from food items they will only stay good for a couple months. Again it’s all about how you store the food.

Methods for Storing Emergeny Food Supply

The best methods of storage protect from all 5 of the common food enemies. So, it’s important to not only think about what you are storing your food in but also where.

  • Buckets: 5 gallon food-grade buckets are our go-to method of storing bulk foods like rice, beans, sugar, salt, etc… They keep out moisture, pests, and light. When paired with a mylar bag they are a great option to store food for long-term.
  • Mylar bags: We use 7mil mylar bags with oxygen absorbers to store our bulk foods in 5 gallon buckets. This is a great way to protect foods from all the common enemies of your emergency food supply. It will prevent you from getting a nasty surprise when you go to use one of your foods that you stored away a couple years prior.
  • Totes: We use heavy duty black totes to store our freeze-dried food that we’ve sealed in mylar bags. It’s another method where we double up on protection. These are easy to find in most hardware or big box stores. They work great to keep pests, light, and water out.
  • Basement/cold storage: Depending on where you live this is the ideal place to store your emergency food supply. But only store your foods in your basement if you can keep a consistent temperature, humidity, and light level. We have shelves that keep our food up off the ground and away from any outside walls. We also have a dehumidfier in the basement because we live in a relatively humid climate.
  • Closets/under beds: If you live in an apartment or don’t have a basement you can get really creative with your food storage. Totes help keep everything organized and easy to access. If you have a spare bedroom even better!

Start Your Emergency Food Storage Now

I want to leave you with one last thought… it’s never too late to start. I know with all that is going on in the world it can feel like it’s too late. But I assure you it is not. Start where you are, start small if you have to, but start. No matter your budget or situation you can take steps to provide food for your family. Coming together with others in your community can also make a difference. Self-reliance doesn’t necessarily mean you do everything by yourself, it means you don’t have to depend entirely on the grocery store, another person, or the government for your family’s well-being.

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