Food Storage Strategies

by | Sep. 17, 2013



The practice of laying up stores for times of famine reaches back to the Bible. Joseph of Egypt foretold of a great drought and, by preserving grain, saved not only his family but the entire Egyptian nation. In our day, we have been advised to keep a year’s worth of food for times such as those—whether that be for a time of personal crisis or national emergency. When thinking in terms of potential scenarios, instead of asking “Should I have food storage?” the question quickly becomes, “Can I afford not to?” Once you’ve settled the answer to that question, here are a few more you might have, along with their answers.

What should I buy?

There are three different categories of items that need to be included in a year supply: meals, water, and non-food items.


A novice mistake when starting food storage is to purchase large quantities of staples, like whole wheat and oatmeal. However, for most of us, cooking with these bare basics is difficult. Save yourself the stress, and stock up on nonperishable versions of those things you normally cook for dinner. “Pick five, or maybe even as many as ten, recipes that you’re already eating,” recommends Tim Pedersen, a storage advisor at Emergency Essentials.

Quick Tip: Stock up on spices, which don’t take up a lot of space but can make a huge difference in the taste and quality of meals. Your favorite meals will taste pretty bland without any of the usual seasonings.

Quick Tip: Don’t forget a few desserts and treats as well—nothing can lift spirits like a well-timed candy bar or brownie.


“Most of us forget about water,” Pedersen reveals. “That’s largely because we use it so often, sometimes we just forget it’s there until it’s gone.” But remembering to add water to food storage is critical, especially when you consider that a lot of the water we usually consume comes from the food we eat and not by drinking it—but that won’t be the case with food storage. And that’s to say nothing of water we use outside of the kitchen. It adds up pretty quickly. “Many of us use water in so many things,” Pedersen cautions, “that it quickly runs out.”

Quick Tip: Store at least one gallon of water per person per day for a two week emergency scenario—half is for drink- ing and half for washing. As the average American uses in excess of 100 gallons of water each day, you’ll also want to supplement this with a non-electric, survival grade water filter.

Quick Tip: Stored non-chlorinated water should be treated with bleach. Add 8 drops of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach for every gallon of water.

Non-food Items

Don’t forget to include non-food items in your emergency supply. Things like toilet paper are sometimes easily forgotten and quickly missed. Here’s a quick list of essential non-food items to get you thinking about what your family might need:

·Camping stove and propane 



·Duct tape 

·Electric generator 

·Feminine products 


·Laundry soap 


·Needle and thread 

·Prescription medications 


·Toothbrushes and toothpaste 

·Water filter 

·Toilet paper

Quick Tip: Every family is different. To get an idea what yours needs specifically, plan a day—or a week—to note every non-food item you use during that period, from your blankets to your toothbrush.

Quick Tip: Have a few board games in with your storage. If the power’s out or you’re stuck in your home, keeping boredom at bay can save your sanity.

How much should I buy?

A simple way to estimate your need is to first figure out how quickly you go through supplies. To do this, Kathy Bray, co-author of Not Your Mother’s Food Storage, suggests, “Write down the date you open something, and then look at the date when you’ve used it up.” You don’t even have to keep track of a sheet—write with a sharpie on the package itself and forget about it until you’re ready to throw the container away. 

Another popular method is to try using a free food calculator tool, like the one at foodstorageanalyzer.com, which shows you the calories needed per day, per person based on gender and age. This method is much more accurate than trying to use the unrealistic serving sizes listed on most packages. 

“You can plug in the foods that you’ve already got and find out where you have gaps,” Pedersen explains. “My wife and I did this a few years ago and found out that we were really short in vitamin A.” A few cans of carrots later, and the Pedersens’ supply was back on track.

Quick Tip: Keep an inventory sheet of what food you have stored so you always know how much food you have. If you haven’t done an inventory yet, make doing so part of an emergency preparedness family home evening.

Where do I put it?

Once the food starts to accumulate, finding a place to put it can be difficult, especially if you’re tight on space. It’s best to keep your items in a cool, dry, dark place, like a pantry, ventilated basement, or crawl space.

However, not everybody has a readily available closet to donate to the cause. Bray gives one creative and crazy example: “My daughter bought one of those 8'×10' containers and scooped out the hillside in the back of her house and buried it to make a root cellar.” Such a solution might not be for everybody, but this is where food storage gets fun: look for the tiny spaces that exist in every home and store your food there. Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing.

·Hide cans out of sight under beds or behind furniture.

·Add extra shelving in bedroom closets or your laundry room.

·Line the floor of a closet with food and then cover it with plywood to make a false bottom without losing functionality.

·Use large storage bins to make end tables or shelving units.

How do I maintain my storage?

Once you have your supply stocked and stored, it’s important to keep your supplies fresh. The best way to do this is by thinking of your storage like an expanded pantry and incorporating the foods you store into your weekly meals. Bray recounts, “We paid two and three thousand dollars to get 20 years of food supply, and guess what? Over twenty years later, out it went! We’d never used it.” 

Pedersen notes another often unseen benefit of using your storage in your daily cooking: “Getting the opportunity to become familiar with foods that you’re storing up can take you through much more than just a disaster.” When disaster strikes, there is a psychological benefit to being able to continue to cook comfort foods. And in situations such as job loss that require you to live on food storage, says Pedersen, “Because they had been cooking with things that they’ve been storing in their pantry and food storage items, the kids didn’t really notice that dad had lost his job.”

Quick Tip: Use a simple rotation system like always stocking new food on the left and pulling items to use from the right to keep track of which items are expiring next.

Quick Tip: The “best by” date on most items refers to taste, not nutritional value. Many goods are still edible long after the date printed on them. Before throwing items out, research the actual shelf life online.

Like most gospel principles, food storage is an “endure to the end” type of scenario. But before you can get to that point, you need to start! The best time to prepare is now, before an emergency happens. Food storage can be as easy or complex as you make it, and starting the task today will bring you more than just physical security: it will ultimately bring you peace of mind.

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