If there is anything I believe in, in regards to the world of home management, it's simplicity.
What do you think of when you think of the term "food storage"? Do you envision rows and rows of canned goods? Five gallon buckets stacked as far as the eye can see? Bunkers of MREs? An episode of Doomsday Preppers?
Or is it more like panicky, hyperventilating fits and an overall sense of impending disaster?
For me, all I ever really wanted to know was that my family would be fed in case of an emergency--whether that includes a spring storm and subsequent power outage, or one of my "not so good, don't really care if the kids eat ice cream for dinner" days. Someone once asked me what motivated me to "do" my food storage. That one's simple. I know that no matter what happens--whether my house burns to the ground or I slip and break my ankle--my children will still look to me to take care of their basic needs.
And so that's what I intend to do.
But, honestly, have you seen those lists floating around the internet? You know, the ones that say:
Build Your Food Storage the Easy Way!
Yeah, sorry. That's not how I roll.
So, I went on a quest. And the result was an entire menu of food storage items that your family will actually eat. Meals that required little preparation, were easy to make, easy to store, and cost effective enough that you could use them any night of the week, not just during a major emergency. And though it has taken me years of research and testing to find the perfect combination of simple, yummy, and affordable food storage to meet my own family's needs, you're about to discover them all in one simple post!
So how exactly did I discover these little gems? Well, it all began one night, at the end of the month, where I was down to my last few grocery dollars and (embarrassingly) feeding my family varieties of Hamburger Helper as a result. "Hey, these things are shelf stable!" I though to myself as I loaded up my grocery cart. (Cause, you know, I'm always thinking about stuff like that.) Though, admittedly, they couldn't possibly be that healthy...And I'd have to store a freezer full of hamburger and chicken, which would mean having to buy a generator for power outages...And they don't exactly have any veggies, so I'd have to supplement to make sure we were getting all our vitamins in...And they're only good for a year or so...
So what did I do? What I always do. Instead of adapting to some product or system that doesn't quite fit my needs...
I adapt it.
Step I: Find Recipes Your Family Will Eat
Like any other type of meal planning, the first thing you need to do is collect a few recipes that you know your family will eat. There is a vast collection of Meals In A Jar sites and cookbooks available, from 'Chef Tess, Bakeresse' to Kathy Clark's Dinner Is In the Jar to my favorite food storage girls over at Food Storage Made Easy. I've started a small collection of some of our favorites (there are those we've tried that we've loved, and others...well...not so much). You can find a downloadable copy of my own Meals In A Jar recipe cards here.
Step II: Gather Your Ingredients and Equipment
What you'll need:
Step III: Fill Your Jars
The more organized you are, the easier this part will go. The way we did it was to get together several people to fill the jars and then split them equally. We each chose one recipe to work on at a time, and filled all of the jars for everyone for that recipe, then divided them up. In my little "station" above, I was working on a Cheesy Chicken Noodle recipe. I laid out all of the jars I was working on at a time, then layered the ingredients one by one. If you have a large group of people together doing this, you may want to set up a long table with the ingredients, then have everyone walk down the side of the table with their jars and add their ingredients one by one as if they were filling their plate at a buffet. A few tips to keep in mind: The jars we did with the powders at the top of the jar would not seal correctly because the powder was being sucked out along with the air and getting up underneath the seal. So put powdered items in first, and then cover them with the other ingredients, like beans or rice. (Pat the bottom of the jar on the table to shake the ingredients down into it, so they'll all fit.) Also, even if you end up running out of an ingredient too soon (we ran out of tomato powder and dried mixed vegetables) you can always still put the jar together and add the equivalent ingredient later. For example, you can supplement a can of tomato sauce in place of tomato powder in the Chili recipe, or a can of mixed vegetables in place of the dry ones in the Cheesy Chicken Noodle recipe. Of course, never add wet ingredients into the jars. Just save that tomato sauce for when you actually fix the meal.
Step IV: Seal Your Jars
So, you have a couple of different options when it comes to sealing your jars, but the primary goal is to get the oxygen out. The lack of oxygen is what will ensure that your freeze-dried meals stay fresh for a good 5-7 years. You even have the option not to use jars at all--Mylar bags and FoodSaver bags work also but will not last as long nor keep rodents out. Whether you choose to use jars or bags, there are two methods to vacuum sealing them. First, you can use oxygen absorbers. A package of 100 is only about $9.99 from Amazon. Use one per jar or bag (or 3 if you'd like to seal an entire 5 gallon bucket of a staple item, like flour). Afterwards, either seal the Mylar bag with an iron, or place the lid and ring on the jar and seal tightly. You'll know the oxygen has all been removed when the lid "pops." Any leftover oxygen absorbers should be resealed using a vacuum sealer within 24 hours to stay effective. Don't try using a Mylar bag with the FoodSaver system, as it isn't made for a bag that thick. If you chose to use just the FoodSaver bag with the vacuum sealer, know that it will significantly reduce the shelf-life of your freeze-dried meal (to no more than a year or so), as the bags are clear and not as thick, and therefore will still be exposed to aging elements. The other option, of course, is to use the FoodSaver jar sealer attachment. The system is a little pricey (it will cost you about $80 to get the sealer with accessory hose and jar sealer and I was just lucky enough to get the entire system from hubbs for Christmas last year). Remember that regardless of if you're using the FoodSaver or oxygen absorbers, always wipe off the lid and the top of the jar to ensure a tight seal with no contaminants (like stray cheese powder) to get in the way.
Step V: Store Them
It's best to store your jars or bags in a cool, dry, dark place. Avoid storage areas where the temperature and humidity may fluctuate, such as a garage or laundry room. Save the boxes your jars came in for storage and slide them under your bed if you have to. Then sit back and wait for that early spring storm that knocks out the power, or that night when you've been shopping for new school clothes and supplies for hours, been all over creation to doctors, dentists, and eye appointments, are running late for Soccer practice, or are too sick to stomach the sight of raw chicken (or the smell of delivery pizza). Spend a few hours putting together these jars, and then take comfort in the fact that, with no more than a quick glance at your food storage, you'll know exactly how long you can feed your family in a crisis--without having to figure out what to do with 100 lbs of wheat and a case of tomato soup.
Don't think of it as food storage. Think of it as a grocery store in your pantry.
There are three steps to successfully building up your food storage. And by “successfully” I mean building up an adequate and shelf-stable supply of foods that your family will actually eat. Have you ever seen those “lists” floating around the internet? You know, the ones that say, “buy 10 lbs of wheat this week” and “10 cans of tomato soup this week” and then by the time you’re done you’re supposed to have like 100 lbs of wheat and 20 cans of tuna and 50 lbs of sugar. Have you ever looked at that list and thought, “Yeah, then what am I supposed to do with it?” I don’t know about you, but if I had been stuck in the house with two kids for a week through and ice storm with no electricity I’d be staring at my pantry, stocked full of all those cans of tuna and bags of wheat, and say, “There’s nothing to eat!”
So, instead of stockpiling lists, let’s take a different approach to food storage, shall we?
First off, what do you typically do before you head to the grocery store? Decide what you’re going to buy, right? You don’t pull up to the store and let them load the back of your car with whatever list they came up with and then take it home and attempt to make meals out of it, do you? No, of course not! You come up with a menu of the stuff you know your family will eat, make a list of the ingredients, and head to the local market. It’s the same way with food storage! You come up with a menu. You make a list of the ingredients. Then you go shopping. Only, with food storage instead of filling up your fridge with a week’s worth of milk and cheese, you’re filling your pantry with a few months’ worth of freeze dried beef and tomato powder.
Some use traditional pantry items, like flour, dried spices, and canned vegetables that you’d find typically in a grocery store. These have a much shorter shelf life of about a year or so, but are much cheaper (initially) and easier to find (and, by the way, taste better). By “initially” I mean that, they may be more expensive per serving than the #10 cans of dried foods, but not everyone has $30 to drop on a can of tomato powder, no matter how much it makes. Then there are recipes that are “mostly” shelf-stable, meaning that they call for a few ingredients that require refrigeration but are not essential, like adding shredded cheese on top or whatnot.
Then there is always the option to just try converting your own recipes to shelf-stable ones by substituting ingredients, such as switching out fresh eggs for powdered eggs. Sometimes this can be a little tricky, as you will have to make sure that you have the conversions right, adding in the correct amounts of water for rehydration. Many people I know simply rehydrate everything separately before adding all the ingredients together, such as rehydrating the eggs before adding them to the mix. I prefer just to mix everything together, then add all the water in at once. A good rule of thumb is that most powdered, dried, and freeze dried ingredients are mixed at a 1:1 ratio with water. (Watch out on the powdered butter, though. It’s a little different). I like this method because not only does it save on clean-up, but you can make your own mixes and store them in your pantry, just like store bought pancake and brownie mix. Here is a recipe for Southwest Beef Stew that I designed myself based on a family favorite recipe.
Now that you’ve compiled your list of recipes you know the fam will eat (you can do 7, 10, 14, 15 or 30 recipes repeated to get through several months), let’s move on to:
(However, if you have not yet branched into the field of digitally automating your household management through the use of spreadsheets, budgeting programs, online document storage and household calendars, or even smart phone apps then I do suggest you give it a try. It really is quite invigorating.)
Step III: Shop
This is the part that can be--now lets be honest here--the least fun. Honestly, who enjoys spending hours in their local grocery store or wholesale club? This is where that lovely bit of technology comes in again! I purchased most of my items from Walmart.com, which has a full line of Auguson Farms freeze-dried and emergency foods. Auguson Farms is, based on my research, the most inexpensive line of emergency foods and Walmart and Sams Club have prices even lower than buying them directly from the producer, thanks to Walmart's ability to negotiate lower prices with their vendors. Items that can't be found through Walmart, such as Powdered Sour Cream or these awesome Quick Cook Black Beans (which cook in as little as 20 minutes), I purchased direct from Honeyville Farms. Most of the everyday products, such as elbow macaroni or white flour, I found cheapest at my local grocery stores. For us here in the Northwest Arkansas area that means Walmart and Aldis, but shop around and keep a spread sheet of what is cheapest for you. If you live in the western part of the United States, you may consider subscribing to a service such as Deals to Meals, which tracks the best prices to help you stock your pantry. To cut time, look into delivery and pick-up services at your local stores. In our area, Sams Club offers Click n' Pull, and Walmart has begun to set up Grocery Pick-up locations. The important thing here is trending. Keep those receipts and pay attention to prices. You can even try Walmart's Savings Catcher program to keep track and get money back when a competitor has a lower price.
It's that simple! Just build your storage a few cans at a time, a few meals at a time, and after a while you'll be surprised at just how quickly your food storage has built up!