This month's Eat Well, Spend Less topic is centered around emergency preparedness. I've been interested in this topic for a long time, and today I get to write about food storage!
Growing up on a farm with parents who grew (and preserved) much of their own food, buying ahead and having short-term food storage in our home seemed natural to me. Then, we took our first steps toward long-term food storage several years ago. Now, we have a mixture of short- and long-term food on hand. I'm still expanding our variety with new foods, like lentils this year.
Here are my tips on getting started:
Research What Stores Well and How To Store It
I knew I wanted to store some food long-term, and I wasn't planning to buy the little bags or boxes from the grocery store with a "use by" date. Was it really true that properly-stored wheat could stay good and nutritious for decades? What about the shelf life of dry beans?
Here is one of my favorite pages about long-term food storage, and here is another site that is a wealth of information on the topic. Google has lots of results for search terms like "long term food storage", and a YouTube search for similar terms brings up videos on the topic (if you like to watch instead of just reading!).
Decide Which Foods You Can Both Use and Store
For example, if you've never cooked with dry beans, buy a small quantity and use them before deciding to invest in a hundred pounds of beans for your food storage, even though they are cheaper in bulk! ;)
Why store and use?
- You'll save money by buying in bulk quantities.
- It's easier to maintain a short-term food supply (items with a shorter shelf life).
- You'll be using ingredients while they're still fresh (and not tossing anything, having paid only to store it and not to use it).
I also have a grain mill, which means I can easily use wheat (which stores very easily) and make my own flour as needed. If you don't have a grain mill or the means to purchase one (or simply don't use a lot of flour), you can purchase flour in bulk -- such as 25 or 50 pounds at a time.
Get Ready to Purchase
For short-term food storage (items with a shorter shelf life), watch for sales at your local grocery stores. Research bulk purchase options such as bulk food stores, health food stores, or co-ops. Azure Standard is a co-op that services where we currently live. When we lived in Ohio, we were able to order from Something Better Natural Foods.
One of the best ways to find out about stores or deals in your area is to ask friends or acquaintances. "Where do you buy ___ ?" is a common question I have when I'm at someone's house or if they've brought food to our house. I've written more about buying in bulk here. We try to buy in bulk as much as possible! :)
After you've scoped out the options available in your area, you're ready to buy ahead! :)
Carefully Store Your Food
Label and date everything!! I love buckets for bulk grains or flours.
We have stored some grains in Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. Those buckets are not in rotation and have not been used yet, for two reasons. Reason #1 is that Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers cost money. However, that cost is worth knowing that those grains are safely stored and can be kept for 20+ years before using. Thus reason #2 is that those buckets can be stored for a very long time before using. I have other buckets (not sealed with Mylar bags) that are in regular rotation and are used from. :)
Food should be stored in a cool, dry, dark location, preferably without any drastic temperature changes. (E.g., storage at 70 degrees year-round is better than a fluctuating 50-80 degrees.)
Don't be Afraid to Try New Recipes!
Search online, in cook books, or in books from the library for ways to use the ingredients you've stored. Storing simple, whole ingredients like dried beans and legumes, sugar, salt, pasta, and hot cereals allows for plenty of experimentation in the kitchen -- and incorporating fresh ingredients when you have them! :)
The Prudent Homemaker has a lot of great articles and tips about living off of food storage. Really, anything I could write on the topic is inferior to Brandy's knowledge and experience! Be sure to read her story about living from their food storage, and check out her list of what she buys at Sam's Club! :) (By the way, Brandy's recipes all look mouth-watering! See the sidebar for her recipe categories and then browse the photos!)