Friday, January 8, 2010

Food Storage on a Budget

Have you ever noticed that bread and milk disappear from grocery shelves at the first hint of a winter storm? I have never really understand this thought process much past the fact that you can subside on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during a power outage. The milk escapes me, unless its winter and they plan on keeping it cold outside, but this phenomenon occurred prior to hurricanes as well...I've never known a gallon of milk to fare well on the porch at a balmy 70 degrees.

This winter has brought many extreme temperatures and quite a bit of snow our way. One storm resulted in a loss of power several times at our house over a week long period. We were also stuck at home for 6 days and even head a house guest during that time. Thankfully, because I had some food on the shelves for just such an occasion, we had plenty to eat and could enjoy being "stranded" rather than frantic for want of a meal. For some people in our area the inconvenience was merely hours, while others went without electricity for over a week and couldn't get out either. This type of situation can present a problem for a lot of folks who have no alternate source of energy or food in their pantry. Around here, there are fireplaces and woods stoves in many homes, but still, most people go without water when the pumps don't work and the roads are usually impassible during that time so getting supplies during those first few days is rather difficult. I often hear of folks subsisting on the dusty cans of mystery meat and chicken soup from the back of their cabinets.

All emergencies aside, almost daily, I hear how people stop at the store on the way home from work to pick up dinner for that night because they have nothing in their kitchen. To me, this is pretty shortsighted living. I know its the norm, but it costs so much more to live that way, and I know from my own experiences that healthy eating rarely comes into play when the golden arches or the freezer section of the local grocery store is my source for last-minute dinner plans. Being prepared for the unexpected seems pretty practical to me. Perhaps its my age, and I know its not on everyone's list of things to do, but when money gets tight(which it has) you have to be ready for just about anything at the drop of the hat. If you don't have money to fix it on the fly, you have to be prepared.

Preparing for What?
Before you go out and buy an instant food storage solution, it would probably be a good idea to sit down and decide what your goals are in this area. What are the reasons that you can think of to have some food in your pantry? There are many different situations that can prevent you from getting groceries or even one meal. Make a list of anything that you can think of that would cause this. List things that have a significant probability. If you live in Wichita Kansas, an earthquake is unlikely, but an ice storm is probably going to make the list. Once you have your list, indicate the length of time you feel each scenario might last. For instance, a weather related or man-made disaster may last a few days while long-term unemployment, severe economic depression or a gas shortage may last for months.

Now that you have a probable list of scenarios, you can design your plan of attack. Order your list from shortest to longest duration. Set goals to accomplish the first and work through to the longest. For instance a short term set back may only require food and candles while a long-term set back may require fuel, a larger supply of food or some cash on hand. As you check them off, you are steadily preparing for one scenario after another with the ultimate goal of being prepared for the unexpected.

Making a Plan of Attack
The first thing you DO NOT want to do is immediately buy the one-year food storage system for a family of four at your "" This is a costly way to prepare and quite frankly, if you are not used to eating MRE's and unleavened bread, you are unlikely to finish much more than the dried bananas and canned water. You are much better off identifying foods you can live with and setting goals to work them into a current budget. Charging your food pantry to a credit card is not a wise move either. What if your emergency turns out to be job loss? How will you pay that credit card bill? Sit down with your family and figure out what foods you can and will eat, then keep the ones that will store well and do relatively well at keeping you healthy. Rice and beans, while not the most glamorous of foods will provide you with a full tummy, plenty of fiber and nutrients, they store well and they won't break the bank. A year's supply of Pop Tarts won't help you at all, but some sugar or honey will allow for a treat or two when mixed with flour and baked, pan fried or grilled. You have to get creative with foods when its the same thing everyday, but if you can't leave the house anyway, you will have plenty of time to put on your creative hat and experiment.

Show me the Money
If you think its impossible to create a stockpile of food because you are eating week to week, its not. If you have $10 a week to spend on your storage system, you can begin today. That's all you need. As you expand your system, your grocery bill will begin to decrease because these foods will enter into your weekly meal plans since they are so basic. The items in your start-up food storage list are very basic. Once you have them, you can survive for as long as the food lasts and stay healthy. Once you have them, you can move toward increasing the amounts that you have and then introducing more variety. Remember to take into account all the likes and dislikes of your family. It certainly won't be helpful to you to have 50lbs of black eyed peas if no one in the house will eat them. As you create your food storage plan, and start to build up the list of basics in your home, you will find that it is not necessary to run to the store multiple times in a week because you can come home and make a meal with what is there. Use these savings to make home cooking more convenient. For instance, if you have a pressure cooker dried beans can become a meal in under two hours. If you thought to soak them before you left for work, you can do it in under 25 minutes. Dried beans (per serving) are FAR less than the frozen microwave variety and just as tasty. Buying in bulk is also a money saver. The ten pounds of rice you purchase in the first week will feed you and your family for weeks for the same price as a box of the instant variety that serves your family once. The flour you buy in week three will be great to have for baking cookies on the weekend or making a batch of pancakes for breakfasts during the week. The idea is to get what you need to get by and then work from there. Its much easier to get through a difficult time when you have the basics on hand and it doesn't require an arm and a leg to do it.

Start Up List
Here's the basic list. Its really this simple.

Week one: Rice (brown or white)
If you like brown rice, its going to be healthier for your family, but don't get it if they are not going to eat it. Rice stores well in a cool, dry environment and it will last for at least 6 months. You can purchase it in anything from a 8 oz box up to 25lb bag in most stores. Do not get the precooked quick rice. Buy a large bag (at least 2 lbs) and pour into air tight containers. Mark the date purchased on each one and put them on the shelf. As you purchase more, put it behind the original ones so that you use the one up the older food first. If you purchase a 10lb bag it will cost you approximately $8.00 and will make about 93 one-cup servings. Use any leftover change for the next week's purchase.

Week two: Beans, Tang & Lard
Two pounds of beans will balance out last week's rice purchase nicely. At a ratio of 5:1 Rice and beans create a "complete protein" which means that even without meat, you are getting the protein you need. But dont worry, we will add meat in a few weeks. Two 2lb bags will cost you about $3.50

Tang, while not my first pick for healthy eating (don't even get me started on the food coloring, etc), is shelf stable and an 8oz glass gets you 100% of your daily Vitamin C requirement. It also has small amounts of other required nutrients and the sugary sweetness each day will almost seem like desert! If you don't like Tang, be careful of what you choose as a substitute; finding shelf stable drink mixes with some nutritional value is a challenge at best. Pick up your first 20 oz container at about $4 and you will have 24 servings to get you started.

Lard (yes real lard) is hard to find and is actually probably better for you than the Tang! I make my own from pig fat that I purchase about once every two years, but you can find it. Avoid hydrogenated oils. Try to find organic lard as it is usually free of those types of nasties. Fat is a necessary component in your diet and when you are in "survival" mode you need the extra calories and staying-power of fats. Besides, it can't be beat if you want biscuits, or refried beans, or fried rice, or any kind of pan-fried breads and when you don't have refrigeration, lard doesn't spoil. Pick up 5 lbs or make your first batch using my directions for way less money. This will use up the last of your $10 and probably the change from last week.

Week Three: Flour, Sugar and Vegetables
Pick up a 20lb sack of flour. I prefer wheat berries because they store indefinitely but if you have no way of grinding it, you are better off with plain white flour since it won't go rancid. Unbleached white flour is better if you can get it but may be more expensive. Now, with the previous weeks items, you have what you need to make biscuits or tortillas and if you have store bought yeast you can make bread. If you don't have yeast you can learn how to make sourdough starter to leaven it.

5lbs of sugar is next on this weeks list. With sugar you can make sweet breads, some rice pudding or muffins when used with the ingredients you already have. This will make your family smile and add some much-needed variety to your diet if a crisis comes your way.

Canned veggies are your last requirement this week. The darker and greener or oranger you can get, the better. Collards and other greens, Spinach, Carrots, pumpkin, and squashes all have lots of vitamin A and calcium. Get as many cans as you can with the rest of your $10 for this week.

Week Four: Dried Milk and salt
Purchase one tub of iodized salt, a small container of baking powder(if you don't have any) and then get the largest box of non-fat dry milk you can find for this weeks ten dollars. Milk is a great source of essential amino acids, calcium and vitamin D. Dried milk is shelf stable and can be stored for up to a year. It can be used in your breads and muffins, for making yogurt and a creamy gravy or pudding. During the year, you can use it instead of real milk in your cooking to save money and to get used to using it. Try to have at least 1 large box on your shelf for emergencies.

Week Five: Tuna and Vegetables
Take this week's ten spot and get some Tuna. If you happen to find tuna on sale, buy some more dark green vegetables as well. Tuna is a shelf-stable source of lean meat. 10 cans is a good start up goal as you increase your storage in the coming months. They last for years and as long as your family likes it, you can always have them in the pantry for sandwiches, rotating in new cans each year so your stock is fresh.

You've Done it!
If you finished the first 5 weeks, you are now set for an emergency of the short-term variety. This should feel pretty good! In the coming weeks, repeat this cycle and add to what you have and fine tune your purchases to suit your family. Maybe get pepper instead of salt, or a block of yeast for making bread or some honey instead of sugar. Making small investments as the weeks pass will have long-term benefits without debt or regret. If you have never tried canning your own foods, don't be afraid to try that in the coming months. This allows you to diversify what you have in the house and you can take advantage of low prices when produce is in abundance or your corner market has a huge sale on meat. You can can just about anything and your local extension office usually offers classes if you have never tried.

As you continue on this new path of preparedness, don't forget to rotate and use your new-found pantry and don't allow your stash to decrease as you use it; simply replenish it with your weekly shopping trips and use the money you budgeting to increase what you have. Learn to keep your shelves stocked with the basics so that when something upsets the apple cart, you can still get around. And lastly, don't forget to enjoy the fact that you don't always have to run to the store and get bread and milk just because snow is predicted for tomorrow night!

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