It’s may very well seem overwhelming at times as you begin this new step to an exciting journey in your life. Yes, exciting! There is a wonderful feeling that comes over you when you know that what you embark on is to improve your life, not detract. The feeling of empowerment, knowing you are caring in a deeper way for your family is a feeling that strikes all of us when we begin to realize we are making headway on this journey. All we have to do is approach the task at hand logically and calmly to begin! For those of us who are Christians we want to do this not only to protect our families but to be obedient. “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” (Proverbs 21:20) Yet many are not driven solely by this alone but by the desire to provide and protect our families. So let’s help one another on this journey to being self-sustaining and responsible. Remember anyone can do this – even on food stamps it will become a possibility that will surprise you!
Our first rule is to stock what your family eats. We’re beginning with stocking between a 72 hour pantry up to a 3 month supply. Don’t try to rush out there and buy 25 years worth of storage foods in #10 cans or 5 gallon buckets. We aren’t going to worry about food lasting 25 years. Who lives with you now and the food or caloric needs of those people will change drastically over 25 years! Let’s begin with the people in your home now – and then slowly also consider others who may be dependent on you if the trouble looks to be of a more permanent nature. We almost all have those few people we care about enough to want to help – maybe extended family such as elderly parents or grandparents, perhaps neighbors or close friends. For a few of us, we just want to have extras to help when we see a need arise for others. Some will want extras for bartering later on. We can accomplish all of this in time but it means a bit of research and work on our part. But I am going to help you make this journey possible over time!
So here we are at the first step. It’s one of the less glamorous ones but an important easy one. Write down all the meals you have served the family including any restaurant meals for the last week. Then slowly try to rebuild the last month’s worth of menus. Are there any overlaps – meals eaten more than once? Does a particular meal stand out as a favorite of favorites for your gang. Then slowly try to rebuild the last month’s worth of menus. Put a star there so that you pay attention to it. These then are the food items you will want to focus on. We have talked before about buying an extra bag or two of rice to throw in the shopping cart or extra bags of dry beans. But here we are starting to actually build a food pantry of foods your family likes to eat. From this menu plan start to purchase an extra meal fixings once a week is possible as you grocery shop. Pay close attention to those items that might be on sale by checking sale flyers ahead of shopping. Studies have shown that shopping with a preplanned menu for the week or month, and using a shopping list will save you money. For those on food stamps, this is a biggie!
I am on a very limited budget and I did use food stamps once upon a time when my children were small. I had a disabled husband and four sons to feed. I didn’t get a huge allotment of stamps and they didn’t cover anything but basic food items – no personal hygiene and no extras. Yet I was able to feed my family by using menu plans, counting out my food items as I shopped and only shopping off a shopping list that was pre-written before I got to the store. With this method I was able to buy not only enough food to feed the family 3 meals a day, I was able to purchase enough to have extra food put up each month towards the next month. We were not eating sirloin steaks but my family also did not like tuna casserole! We ate nourishing good tasting foods but rarely ate prepackaged convenience foods. Even though I worked a full time job, I cooked from scratch and baked for the week on my weekends. I couldn’t afford sodas or luxury items but we ate well and my children liked the food they were offered! This lesson is a good one to learn whether on food stamps or well to do! Remember too that the more money you can save here allows for more expendable money for other parts of your budget. This will be especially nice if you want to begin to work on other items for prepping too.
As you work on those menu plans and shopping lists I want you to make a note of the favorite comfort foods – the snacks and desserts your family enjoys the most. After all if it becomes truly necessary to utilize the food storage for long term, you will want to be able to give your family some of those special items like cakes or brownies that they enjoy. For now because you are aiming for shorter term storage, these products will be fine. As we get to longer term storage we will embark on learning to repackage foods a bit differently to preserve them or to make certain foods from scratch. For now though it is fine to at least save some of those favorite cake mixes or prepackaged puddings and jello mixes. Even chips and crackers will keep for 6 months or so. Most canned foods you buy will have a fairly good expiration date on them good enough to last 6 months to a year if not more. Try to remember to use an indelible marker to note the purchase date somewhere on the cans. Rotation is your best friend here as it should be with all foods you store in the pantry.
If you use a freezer, it is fairly easy to store some extra meats that your family prefers. As you build a deeper pantry, you will begin to focus slightly less on the freezer foods to protect your food supply from power outages. But for right now, it is not a bad thing to stock up the freezer. If you begin to build a deeper pantry, you will probably want to consider canning many meats for yourself as a safer alternative to the pantry than freezer meats. These canned foods will be healthier than most canned meats you purchase. Tuna, salmon, chicken breasts, and certain hams can all be bought commercially canned of course and are great sources of protein for the family. Other great sources of proteins include eggs and cheeses. Not everyone can raise chickens for fresh eggs but a little known fact is how easy it is to store eggs. If you have a basement that stays a constant cooler temperature of a root cellar, you’re really in luck. Some folks also have extra refrigerators in the garage or basement that will also be great for storing extra eggs. Take those eggs and coat them with food grade mineral oil. Use some plastic gloves and just totally coat the eggs – presto! They will store safely up to 9 months in the refrig or cool room! Cheese can also be treated to last almost forever. Any hard cheese can be coated with cheese wax bought specifically to coat them. Use a double boiler system to melt the wax and dip first one end and then the other end as it hardens. Use a pastry brush to fill any air gaps that show as the wax hardens and dries. Another method of storing hard cheese is to store in olive oil completely covered by the oil. Italians always store cheese this way – from a goats cheese to a hard parmesan for grating.
Let’s also remember to store extra sugar, flour, salt, and seasonings. Any foods you make will taste better by adding some seasonings. Also your family will be more likely to eat what they like. Offering too many new foods at one time is never an easy task in any event. When under stress they will be even less likely to settle easily for strange unfamiliar foods. If in fact you are planning on eventually going to the longer term storage of freeze dried or dehydrated foods, please begin to learn to use them in your every day meals. There is a learning curve to actually cooking with many of these items. In addition this will also give your family time to adjust to the taste of these foods. In talking to many service veterans you may find that MREs are not as wonderful a product as you are under the impression they are – although admittedly the newer versions are better than those from WWII. Sugar kept in an air tight container (not in Food Saver packaging though) will keep almost forever as will salt. Moisture is your enemy with these foods. Think in terms of what other baking supplies you use regularly. Do you bake cookies? You will need to store baking soda and baking powder in your pantry. Cocoa and molasses as well as vanilla extract and solid shortening as well as vegetable oils will be needed. Oil should be protected from direct sunlight.
As we continue our journey of preparing the family pantry for longer term storage we will investigate the use of safe means of repackaging foods for longer term storage. I will also take you through how to determine basic amounts of food to store for each person as well as methods of tracking the inventory of what you have on hand so that as you add to your stores you don’t find one day that you have 300 pounds of dry beans and no canned tomatoes as an example! Remember this is to eliminate stress so in all of this stick to your budget and have fun with it!