Emergency Food Storage for Beginners
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More and more people are finally realizing that they ought to be more prepared for natural, manmade, or economic disasters, and one natural thing to think about is whether you will have enough food for yourself and your family. In many situations, the government or other relief agencies will spring into action and provide victims of disasters with basic nutrition. But that approach is problematic. First of all, if there's a disaster such that the supermarket isn't able to open, then even the government will have a certain amount of difficulty in delivering food. (In fact, it's quite likely that the government will have more difficulty in performing this task than the supermarket.)
There's a practical reason to be more self-sufficient in a disaster. The purpose of emergency relief is to save lives, not necessarily to ensure a comfortable existence. So if you want any choice in the matter of what food you are going to eat, then it's really your responsibility, and not the responsibility of the government or a relief agency.
Finally, there's a moral component to being prepared for disasters. After a disaster, there are limited resources available to help people, and generally a large number of people who need help. If you wait until after a disaster to worry about what you're going to eat, and take that assistance when offered, you are probably taking it away from another person, who might be more in need. In addition, if you are prepared yourself, then you might be able to help your neighbors, rather than having them wait until the government shows up to help them.
In short, being at least somewhat prepared to feed yourself during a disaster is a good thing. It's easy to do, with only minimal preparation. And since you eat anyway, there's really no additional cost, above what you normally spend for food. In fact, since preparing your food supply requires you to pay attention to costs and sources of food, it's quite likely that you will actually save money on your normal grocery bill.
If you search the web about the topic of emergency food storage, you will find some good information, but you will also find some sites that are frankly a little bit scary. For a few people, emergency preparedness is synonymous with preparation for anarchy. You might find some useful information on even those sites. But fortunately, there are also many sites which give common-sense information on how to prepare for more mundane disasters.
One of the best is A.T. Hagen's Food Storage FAQ. Some of the information on that site appears not to have been updated for a while, but the basic information is excellent, although you might find that a few suppliers mentioned there are no longer around.
Another good source of information is the LDS (Mormon) church, whose members are encouraged to engage in home food storage. They have an excellent web page providing practical information on food storage, with very little if any religious content. The extension office of Utah State University has an excellent resource, A Guide to Food Storage for Emergencies. Another excellent resource is Maintaining nutritional adequacy during a prolonged food crisis from Oak Ridge National Labs.
As good as these and other sites are, they can seem a bit overwhelming to the beginner. As you learn more, the information on these pages will become more and more useful. But for someone who wants to start from scratch the process of storing food for natural or manmade emergencies, there is suprisingly little information, and I hope this site will help fill that void.
The author of the FAQ linked above frequently invokes the mantra, "eat what you store--store what you eat." Not only is this good advice in general, but it makes the task of the beginner much easier. At some point after you have followed the advice on this page, you might want to seek out a few specialized items to fill in a few gaps in your food preparations. But in general, it is absolutely not necessary to go out and purchase any kind of special "survival" food. Everything you need to feed yourself well in an emergency is available at your normal supermarket.
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In general, your goal in constructing a food storage program is to make sure that you have enough food in your home to be able to feed yourself and your family, even if normal services such as supermarkets are unavailable. If you can take care of yourself by feeding yourself in an emergency, then you can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
Some of the food you eat in your normal diet is not a good choice for emergency food storage. For example, items that require refrigeration would be of only limited use if there was no power to run the refrigerator. However, most people's diets also include many items that are ideal for emergency food storage. The key is to stock up on these items. During normal times, you can eat them as part of your normal diet, just as you currently do. But if you stock up on sufficient quantities of these items, then you will also have nutritious meals available even if other food items become unavailable. And more importantly, they will be foods which you normally eat. A disaster is stressful enough, and there is no reason to add to the stress by having to adapt to eating special "survival" food. Ideal candidates for food storage should meet the following criteria:
You will find a number of websites that will give you lists of foods that you should buy to make sure that you have enough food a certain period of time. Many of these lists are good, but very few of them will include the items that you and your family normally eat. This is bad for two reasons. First of all, most food has a limited shelf life, and if you don't use it in your normal diet and replace it, it could very well be expired by the time you need to use it. Second, it will force you to eat unfamiliar foods in a disaster, which will only add to the overall stress level.
Therefore, the best strategy is to prepare your own list, which is customized to your family's tastes. Nobody can write that list for you, but this site will help guide you through the process. The biggest problem for beginners is knowing how much you have, whether it is a balanced diet, and how long it will last. Without some planning, you could run out of protein, but have more carbohydrates than you could possibly want.
The process outlined below gives you some assurance that you have about the right amount of foods for your needs, and in about the right proportion. Following this procedure, you will be able to construct a shopping list, and when you buy those items, you can be assured that you have about the right amount of food to fit your needs. At some point, you might discover a few small gaps, and as you become more prepared, you'll want to fill in these gaps. But by following this procedure, you will have the assurance that your family will be able to eat reasonably well for whatever time period you decide is appropriate.
The first step is to make a list of the kinds of food your family already eats that are suitable for emergency storage. As you think about this, you will realize that you already buy many suitable foods, generally dry foods and canned goods. To make it on the list, the food should have a reasonably long shelf life, and it should be something that can be eaten with no cooking, or with only minimal cooking. Ideally, at least some of the items on the list (but not necessarily everything) should be things that can be eaten with no cooking at all.
Again, neither I nor anyone else can make this list for you, because I don't know what kinds of food your family normally eats. But if you look through your cupboards, you will probably get many ideas, because those foods are already there.
Here are some suggestions of the kinds of foods that might be appropriate. But if there is something on this list that you never eat, then you should not include it on your list. And there will probably be items on your list that I hadn't thought of.
Now that you have identified the kinds of foods that you already eat, you will need to figure out how much to buy of each item. You don't want to discover that you have a six-month supply of Spam, but have run out of everything else. You want approximately the right balance of items so that you have a reasonable amount of variety, and a reasonably balanced diet. To start this process, you should make "menus" consisting of the items you identified in the first step. I put the word "menu" in quotation marks, because it is not likely that you'll eat meals that directly follow your menu. These menus are just a simplified method to make sure you have at least some variety. These menus will be very rudimentary. Again, every person's list will be different, but your "menu" for one day might look something like the following:
As you can see, these "menus" are extremely rudimentary, and it is unlikely that you will follow them exactly. For example, it's likely that in an emergency, you will have additional food in your kitchen, and you will naturally combine those items with your "storage" food. But by going through this step, you will make sure that you have at least some variety, and your meals will be somewhat balanced, even if you have only the storage food. You want to repeat this process, and have menus for multiple days. Some items that your family eats frequently will probably be repeated. Other items that you family doesn't eat as often will probably be on only one "menu". You can really prepare menus for as many days as you like. I prepared these menus for six days which, as we shall see, is a convenient number.
The next step is to go through each of these "menus" and figure out how much of each ingredient you will need to buy to make one meal. In many cases, this will be quite easy, and you can simply decide, for example, that one can of tuna will be sufficient to make one meal of tuna salad for your family. However, to remove the guesswork, it's best to calculate the number of calories that each of your "menu" meals will provide.
This is actually a very simple process. Different people require different numbers of calories, but as a general matter, you'll be close if you have approximately 2000 calories per person per day. Therefore, for each food item you are going to purchase, look at the "Nutrition Facts" panel on the package of the food item. Since the "serving size" varies widely, the best procedure is to multiply the "calories per serving" and the "servings per container" figures. This will give you the total number of calories per package. For example, if the box states that each serving is 200 calories, and that the box contains 10 servings, then you will know that the box contains 200 x 10 = 2000 calories.
Go through each item on your "menu" and decide how many packages of the item you will need for each meal. In some cases, this will be an entire package. In other cases, it might be a fraction of a container, such as 1/2 box, or 1/3 can. Think in terms of the package sizes you normally use, since it will be best to buy these familiar sizes. As you are doing this, add up the number of calories for each meal so that it is about 600-700 per person. Then, your final shopping list will provide 2000 calories per person per day.
Make a list for each meal. When you are finished, add up the quantities of individual ingredients. If the total is a fraction, then round up. This final list will be your shopping list, which will provide enough food for your family for the number of days' menus you wrote. In my case, since I prepared six days worth of menus, this is enough food for six days.
Then, you can multiply this list if you want storage for more than six days. For example, if you started with six days, you can simply multiply the totals by five, and be reasonably certain that you have enough food for 30 days. If you multiply by ten, then you will have enough food for 60 days.
When you have completed this process, you will have a shopping list. But more importantly, since you have done the work yourself, you will have the confidence of knowing that you have enough food for the chosen time period. Simply take this list to your normal supermaket and buy the items on the list. You do not have to do this all in one trip. It is best to wait for items to be on sale. You can often economize by buying at least some store brands.
There is rarely any need to buy these items anywhere except your normal supermarket. You generally won't find any better price than you will locally. However, since you will have a fairly large order for your initial purchase, there is a certain amount of added work. For some people, it would be attractive to pay a small premium to have these items delivered to your door.
Surprisingly to some, one extremely convenient method of buying a large grocery order such as this is amazon.com . Amazon sells much more than books, and has a wide assortment of normal supermarket groceries. Often, they are sold in larger quantities (for example, four boxes of cereal rather than one), but the prices are usually competitive (although often a little higher than your normal supermarket). When you search Amazon for groceries, be sure to select only items that specify "fee super saver shipping" for orders greater than $25. With these items, as long as your total order is more than $25, you will pay no shipping charges.
When you get to Amazon, simply search for the desired product by description or brand name. For example, here is a search for " Kellogg's Cereal", which shows a wide selection, most of which are sold in quantities of four boxes. As you can see, almost all of these are marked "Eligible for Free Super Saver Shipping", which means that you will not pay extra shipping charges, as long as your total order is $25 or more.
Another good online source for groceries in large quantities is DollarDays
Like Amazon, Dollar Days has a good selection of grocery items. Dollar Days does also provide free shipping, but with a considerably higher minimum order than Amazon. However, even with shipping, there will be some items where Dollar Days is less expensive. Therefore, it pays to compare the prices on the two sites, and split your order between the two.
Again, for most items, both Amazon and DollarDays will probably be slightly more expensive than your normal supermarket. However, the added convenience of home delivery will be worth it to some. And in some cases, they will be less expensive than your supermarket.
One surprisingly easy way to place a large grocery order is to order online at Walmart. You can place your order online, and then pick it up later in the day. Not all items can be purchased this way, but this service is available for many products, and it will save you the time of tracking down all of the items in the store. You'll pay no shipping, and it will be available the same day.
This part of the process is amazingly simple. When you have finished with your shopping, you will have a large selection of foods in your home, all of which your family eats as part of its normal diet. Instead of buying these items at the supermarket, when you need one, you will simply take it from your storage. When you do, write down the item. The next time you go to the store, simply take this list with you and replentish the items you have used.
If you follow the process outlined on this page, you will have the assurance of knowing that you have enough food to see your family through an emergency. As you complete this basic storage, you might discover that in some areas, such as milk, you want to go beyond the basics. I have another page at this link with some pointers on sources for such items.
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