Putting Food By

Stocking up against emergencies and possible lean times

I cannot stand to even visualize my children going hungry, or myself for that matter! If disaster struck today, this hour, this minute, how long could you provide sustenance for your family with the food store you have on hand? Would you even have drinking water available?

Life has afforded many of us the privilege of weekly grocery shopping and ready access to water. However, any one of many factors could easily turn this cushy situation around.

A simple water pipe break could make securing water tricky. An extensive truckers' strike could leave the grocery stores with skeletal supplies. Sudden unemployment could chop your grocery budget to zero overnight. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes--each area of the country has its own kind of natural disaster to guard against. It's not alarmist, but prudent, to be prepared.

The best way to prepare for such circumstances is to learn how to store food for your family. Some people will have space and finances to store ample supplies for a year, while others perhaps can store only for a month. The idea is to do something.

Food storage not only prepares you for skinny money weeks, it helps you to make your money go further. As you build up your stock of items, you are able to focus your spending on bulk purchases of sale items, while filling in with previously stored things for that week. Also, having frequently used items on hand will save money in trips to the grocery store for that "one" item that ends up part of a whole grocery cart full!

It is truly a thrill of mine to walk into my pantry and see my personal store of food. It gives me peace of mind that no matter what tomorrow may bring, I have food to feed my family. Watching the quantity and variety of items grow is fun to me. I am proud of the self reliance it affords me too.

To get started, you must think about what items you will want to store for your family. For a basic sustenance survival-type storage you will want to store the following items with the included amounts per person, per month:

  • Wheat--20 pounds
  • Powdered Milk(for babies and toddlers)--20 pounds
  • Corn--20 pounds
  • Iodized Salt--1 pound
  • Soybeans--10 pounds
  • Vitamin C--15 grams

Store wheat, corn and beans in sealed cans or plastic buckets. Buy powdered milk in nitrogen-packed cans. Salt and vitamin C can be stored in the original packages. If these items are all that you will be eating, you have to eat all of them together to stay healthy; this is bare bones sustenance. Naturally, the corn and wheat will need to be ground into flour and the beans cooked for eating.

Now, you build around this basic stockpile adding preferred items as you are able. You must rotate the stock to keep it always fresh. The best way I have found is to mark each item with the date of purchase with a marker. Then I put on new stock from the left and take off for use from the right. This has been an easy system. I write down on a notebook what I have used so I know what to replace when I shop. Often the replacement is postponed until I find a bargain on the items I want.

Old Mother Hubbard with a full cupboardHere is a list of commonly stored pantry items and their shelf life:

Use within six months:
Powdered milk (boxed)
Dried fruit (in metal container)
Dry, crisp crackers (in metal container)

Use within one year:
Canned condensed meat and vegetable soups
Canned fruits, fruit juices and vegetables
Ready-to-eat cereals and uncooked instant cereals (in metal containers)
Peanut butter
Hard candy, chocolate bars and canned nuts

May be stored indefinitely (in proper containers and conditions):
Vegetable oils
Baking powder
Dried beans
Instant coffee, tea and cocoa
Vitamin C
Noncarbonated soft drinks
Bouillon products
Dry pasta
Powdered milk (in nitrogen-packed cans)

In addition to the above items, my family stores honey, sugar, preserves and other niceties. We store items we use regularly such as ketchup, mayonnaise, jello, corn starch, canned soups, spices, dehydrated onions and dehydrated carrots, tomato paste and sauce. We store paper supplies and hygiene items too. [Don't forget your pets, either.--Editor]

At first this all seems very overwhelming, but we decided to begin with one item per week and it has grown. Sometimes we have extra cash (though infrequent it may be) and add more to our stockpile. Other times we have less and draw more heavily from this store.

Invest the time now to learn what even the backyard squirrels know: Put away while there is, so there is when there isn't!

A.G. Zahn is a 36 year old mother and wife. She has three sons ages 15, 13 and 12 and a daughter age 3. She says, "My husband and I both feel strongly that children should be parented rather than 'warehoused' in day cares. This commitment means living on his teaching salary and being very frugal. I have never regretted this decision and truly admire others who make this sacrifice."