Emergency Food Storage for Beginners

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We have become so accustomed to being able to run to the grocery store when we run out of something, that most of us don’t give it a second thought. Many of us assume that we will always be able to afford to buy the food we need for our families, and that food will always be available. But what if that wasn’t the case? Do you have extra food stored for emergencies? Here are some of my tips for Emergency Food Storage for Beginners. 

canned goods on a shelf

Why Should I Store Food?

There are many reasons why we should store food. Here are just a few examples:

Food Storage Cushions Against Supply Chain Disruptions

There was a time when homemakers took food storage very seriously. That’s because people lived locally and seasonally, and if they wanted to eat in the winter, they had to put up food throughout the growing season. 

Now we live in a world where we have 24/7 grocery stores, and everything is in season, all the time, because food gets shipped in from thousands of miles away. Instead of strawberry season lasting only 2 or 3 weeks, it is now strawberry season all year long.

We have become so disconnected from our food supply, that we don’t really give it a second thought. In a sense, we have become lazy. 

We expect that supply chains will always work, even though there are so many moving parts (literally), that just one broken link could cause major shortages, or price increases.

Emergency Food Storage for Job Loss

Many of us know that we should be setting aside emergency savings in case of a job loss, but what about storing food as a form of an emergency fund? If you were to suddenly lose your income, you will likely need every cent you have just to keep a roof over your head and keep the lights on.

You may not have enough money saved to also cover your family’s grocery bill. But what if you had slowly built up your food storage over time, and could go a whole month without grocery shopping if necessary? How much would that ease your stress level?

I believe that emergency funds should be for things you CAN’T physically stockpile. Like your rent or mortgage payment, your power bill, gas for your vehicle, etc. For those things you will need actual cash. 

But for things like food, household goods etc., I believe it’s more prudent to stockpile those items than to save cash in the bank (which may end up getting spent on something else). 

Food Storage for (Hyper)Inflation

We all believe that inflation is a normal, necessary part of life. We expect costs to go up over time. But what if those costs go up faster than our income?

What if we actually began to experience true hyperinflation? Where costs begin to rise exponentially, in double-digit percentages? Would you be able to feed your family AND keep a roof over your head? Housing costs are typically fairly fixed, but food costs and other household supplies can go up over night. 

(If you’re interested in learning more about how inflation actually works, check out this blog post on diversifying your emergency fund). 

However, if you slowly built up your food storage over time, taking advantage of sales and bulk buys, you could help to mitigate the effects of inflation. 

Emergency Food Storage for Illness

I’ve always said that moms shouldn’t be allowed to get sick – because we are the ones who keep the wheels turning in our homes, and if we get sick, then everything seems to fall apart!

But how much easier would it be to deal with illness, if you knew that you at least didn’t have to go to the grocery store?

If you had enough food stored in your home to get you through 2-4 weeks without shopping, how much better would you feel?

We all get ill at some point, so having a supply of food on hand means you can rest and recover without having to worry about how you’re going to get food. 

Food Storage Saves Money

Many people might argue that they can’t afford to store food… however I would say that you can’t afford not to. 

With the way prices are rapidly increasing, finding creative ways to set food aside can make a HUGE difference in how much you spend on groceries. 

When you get a good system down, where you are only buying things when they’re on sale, in season, or in bulk, you will notice that your food bill starts to come down. Instead of shopping for your weekly menu, you can begin shopping from your own food supply, and replenishing items as they come on sale again. 

You will eventually get to the point where you never pay full price for anything. 

Food Storage is Convenient (AKA – Time is Money)

Food storage is a great way to simplify your life.

How often have you had to ‘run to the grocery store’ because you ran out of something and you needed it asap? Have you ever been in the middle of cooking a meal and realized you were missing some crucial ingredient? 

How often are you grocery shopping? Once a week? Twice a week? How long does it take you? Could you be doing other, more productive things with that time? How much money are you spending on impulse buys, because it just happens to be something you saw, but that you didn’t really need?

What if you could get to the point where you are only grocery shopping ONCE A MONTH?! How much time would you save? How much gas would you save? 

(Yes, I only shop once a month… perhaps I’ll write a blog post on that in the near future). Here’s the post: How to Grocery Shop Once a Month

If you get to the point where you have your own mini grocery store in your home, that’s always stocked with your pantry staples, you will never have a grocery store emergency again. 

Food Storage for Bad Weather, or other Regional Emergencies

In the event of a blizzard, local shutdowns, or a power outage situation, how long would you be able to feed your family, just with what you currently have in your home? 

How to Begin an Emergency Food Storage Stockpile

There are many excuses for why people don’t store food for such emergencies. 

  • I can’t afford it
  • I don’t have the space to store extra food
  • If I store extra food, we’ll just eat more
  • It’s too much effort

If you’re here reading this post, then even if you think any of the above, you are probably open to learning how you can overcome these obstacles. Let’s cover them one at a time.

I Can’t Afford Food Storage

As I mentioned above, I would actually suggest that you can’t afford not to. Not only for all the money-saving reasons I mentioned, but because there are so many reasons why we may have difficulty buying food – so setting some aside for these possible situations just makes good sense. 

No matter how tight your budget is, everyone can afford to begin their emergency food storage. 

The secret is to not think of it as a big, daunting task. You simply start where you are. 

Buying one extra can of soup can be the beginning of your food storage! 

Many food items are very inexpensive. An extra bag of beans, an extra bag of rice, or even an extra can of soup can be the beginning of your emergency food storage. 

Get creative, find ways to shave even $5 off your weekly or monthly budget, and challenge yourself to see if you can pick up 1 or 2 extra things to set aside for emergencies. 

As your stockpile begins to grow, you’ll be able to shave even more money from your budget. When things go on sale, you might be able to buy 2 or 3 of that item instead of just one. Over time, all those extra things will begin to add up, and you’ll soon realize you can go longer periods of time without shopping. You’ll have more flexibility to wait for sales, because you won’t need things urgently. You’ll have enough rice to last you until it goes on sale again. 

I Don’t Have the Space to Store Extra Food

Food storage doesn’t have to take up a lot of room!

Plus, I believe it should be such a high priority, that you make room. 

How many of us have extra junk laying around that is taking up space, that we could clear out?

What if you purged and re-organized a closet, and managed to free up ONE shelf where you could store a few extra things?

What if you could deep clean your kitchen cabinets, get rid of things you’re no longer using, and free up a cupboard just for food storage?

A shelf with a curtain over it can certainly work for food storage. 

And my biggest tip is this: Your food storage doesn’t have to be all in the same place! You can keep your canned food in one spot, your rice and beans somewhere else, and your extra toilet paper in a hall closet. I have mini food & supply storage areas in different parts of my home. 

Different types of foods store better under different conditions, so there’s no reason to think you have to have a ‘food storage’ room in your home (although if you can free up a room, or part of a room, that’s a bonus!). 

When I got serious about food storage last year, I purged our utility/storage room and slowly started adding shelving for food storage. But this was a slow/gradual transition. The most important thing is to just start. I promise you, as you prioritize this, you will find the room. 

If I Store Extra Food, We’ll Just Eat More

I have actually found the opposite of this to be true! 

When you prioritize emergency food storage, you learn ways to be frugal and make things stretch, so that you can continue to build your food storage. You start making sure you’re using all your leftovers and not letting things go to waste, because you’ve worked so hard to set extra food aside that you don’t want to back-track on your progress! 

While in the beginning it might feel like a novelty to have extra food in your home, soon you’ll be working hard to increase the amount of food you have stored. I can now see at a glance if we’re starting to get low on something, so I can add it to my list and start watching for sales. 

It’s Too Much Effort

It does take up extra time and energy to begin your food storage. You’ll spend extra time scouring for sales, watching flyers, organizing and making space for your food storage, and planning meals around what you already have in the house, rather than just buying whatever you feel like eating that week. 

Essentially, you begin shopping to replenish your stockpile, rather than shopping for your week’s groceries.

And when you get to that point, all your effort will have paid off, because then it saves you so much time, energy, and money, that you’ll wonder why you didn’t start doing this a long time ago!

Once we began building our own food stockpile (which we affectionately refer to as our ‘grocery store’), I began to wonder how I ever survived the stress of just buying food week-to-week. I honestly don’t think I could ever go back to that, and would do everything in my power to keep our food storage at a level I feel comfortable. 

If we needed to tap into it for an extended period of time, I would prioritize replenishing it as soon as possible. 

Tips for Beginning Your Emergency Food Storage

When I first began our emergency food storage, I didn’t really have a plan. I just tried to pick up a little extra of something each time we shopped. Whatever was on sale, that our family ate, I would pick up a little extra of that and set it aside. Over time, I began to formulate a bit more of a plan, and started being a bit more strategic. 

Start with a Timeline

Think about the most likely reason why you might need to tap into your food storage, and ask yourself what amount of time you would need to live off your stockpile. What would be your bare minimum comfort level? 

For me, my bare minimum comfort level is one month. We are a family of 5, plus we have a dog and a bunch of chickens and ducks to feed. I would feel stressed if our food supply dipped below the one month mark. 

If my husband lost his income suddenly, at least I’d know I could feed us for a month while we regroup and come up with a plan.

But if you’re just getting started, you may want to aim smaller. What if you had three days worth of extra food on hand? That would get you through an extended power outage, or a short-term illness, without having to stress about not being able to feed your family. 

You’ll soon become addicted to having that small bit of security, and you’ll be motivated to grow that to one week, then two weeks, then a month, and so on. 

Write a List of Basic Meals

Your food storage should focus on shelf-stable foods, as they will be the most versatile things to store. 

  • You don’t need freezer space
  • You don’t need to pay for electricity to store a large amount of items in freezers
  • Shelf-stable foods have a long shelf life
  • In a power outage, most shelf stable foods can be eaten as-is, and don’t require refrigeration or extensive cooking
  • If you had to evacuate your home for any reason, you could take them with you

With that said, sit down and come up with a list of meals that can be made from basic, shelf-stable pantry items. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pasta & pasta sauce
  • Peanut butter & crackers
  • Oatmeal and dried fruit
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned soups
  • A variety of canned foods that you can dump in a pot together and make a meal out of it (ie – if you’re sick, one of your kids could easily throw together some chili made with canned ingredients)
  • Rice (stores well long-term and all you need is boiling water to make it)
  • Dried and canned beans (dried beans are cheaper, but canned beans are more convenient – I suggest storing both)
  • Baking supplies – flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, etc. Even if you don’t bake regularly, if things are tight, you can stretch out your budget by baking your own bread, or making muffins, banana bread etc.
  • Fats – some people forget how important fats are for cooking. Store some shelf-stable fats. My preferred fat to store is coconut oil, because it has a long shelf life. But I also store some olive oil, just keep in mind that it will go rancid if stored for a long time
  • Salt – another essential that people tend to forget about. Most canned & processed foods already contain salt, but if you find yourself needing to cook everything from scratch, you will need salt. Also, don’t forget about herbs and spices too. They can really help you add variety to beans & rice dishes
  • Condiments – with a good supply of things like vinegar, oil, herbs, spices, mustard etc., you can add flavour and interest to meals. 
vinegar, mustard, olive oil, olives etc on a white shelf

Once you’ve come up with a simple list of meals you can make from shelf-stable foods, you’ll want to write down all of the individual ingredients, and then start watching the sales flyers to decide what to stock up on first. Even if it’s only 2 cans of tuna, it’s a start!! I would buy whatever item was on my list that was on for the best deal, and buy as many of that item as my budget would allow. Rinse and repeat each time you go shopping.

Non-Food Items

Most people focus on food storage, but forget about the non-food items that are also necessary for day-to-day living.

Although I would argue that many non-food items are unnecessary (we could survive without paper towels, or even toilet paper for that matter), there are some things that we need for basic sanitation. In a future post, I’ll talk about some alternatives to these items, but in the mean time, here are some things to think about:

  • Dish soap
  • Laundry soap
  • Hand & body soap
  • Toothpaste

Go through your home, and think about some of the non-food items that would make your life very difficult if you didn’t have them. Add these items to your list of ‘things to watch for sales’.

Evolve Over Time

I’m a big proponent of ‘start where you are, use what you have’.

The most important thing, is to get some food put back for emergencies. Even if it’s not perfect food. 

Ideally, we would grow all of our own food, and process it ourselves in beautiful jars to last us until next growing season. 

But most people are not in that place. 

However, as you begin to store food, you will be inspired to get creative and think outside the box. 

For example, last year I bought a pressure canner, and learned how to pressure can. Suddenly, my whole world opened up, because I could make and can my own soups, chili, beans, vegetables, and even meat.

I now save even MORE time, by cooking in bulk, and canning my OWN convenience foods. 

Canning my own food is cheaper, healthier, and I’m less reliant on supply chains. However, don’t beat yourself up if you are not there yet. Just be open to evolving in time, as you begin to get more connected to your food supply. 

home canned foods on a shelf

Store What You Eat, and Eat What You Store

Please, for the love of all things, do NOT stock up on a bunch of stuff your family does not eat.

In an emergency situation, the last thing you want to be doing is trying to force feed your kids food they don’t like. You also don’t want to deal with upset tummies, because people’s digestive systems aren’t used to certain foods. 

If your family has food allergies or sensitivities, this becomes crucial. You need to make sure you have a supply of food that your family can eat. 

Your food storage is also meant to be eaten. It’s not going to sit there until it expires. You want to be rotating through it. Your goal is to eat from your food storage, but also to be continually replenishing it. 

You’ll be putting new food at the back, and taking things from the front – just like they do at the grocery store. 

You’ll be checking expiration dates, and planning your meals around the items that need to be used up first. 

Then watching for sales to replenish items you’re getting low on.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Emergency Food Storage

As I mentioned earlier, our ancestors lived seasonally, and put up food while it was plentiful and available, to last them until the next harvest season. 

Whether it was meat, tomatoes, or strawberries, it was only in season for a certain amount of time, so they would be sure to preserve enough to last until it was available again. 

However, most people are not in this place yet, so I encourage you to think of your food storage in terms of short-term vs. long-term. 

Your short-term food storage is items that you use every day. The types of things you would typically purchase at the grocery store. You’re going to want at least a 1-3 month supply of these items. 

Beyond that, it is more practical to shop in bulk. Once you have a basic 1-3 month supply of everyday items, you now have a buffer between you and a short-term emergency. Most times, a 3-month buffer would be plenty of time for you to regroup. 

So beyond a 3-month food supply, you’ll want to think about starting to buy items in bulk.

Think like our ancestors, in a harvest-to-harvest cycle. 

For instance, we now buy all of our meat for the entire year in the fall/early winter. We buy whole chickens from a neighbour, a pig and 1/4 cow from a local farmer. We buy enough to last until next fall/winter. Then throughout the winter, I slowly work through it and can it etc. so we’re not so dependent on our freezers. 

You could think about buying things like rice in bulk. A 25 lb bag of rice might last your family a whole year, and would be cheaper than buying small bags, even on sale. 

5 gallon buckets with rice and popcorn

You might want to explore the world of canning. Instead of buying jars of pickles when they’re on sale, you could buy a bushel of pickling cucumbers in the summer, and can up enough pickles to last you a year. 

Jars of homemade pickles on an old fashioned hutch

You could do the same with tomatoes, or salsa, or strawberry jam, or anything else your family goes through a lot of. 

You don’t want to do this all at once, but perhaps each year, you add one more thing that you buy or make in bulk, so you’re stocking a whole year’s worth at a time. As you do this, you’ll notice your grocery bill dropping even further. This will allow you to set money aside for your next bulk purchase.

I discovered a local, bulk-buying co-op, where I can buy things like dish soap and coconut oil in bulk. 

Not only does this save us money, but it also reduces our packaging waste, as we’re not buying a bunch of small packages of things. 

We now buy dish soap in a case of gallon-sized jugs. We go through approximately one gallon per month. This means we’re only recycling one dish soap container per month, rather than several smaller containers. And actually, I realized that the gallon-sized jugs were perfect for storing our non-potable emergency water (for flushing toilets, washing dishes etc in case of a power outage), so instead of recycling the jugs, I fill them up with water and store them in the garage. 

It’s amazing how this journey evolves over time and opens up your creativity. 

How to Organize Your Food Storage

When I was first starting to do food storage, I didn’t really have a good system in place for keeping track of what I had, I was just adding things here and there as our budget allowed, and stocking up when I thought something was a good price.

As I started taking food storage more seriously, and wanted to build up a 6-12 month supply of food, I realized I needed a system.

How could I know if something was at a ‘stock up’ price, without keeping track of prices?

How could I know how many of each item I wanted to keep in our inventory?

How could I keep track of the length of the sale cycles so I knew how many months of each item I should purchase?

I searched everywhere for some kind of an app, or easy to update spreadsheet for keeping track of all of these things. But to no avail.

So I turned to my trusty, favourite, free organization app, Trello.

Trello is so customizable, I can pretty much make it do whatever I want.

So I set out to create a pantry inventory & price list that would do exactly what I wanted it to do.

It took me awhile to build it out, and tweak it to do what I wanted it to. But now I rely on it heavily to keep track of everything.

  • pantry inventory
  • price list
  • sale tracker
  • grocery list (broken down by store)

You can create your own, or you can save tons of time by using mine!

The framework is done for you, all you have to do is customize it for your own family’s food storage.

I hope this encourages you to begin your food storage journey. Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

25 Ways to Live a Simple Life
Meal Planning with Trello

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One Comment

  1. I got this post from facebook. This was really helpful in explaining why having some kind of food storage is important. I will be showing this to my caregiver who was struggling with why I wanted to do this in my home.

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