How to plan food storage.
Here’s what you need to know to start a food stockpile. First, a food stockpile is just a way of saying you want to build up stores of food. It does not mean going to Costco and buying every single roll of toilet paper or all the flour. And it doesn’t mean hoarding food. Panic buying and mindless (or greed-driven) resource guarding are unnecessary and unkind.
But it is possible – and very practical – to set up a long term food supply at home. FEMA recommends a minimum of two weeks of food and water for each family member, as well as pets and livestock. Fourteen days of food and water is a great starting point if you’re brand new to this. And the good news is it’s easy to work up to a month, then 60 days, and so on.
Quick note: your long term or emergency food stockpile should include water for both drinking and cooking. One gallon per day per person or animal, plus more for cooking or rehydrating food. Storing water is very important but it’s not the focus of this post. I did, however, want to mention it upfront and encourage you to research best practices and methods to ensure you have plenty on hand.
Why should I store food?
If you’re already on board, you can skip ahead. But I do want to offer some reasons for establishing your food stockpile for those who wonder if it’s really necessary. I suspect many people hear ‘food stockpile’ or ‘food storage’ and picture a dark basement full of big cans and buckets of weird freeze dried meals rated to last 30 years.
While those things do exist, many people who store food at home prefer to simply build up a supply of the food they already eat. Picture several months worth of dried pasta, frozen meat, canned soup, etc. They are essentially pre-purchasing their groceries and storing them to prolong their shelf life. When they cook, they simply rotate through those stores of food rather than heading to the grocery.
Ok, I get that I can store some food and not be a weirdo with a basement bunker. But WHY should I?
Because our food supply chain is fragile. Minor supply hiccups can lead to shortages. A bad drought or wildfire or lack of workers can lead to agricultural scarcity. Tragically, wars and large scale weather disasters also impact the global food web.
When you slowly build up and store some of the foods you regularly consume, you ensure your household will be less impacted by supply fluctuations. On a personal level, you also create security for yourself in the event you experience financial hardship, illness or other upheavals that make it harder for you to purchase food.
Imagine this scenario: a blizzard is forecast for your city with two days warning. People run to the grocery stores to stock up on bread and milk or other food in anticipation that they won’t be able to get out of the house for a few days. The grocery stores sell out of some things and the entire situation is stressful.
Or what if you wake up to discover an unexpected ice storm has shut your entire town down? Now you can’t even join that horde of panicked shoppers because the roads are impassable and all the stores are closed. If you’ve only got a few days worth of food (or less) in your home, you might end up a bit hungry before you can get to the store.
Both of those happen frequently. They’re not doomsday scenarios. And both are completely avoidable if you always have at least a few weeks of food at home. No need to rush to the store and fight crowds of equally stressed shoppers. You simply plan to hunker down, enjoy most of the same foods you usually eat.
One year’s worth of home-canned food
Planning Long Term Food Storage
There’s not a wrong way to start working on your food stockpile, but there are some strategies that will make your effort more successful and less stressful.
It’s best to view improving your long term food supply as an ongoing process instead of a one-time chore. Frankly even if you have unlimited money and space, trying to plan, purchase and organize months or years worth of food in one fell swoop is not a great way to move forward. You’ll likely end up stressed out and overwhelmed. And in that scenario, you may inadvertently clean out local resources that others also need.
Start small and focus on one area at a time. With that in mind, here’s where I suggest you start.
What to put in your food stockpile
There are two big factors to consider when planning what to add to a food stockpile.
The first is how much space and money you have for ‘extra’ food.
Use ‘How Much Space Do You Need To Store Food?’ to get an idea of how much you can fit in your available space. Take measurements of your potential food storage areas before you buy anything. There’s no point in buying or preserving way more food than you can store properly and accessibly.
That doesn’t just mean cramming in as much as possible, either. Your food should be stored in an organized system so you can easily get to it and use it. It also needs to be stored in the proper containers in a suitable environment.
Digging deep into food storage on a budget is outside the scope of this post, though I do plan to write about that in the future. But it’s important to know your household budget and figure out how much money you can allocate towards building up your food stores.
If your household budget is already tight, the idea of adding anything to it might seem impossible. I’m not going to pretend scraping extra funds out of a scant budget is easy, or even possible, for everyone. But if you can allocate even a few extra dollars a week, you can start to add rice, beans, lentils and oatmeal to your stores. Those staples are staples of the food stockpile precisely because they’re inexpensive, nutritious, easy to cook and will keep for a long time. It might take time to get your food stockpile where you want it, but every $2 bag of rice you store away is a step in the right direction.
Growing your own food might offer another way to expand your food stores BUT establishing even a small garden is rarely a zero cost effort. If you already have some things growing and own basic gardening tools and supplies, you may be able to add a few more vegetables to the garden without much overhead.
What do you store food in?
One more budgetary thing to consider – what you’ll store your food in. For the very short term, you can leave food in the original package. But most store packaging isn’t suitable for longer term storage. And if you buy in bulk, you’ll likely need to repackage immediately for both proper storage and ease of use.
You’ll need airtight containers to keep your food safe from pests, oxygen, moisture and sunlight. Cheap options include zip top bags, canning jars or other repurposed jars. Inch for inch, food grade plastic buckets are the cheapest option for storing larger quantities of food.
If you have some room in your budget, airtight canisters and mylar bags can greatly expand your storage options. Learn more about What You Need to Store Food.
Despite the importance of storing food in durable containers, I think having at least a small food stockpile is so important that you should add to yours even if you aren’t able to upgrade the containers.
The second is to pick foods you’ll actually eat or use.
There’s very little point to stashing away buckets of lentils if you don’t like eating them. Don’t bother storing up cans and cans of tomatoes if your household only uses canned tomatoes a couple times a year.
The idea behind having a food stockpile is to create a ‘grocery store’ in your home full of foods you normally and regularly eat, or the raw ingredients to create them. Even if you’re planning your food stockpile with the apocalypse in mind, choose and store foods you’ll actually enjoy eating. The end of the world is no time to be stuck eating food you hate.
The best place to begin your food stockpile is to make a list of the foods you eat often.
You probably can’t store every single thing you eat, though.
Are you going to be able to store every single food you regularly eat? Probably not. It’s hard to store fresh produce without canning, freezing or drying it, so forget about stockpiling lettuce, for example (though you may be able to grow your own!)
You can store meat and dairy in a variety of ways but shelf-stable versions of all those are fairly pricey. Freezing meat and dairy is an option but most people are limited by the size of the fridge or freezer.
Store eggs need to be refrigerated but farm fresh eggs (ie, from a local source, not the grocery) have a surprisingly long shelf-life. If you eat or cook with a lot of eggs, consider finding a local source for unwashed, fresh eggs. Then you can store them unrefrigerated for two months or water glass them to store them for up to a year.
The goal is to look at the food you regularly cook and eat and find the ingredients that have a long storage life. Start accumulating those components, especially if they’re staples you can use in multiple dishes or prepare multiple ways.
The best food for long term storage
Selecting food for your stockpile is a two-pronged strategy. The first part is stocking ingredients or foods you already use regularly.
Look at your weekly food consumption and see what items you eat regularly. Of those foods, which are shelf-stable at room temperature? Start with those items and decide how many weeks or months worth of them you’d like to have on hand. Then consider if those foods will need to be repackaged for longer term storage. (hint, they probably will)
Remember, the goal is to have a well-stocked pantry, not to have buckets and bins full of weird ‘survival’ foods your family will never use. Instead, think of long term food storage as setting up your own private grocery store, in your home.
Here’s a long term food storage plan
This is just an example but it will show you how to start planning the first prong of your long term food storage.
Let’s say your family eats spaghetti with meat sauce once a week, on average. That meal requires a large box of spaghetti noodles, 28-32 ounces of spaghetti sauce and one pound of Italian sausage or ground beef each week. To have a six month supply, you’ll need to buy the equivalent of 25 boxes of spaghetti, 25 jars of spaghetti sauce* and 25 pounds of meat.
That probably sounds like a LOT of food! And it will be, especially if you go to the store and try to buy it all at once.
It’s easier to start by just double up your shopping list each week. So buy two boxes of spaghetti, two jars of sauce and two pounds of meat every week. Use one set of ingredients to make that week’s dinner. Then freeze the extra meat and stash the drygoods in your pantry or basement. If there’s a good sale on any of those ingredients, go ahead and buy extra.
Building up a long term food supply
If you do that every week, you’ll slowly build up a stash of spaghetti ingredients. As soon as you have a few weeks’ worth, start using the oldest ingredients for your weekly meal and add the two new boxes, two new jars and two pounds of meat to your stockpile. Because you’ll be replacing each weeks’ ingredients AND adding a second set every week, you’ll quickly establish a stock of spaghetti ingredients.
Once you have six month’s worth, you can just buy one box of pasta, one jar of sauce and one pound of meat each week, to replace the one’s you’re removing from storage.
Take it further
In this example, you’re buying jars of spaghetti sauce. That’s not bad but it is a little limiting.
Tomato sauce is one of the easiest things to make from scratch if you have canned tomatoes (home canned or commercially). The flavor is generally better and it’s easy to customize the sauce to your liking when you’re making dinner. But even if you stock commercially canned tomatoes, it’s easy and delicious to turn them into sauce.
Why should you bother with this? Because stockpiling canned tomatoes instead of spaghetti sauce will give you more flexibility in your stockpile. Canned tomatoes can be used to make many other foods, including your spaghetti sauce.
Also, it’s ok to stock up on some jars of spaghetti sauce AND cans of tomato. There might be some times when you want to make sauce from scratch and other times you don’t.
Keep building your list
Identify other meals, recipes or foods your household consumes regularly. Then apply the same method and figure out how much you need for six months.
Some things you enjoy often may not be practical for long term storage (hello, ice cream) and that’s ok. Focus on the things you eat often that do store well and base your food stockpile around them.
You can use this same plan to stockpile any food you consume regularly. Just make sure you have enough room to store the food and a way to keep track of what you have on hand. You’ll always use the oldest food in your stockpile first, saving the newest additions for later.
The second prong in your food stockpile creation is building up a supply of long-lasting, inexpensive staples.
Multi-month supply of rice, beans and other pantry staples in easy-to-access containers. These are foods we eat regularly.
Focus on staples
While I think using your regular eating habits to begin your food stockpile is effective and efficient, plan to add staple foods to your storage, too.
By that, I mean shelf-stable, long lasting ingredients – things like white rice, dried beans, canned vegetables, whole grains and baking supplies. Don’t add food you absolutely despise but fill in your storage with a large selection of these food storage staples.
Ideally, some of these will already be part of your regular meal plans or you’ll start to add them in.
This food is a second layer in your food stockpile. Layer one is a combination of fresh foods you still buy regularly from the store and the recipe components you’ve listed from the previous section. Those are the foods you eat and continually replenish.
Layer two is there to fill in the gaps in the event you have to rely on your food stockpile for longer.
Overlap is great!
How much or how little overlap there is between those layers just depends on your food preferences and cooking habits. In our house, there’s a lot of overlap since we cook nearly every meal at home and often include things like dried beans or canned foods.
We have about six months worth of rice and beans stored in airtight, easy to access canisters. There’s another six months worth of rice and beans stored in mylar bags, where they’ll keep for years. They will eventually get rotated into our regular supply and replaced to ensure they don’t go to waste.
Whenever we use those foods, we just dip into the canister. We replace what we use during our next shopping trip.
We also bake our own bread, and we keep six months worth of flour on hand. We replace the flour as we use it during our regular shopping trips. Our second layer is the buckets of wheat berries, which have which we won’t tap into any time soon unless flour becomes difficult to buy.
If we had to, we could stop buying rice, beans and flour for up to a year and simply eat from our stockpile. We hope we’ll never need to do that, but it’s reassuring to know we could And, as noted, we’ll eventually absorb our ‘long term’ stock into the stuff we use regularly and replace it. The goal is that all the food we store will eventually be eaten.
Buy in bulk
Another option is to buy ingredients you use regularly in bulk. Things like dried beans, white rice, lentils and grains are easy to buy in large quantities, meaning you can easily pick up a 6-12 month supply. I use Azure Standard to stock my dry goods twice a year. My favorite items to buy from them are sea salt, lentils, dried peas, oatmeal and chicken feed.
The more work you’re willing to put in, the more flexibility you’ll have with your stockpile
The less a whole grain food has been processed, the longer it will keep. So wheat berries keep longer than ground flour which keeps longer than a loaf of bread. Dried corn keeps longer than cornmeal or cornflour which keeps longer than tortillas. You might decide grinding wheat berries into flour isn’t practical and that’s fine – you can store flour instead, it just won’t last as long. I actually cover storing flour longish term in How Much Space Do You Need to Store Food?
The inverse is true when it comes to fruit, vegetables and some meats. If you can, dry or freeze fruit or vegetables, they’ll last longer than their fresh counterparts. Meat will keep a few days in the fridge, a few months in the freezer and even longer if it’s salt cured, freeze-dried or dehydrated.
Whole wheat berries store for up to 30 years, making them a great choice for longer term food stockpiles
Consider preserving your own food
If you’re serious about increasing your food security and building a long term food stockpile, you might want to start preserving your own food (if you’re not already). When you start processing and preserving fresh food, you learn a valuable skill set and you have a much greater degree of control over your food. Canning, drying, curing and freeze drying are great way to make food shelf-stable.
Canning is cool
Besides being cheaper, when you can your own supply of food, you know exactly what’s in it. Check out Is Canning Food Worth It for my cost-benefit analysis of canning food.
Because storing 25 pounds of ground meat might be impractical, and because you’re only one power failure away from losing it all, it’s worth taking a look at canning spaghetti sauce with meat or just canning ground or cubed meat. Test out the canning recipe before you commit to a six month supply – if you don’t like it, there’s no point in having 20 jars of it. Canning isn’t a perfect food preservation system but it’s a really inexpensive way to turn a lot of fresh food into shelf stable food.
If canning food isn’t your thing, that’s cool – consider buying commercially canned tomatoes and making your own spaghetti sauce instead. It will taste much better and a stash of canned tomatoes is more versatile (and cheaper), than jars of spaghetti sauce.
Creating a food stockpile isn’t just about buying food
You might have been wondering when I’d get around to saying that growing even a small amount of your own food is another valuable way to build a food stockpile.
Putting seeds or plants in the ground (or water) and getting food in exchange is one of the best ways to fight supply chain issues or shortages. Having seeds and knowing how to make them grow into productive plants is empowering and gives you an unparalleled level of control over your own food. If you save seeds year to year, you’ve increased that control even more.
Once a garden is established and you have access to the tools and supplies you need to maintain it, growing food CAN be a way to reduce your food costs. But it’s just as easy for your food garden to barely break even, or even cost you way more. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, though – the control it gives you is worth far more. Just that it’s important to be realistic about the time and money you’re willing and able to put into it.
You don’t have to grow, though
If you don’t want to grow food or don’t have the space or resources to make a food garden practical for you, that’s ok. You may be able to get cheap food from produce stands or local farmers markets. Many gardeners end up with tons of ‘extra’ produce every year – keep an eye on local or neighborhood social media groups to see if anyone is trying to rehome their overzealous zucchinis. Or if friends or family grow food, let them know you’ll be very happy to take any surplus they can’t use. Heck, you can even offer to buy some seeds to contribute if they’ll share the spoils.
However you end up with it, preserving at least some in-season fruits and vegetables each year is a valuable tool for adding high quality, nutritious food to your food stockpile.
What if I don’t have much room for a food stockpile?
When all is said and done, it’s possible to fit a lot of food in a small space if you plan well. That means choosing foods and food formats that make sense for your available space.
If you have a basement, then you may be able to store your food in five gallon buckets or build sturdy shelves to hold canned goods. That means you can store bulky things like grains and legumes easily.
But if you only have a built-in pantry closet or just a few kitchen cabinets, buckets might be too heavy or take up too much floor space, meaning grains aren’t the best use of your space. In that case, jars of dried and canned foods, along with smaller canisters of legumes, grains and other dry goods is probably the best use of your space.
Other food storage locations
And, of course, you can always store food in underutilized parts of your home, like in a spare bedroom closet or under the bed. There’s no rule that says your entire food stockpile needs to be in one place or that it must be stored in a traditional location.
But if you do this, make sure you have a really good tracking system in place and keep an up-to-date inventory. Food that’s out of sight is often out of mind and there’s no point in having a food stockpile if you can’t remember what you have.
And really give some thought to whether you want to dig under your bed for beans before you get too far along.
What if I don’t usually cook? Is there a magical way to store McDonald’s and delivery pizza?
Sadly, I’m not aware of one. But it’s important to store food that you know how to prepare. It’s also important that you have the necessary tools and supplies to prepare it or use it.
If you’re willing to give cooking from scratch a try:
My suggestion is to pick a handful of dishes that are simple to prepare. Practice cooking – and eating – those until you feel very comfortable making them and have found a recipe that you enjoy eating. Ideally, these will include a lot of shelf-stable or preservable ingredients or you’ll know how to prepare them even if you don’t have access to one or two fresh components. Some great examples include spaghetti (or any pasta) with tomato sauce, a baked potato and grilled chicken breast or rice and beans.
Ys, beans and rice are the pumpkin spice latte of food stockpiling – but both are popular for legitimate reasons. Both rice and beans have very long shelf lives and are nutritious and filling. They’re also very inexpensive, especially for the level of calories and nutrition they provide.
How to Make Cooking Less Tedious might help you ease into preparing more of you own food.
If cooking is just not your thing:
Aim for ready to eat shelf stable food like canned soup or boxed dinners. Store peanut butter, if you can eat nuts, and crackers. Oatmeal is another great choice. You’re going to end up relying more heavily on pre-packaged and processed foods but its still better than having no food in the house when a disaster makes it hard to get to the store.
Trying to make a food stockpile plan sounds complicated – can you just give me a list of some basics?
I get that, it can feel overwhelming. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s some foods that are great to stock up on. The amount you decide to store will depend on your household size and how large of a stockpile you want to create.
The list below is very general and is intended as a starting point.
Check out the Best Foods to Stockpile From Amazon to see what bulk staples I order for my food storage.
Best foods to stockpile
- long grain rice
- dried beans
- dried peas
- wheat berries
- unbleached white flour (store in mylar with oxygen absorber)
- ground cornmeal (store in mylar without oxygen absorber)
- sea salt or kosher salt
- granulated sugar
- potato flakes
- egg noodles
- canned tomatoes
- canned corn
- canned green beans
- canned soup
- chicken, tuna, beef, pork or venison
- whole, diced or sliced apples, peaches, pears
- jams, jellies or chutneys
- condiments like ketchup or hot sauce
- Peanut butter or peanut powder
- Powdered milk and butter
- Freeze-dried meat, produce, or eggs
- Dried fruit
- Dried mushrooms
- Whole winter squash or pumpkins
- Whole potatoes or sweet potatoes
- Shelf-stable cooking oil
Food Stockpile Suggestions
Those are my pick for best foods to stockpile but the list is by no means definitive.
The foods I listed have varying shelf-lives, but everything will keep for at least 12 months if stored correctly. Be sure to research anything you’re considering adding to your food stockpile to ensure you’re storing it correctly. Make sure the particular food you’re buying or preparing is suited for the storage method and conditions. Don’t store foods you’re allergic to.
Easy Food Stockpiling
If you want to start building your food stockpile the easy way, I suggest these products. These product links will take you to Azure Standard’s website – Azure is a food coop and distributor and my favorite place to order bulk grains and dry goods. They usually have the best price and the food is very high quality.
You’ll need to join an Azure monthly drop near you to place an order. Learn more about Ordering from Azure Standard. That link takes you to my candid review of ordering from Azure Standard, including a few issues with my most recent order. Despite some supply chain hiccups, I still highly recommend Azure Standard but do also suggest you read my review before you order.
These are affiliate referral links – Azure will compensate me if you place an order using these. These are the identical products I regularly order and use, which I why I am recommending them. Don’t want to order any of these but still want to start using Azure Standard? Click on MY AZURE STANDARD LINK and I’ll also receive a credit after you order.