CACHING THE CALORIES
Menu-planning for an unsure future
If you had to feed your family with only what you have in your home right this minute, how long would it take before everyone is sitting down to a dinner of ketchup packets, pickle slices and one hard-boiled egg to split among everyone? One of the most basic tenets of preparedness is food storage. You should have enough consumables on hand to last you and your family through a crisis. Doing so requires planning and some degree of expense. Fortunately, there are several options to consider that make this practice more palatable.
STORE WHAT YOU EAT
The prepper world is filled with clever sayings. One of them is, “Store what you eat; eat what you store.” The intention here is twofold. First, concentrate your food storage plan on items you know your family will eat. It makes no sense to invest money and energy storing canned beets if nobody in the house will eat them willingly. Yes, if you get hungry enough, you’ll eat almost anything. But because you have a free and open choice as to what you want to store, make everyone’s life easier and select foods that won’t cause upturned noses. The second part of this is to ensure you regularly rotate your supplies. Canned goods, as well as other types of long-term storage foods, will remain just fine well past their expiration dates (when properly stored). However, when a disaster hits, you want the food in your home to be as fresh as possible. Rotation is what makes that possible. Use it up and replace it with a new supply regularly.
This is a category often left out of the food storage equation, but it is an important consideration. If the power is shut off, the average refrigerator will keep food at a safe temperature for about four hours. Now, that doesn’t mean that everything in the fridge needs to be tossed after 240 minutes without electricity, of course. Meats and dairy products get funky pretty fast, so those should be prepared and consumed first. Grill up burgers and chicken before they, too, go bad. Fruits and vegetables will be just fine for a while, depending on your location and the weather. With the freezer, a big factor is how full it is at the time the power goes out. A full freezer will keep the contents frozen far longer than one that is mostly empty. If you find that your freezer is running low on food, consider putting some less-than-full plastic water bottles inside. Not only will this help keep the food safe longer during an extended power outage, it is also one more way to store water for emergencies.
IF YOU HAD TO FEED YOUR FAMILY WITH ONLY WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR HOME RIGHT THIS MINUTE, HOW LONG WOULD IT TAKE BEFORE EVERYONE IS SITTING DOWN TO A DINNER OF KETCHUP PACKETS, PICKLE SLICES AND ONE HARD-BOILED EGG TO SPLIT AMONG EVERYONE?
If you can manage to put together two or three meals with the perishables before they go bad, that’s two or three meals that don’t need to come out of your food stores. Plus, fresh fruits and veggies are typically far healthier than their packaged versions.
GROCERY STORE FARE
Contrary to what you might presume— based on prepper social media and related websites—you don’t need to go out and drop several thousand dollars on pallets of special survival food. Much of what the average family buys at the grocery store is just fine for storing for short-term emergencies. Canned goods such as soup, stew, vegetables and fruit will stay good well beyond the expiration dates printed on the cans. While fresh food is healthier and probably tastier than its canned counterparts, peas and such are only going to last a limited time without being preserved in some way. Another advantage of canned goods: They are easy to prepare. Many of them can be eaten cold, of course, but most have their taste improved by heating. In addition to canned goods, you can find the prepper staples of beans and rice in abundance at the local grocery store. (Many
THE PREPPER WORLD IS FILLED WITH CLEVER SAYINGS. ONE OF THEM IS, “STORE WHAT YOU EAT; EAT WHAT YOU STORE.”
people toss bags of rice and other grains in the freezer for a week or so to kill off any insect eggs that might have found their way into the bags.) Dry pasta is another item to consider. It is filling and requires nothing more than boiling water to prepare. And cans or jars of sauce will be appreciated by the family too. Don't overlook dry soup mixes. Shore Lunch is one such dry soup brand; one pouch makes enough soup for a family of four. That's a pretty decent value, because these sell for just a few bucks. But make sure to read the preparation instructions—some of the varieties require more than just water to prepare. Other grocery store items to consider are any of the "just-add-water" types of baking mixes, pouches of tuna or chicken, and instant potatoes. Really, once you start walking up and down the store aisles, much of what you see is perfectly fine for storing for emergencies. One big advantage of including grocery store foods in your storage inventory is that your family is very familiar with them. Provided you buy the things you know they like to eat, there won't be many upturned noses at an impromptu candlelight dinner.
This is the best of both worlds. Canning your own fresh food allows you to control exactly
what goes into the jar—from the amount of sodium to the amount of sugar. You can experiment with your own recipes and create truly stellar meals. Plus, food canned at home is often healthier than canned food you’d find in a store—if only because it lacks the preservatives and other chemicals found in a lot of store-bought foods. However, canning food, especially pressure canning, requires an investment in time to learn the skills and do the work, as well as in equipment, because you’ll need to purchase the canner, jars, lids, rings and other supplies. Start small to get some experience before attempting large lots. Keep in mind that if you mess up the process, you could be looking at cleaning up a mess, whether from a botched seal or from family members getting sick. Jars of canned food look great in the pantry. However, they aren’t travel friendly, because they are both heavy and fragile. Even so, if you have a good-sized garden or have access to great deals on produce, learning to can some of the bounty at home might prove worthwhile.
MEALS, READY TO EAT (MRES)
While it is possible to purchase genuine military-issue MRES, the practice is frowned upon by the powers that be. A better choice is to buy the civilian versions.
CANNING YOUR OWN FRESH FOOD ALLOWS YOU TO CONTROL EXACTLY WHAT GOES INTO THE JAR, FROM THE AMOUNT OF SODIUM TO THE AMOUNT OF SUGAR.
REALLY, ONCE YOU START WALKING UP AND DOWN THE STORE AISLES, MUCH OF WHAT YOU SEE IS PERFECTLY FINE FOR STORING FOR EMERGENCIES.
MRES are great in that they provide a lot of calories, have quite a bit of food in one package, and the food is completely cooked and ready to eat. You might want to heat up the entrees and such, but that's entirely optional. The downside is that MRES are pretty expensive—running around $12 each, depending on the source (although they are usually sold in cases of 12). In addition, they are pretty heavy, bulky and take up quite a bit of shelf space as compared to other food items. A diet concentrated on MRES also has a tendency to wreak havoc on the digestive system. The actual makeup of an MRE depends upon the source, but each one generally has several components: • Entree (such as chili with beans, elbow macaroni with sauce, or chicken with noodles) • Side dish • Bread or cracker • Jelly or cheese spread • Powdered drink mix • Dessert A full MRE will also usually have an accessory pack that includes salt and pepper, utensil,
napkin and instant coffee. A flameless heater might be included as well. The heater is activated with water, allowing you to heat your meal when conditions are poor for a fire.
Yet one more option in the food storage toolbox is the freeze-dried food popular with campers and hikers. Wise and Mountain House are two popular brands, although there are others too. The pouches are individual meals for one or two people. These foods are light and easy to store for very long periods of time ... if you keep them cool and dry. They can be pricey, but the pouches are slightly cheaper than MRES, running around $10 or $11 each. However, this is an apples-and-oranges comparison, because an MRE has several components, whereas the freeze-dried food pouch has just one food inside. As with many canned foods, these pouch meals tend to be high in sodium, which could be an issue for some folks. One instructor I know has commented that after largely subsisting on these meals for a few days, he can feel the effects of that sodium in his system. However, freeze-dried foods are quick and easy, requiring just some hot water. You can even eat the food right in the pouch. Plus, the food looks, smells and tastes like real food, which could be important if you have picky eaters in the family. Another option is to buy freeze-dried food in #10 cans. These can run anywhere from $20 to $50, with meat items being at the higher end of the spectrum. You can get individual foods, such as ground beef or green beans, or you can get mixes, such as beef stew or rice and chicken. The servings per can vary wildly—anywhere from 10 to more than 20, depending on the food. Of course, you can mix as much as you want when making a meal, so keep that in mind when planning how much food to acquire. These cans might be the way to go if you have a large family. Mix and match the different foods to provide a well-balanced meal for everyone. Sealed cans should last upward of 25 years or more. But, once the can is opened, the food should be used up within several months to a year under ideal storage conditions.
An important consideration as you plan your food storage program is how much water is needed to prepare the food. Many long-term foods—the freeze-dried selections, for example, as well as items such as dry soup mixes—require water to prepare. In fact, one pouch of dry soup mix might take up to eight cups of water. That's half a gallon right there for one meal. Even just a cup or two at each meal adds up over the course of the day or week. And if you don't have a reliable source for clean water, any foods you have stored that require it will be largely worthless to you. (Freeze-dried scrambled eggs are mighty crunchy without water.) Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket, as it were, use a combined approach. A little from this category, a little from that section, and you’ll soon find you’ve amassed a high-quality food storage system that will keep bellies full through any crisis to come.
A LITTLE FROM THIS CATEGORY, A LITTLE FROM THAT SECTION, AND YOU’LL SOON FIND YOU’VE AMASSED A HIGH-QUALITY FOOD STORAGE SYSTEM THAT WILL KEEP BELLIES FULL THROUGH ANY CRISIS TO COME.
Right: Fresh produce won’t go bad immediately after the power goes out ... but it won’t last forever.
As long as you and your family can find what’s needed, organization is in the eye of the beholder.
Fresh produce isn’t always thought of as part of a food storage program, but every meal you can make with it is one less that needs to come from your emergency stash.
Grocery stores are great sources for long-term storage foods that won’t break the budget.
Canned foods are often inferior to fresh, but they’re better than letting your spine and belly button grow closer together.
Home canned foods are a great option, provided you take the time to do it properly. The salmon in this jar will be just fine for several months.
Left: Safety precautions are a must when canning food at home. Mistakes could cause serious illnesses.
Below, right: SPAM might be a stereotype for survivalist food because it is not only long lasting, it is also tasty. With 15 flavors to choose from; and, along with other canned meats, SPAM can provide needed protein when wild sources are unavailable. (Photo: Jim Cobb)
Bottom, right: There is absolutely nothing wrong with including some comfort foods in your food storage plan. (Photo: Jim Cobb)
Bottom, left: A #10 can of freeze-dried diced chicken can provide the basis for several meals. (Photo: Jim Cobb)
Below, left: MRES are bulky and heavy but are calorie-dense and filling. (Photo: Jim Cobb)
Look for foods that don’t require much in the way of preparation, other than maybe heating or adding water.
Go through your local grocery store and make note of all the foods your family likes that will store for a long time with little or no extra measures needed.
There might be a lot of carbs in some of the foods commonly found in long-term storage plans, but an emergency isn’t the time to worry about sticking to a diet.