Preparing: Stocking Up on Food and Supplies

So, you’ve been told you need at least two weeks’ worth of food and supplies to keep at home. You may have some questions.

How do I stock up on supplies? What sorts of foods are best for stocking up? What else might I need for long-term stays at home? Why are people going crazy in my local supermarkets?!

Today, I’m talking about the answers to all of these.

Let’s start with the last question: Why are people going crazy at the supermarkets? Why is there no toilet paper left? You probably already know the answer to the first one: panic, and being unprepared. Not the best combination.

Humans do not think straight in very stressful situations. If we’ve never considered how much food is “enough” for an extended period of time during “normal” life, or what foods are even good for extended periods, we don’t make good choices when under pressure. So, we fill our carts with too much stuff (and mostly crap) while preventing others from getting what they need. Or, we’re the ones left with nothing but Corn Nog and Wadded Beef by the time we make it to the store.

There's so little left... Creamed Eels? Corn Nog ...
Mmmm, creamed eels.

Unfortunately, panic situations, whether climate- or health-related, are becoming more commonplace than they have in (at least my) living memory, and they’re reaching more than just the lowest socioeconomic classes more frequently. So, in order not to either be the jerk who buys all of the bread and toilet paper in a panic, or to be the one with the empty cart right before the “storm,” what can you do?

In the words of the Scouts, “Be Prepared.”

We’ll start with a storage pantry. If you are blessed enough live in your own personal space of any sort (apartment, house, whatever), you have room for food storage. Look around your home. Your space may be limited, but you have space somewhere. If it’s super limited, I urge you to consider the items that are taking up space in your living quarters that may not be as necessary as food, and adjust accordingly.

Rules for Building Up A Storage Pantry

chickpeas

Rule #1: Keep a steady supply of at least a few weeks, ideally a month, of food. Don’t wait until the last minute, or until you’re told you need it. As you may have noticed, you won’t be the only in this situation, and you’ll be fighting for necessities. Grocery stores are not equipped for hordes of people buying all the things within a matter of hours – they’re stocked for a few days, at most, and the big box stores usually receive large shipments of supplies only weekly.

Keep yourself well-stocked by refilling your necessaries as needed over time. Better yet, if you have the space, get that garden going and learn to preserve foods – you won’t need to run to the store as often, whether during a normal month or a crisis situation. Yes, this means advance planning, and figuring out just how much each person needs on a daily basis. Use the time now to do these numbers so you’re not caught unprepared again in the future.

Rule #2: Consider shelf life. Your pantry should be stocked with items that will last a long time – think months and years, rather than days and weeks. This means focusing on items that don’t require freezing or refrigeration, as well, in case of power outages, or just for leaving space for items after cooking. Here’s the good news: shelf-stable staples, like flour and dried beans, cost a heck of a lot less than prepared foods, so this is also a more economical way to shop.

Think about it: flour for making your own bread is going to last a lot longer (and take up less space) than the same amount used for commercial bread on your shelf or in your freezer, and can be used in more applications. If you lose power, dried or canned fruits and vegetables and canned proteins might be your best friends.

Rule #3: Consider space. If you have a basement, or crawlspace, or just a huge pantry room, great! But many people have limited space for food in their homes. Focus on getting items that will get you far without taking up too much room. For example, bags of dried beans will take up far less space than the same amount of cooked beans in cans, and will weigh a lot less. And quit buying premade, packaged frozen crap: the packaging itself takes up more room than the food, and you’re only getting one, maybe two meals out of the space you could be using for supplies to make ten meals. (Also, excess packaging sucks, but you already knew that.)

Rule #4: Consider others. Waiting until the last minute to stock up prevents others from getting what they need. And these aren’t just other people like you waiting until the last minute: these are groups supplying food and supplies for the less fortunate, or the less fortunate themselves who don’t have the space to stock up on supplies. Consider Rule #1, and don’t hoard: your goal is not to buy all of the things, or to commit the evil of buying items for marked-up reselling (seriously, you are a bad person if you do this). Your goal is to make sure your family has enough (emphasis on “enough,” without excess) to live on for a month, and before something strikes.

Rule #5: Consider your body’s needs. Bodies need water, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, among other things, all in different quantities. In other words, you aren’t going to survive long (or feel good) on eating only loaves of bread, or cans of SPAM. Balance it out.

All that being said, when stocking up, support your local farmers and other small purveyors of goods when possible. After all, they’re the ones close by when disaster strikes, and will want to help you personally, neighbor. Corporations based far away? Not so much – they’ll be too busy panicking about stock margins.

What to Keep Stocked

Okay, you say. So I need to keep my food stocked, and not be a jerk about it. What, exactly, might I have in this supply? Below is a non-exhaustive, but pretty decent list of what are good things to have in a stocked food and survival/quarantine supply:

Foods for Long-Term Storage and Keep:

  • Dried beans. They keep longer than canned, and take up less space. Plus, they’re an excellent source of non-perishable protein, and super versatile. Plus plus, there are so many different types of beans you could eat. Don’t like one? Try another!
  • Dried rice, pasta, and/or other grains. Get those carbs in, and make proteins go farther by combining them for meals.
  • Flour. For making bread and other bread-like things, of course. Bread, like other carbs, also makes proteins go farther. You can also keep and use vital wheat gluten (basically wheat flour with the starch removed) to make seitan, or “wheat meat,” for protein.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables. Preferably canned by you or a local friend, but we still like buying canned tomatoes around here, for now. Go for stuff that doesn’t have much added sugar or salt if you can swing it.
  • Canned fish. Sardines, anchovies, and tuna, for both flavor and protein. Get sustainable varieties and purveyors.
  • Dried fruits and vegetables. Get your vitamins, fiber, and sugar.
  • Salt. You need some salt, and it makes things actually taste good. Also, kosher salt can be used in cleaning supplies, as well as pickling.
  • Cereal grains. Think oats, corn, hard wheats, and the like. Some are more shelf-stable than others, but most will last quite a while, and can be ground to make flours.
  • Nuts. Again, protein, with the added bonus of necessary fat.
  • Canned and/or Powdered Milk. I like milk in my tea and coffee, and I use it for baking. Good for calcium, too!
  • Oil/Fat. This toes the line between “necessary” and “morale-boosting”: yes, we need fat, but oil only keeps so long, and butter/lard/bacon grease less time. It’s nice to have in the pantry, though. And remember, you can save the fat you’ve used for cooking in the past!
  • Water. Make sure you have a good supply or source of water. If you choose to stock up on bottled water, get it in gallon-sized jugs rather than little plastic bottles. Consider getting water purifying tablets or other filtration/purifiers instead, as bottled water takes up a ton of space.

Morale-Boosting Items. These are not necessary for survival, per se, but they’ll make stuff taste better and keep you and your family happy, most likely:

  • Honey, sugar, and sweeteners.
  • Eggs. Also toeing the line between morale-boosting and necessary, as they’re great sources of protein and fat, but also not particularly long-lasting. You can get powdered kinds, too.
  • Alcohol. Ideally in liquor form, for space reasons. Totally optional, of course.
  • Spices, herbs, extracts, condiments, etc. These make things taste good. Plus, many cooking herbs double for medicinal purposes.
  • Baking supplies. Think baking powder, baking soda, etc.
  • Peanut or other nut butters. Protein. Fat. Delicious.
  • Coffee and/or tea. Buy it whole-bean and/or loose-leaf for longevity, and get a hand grinder and reusable tea ball.
  • Winter Storage Vegetables. Think winter squashes, like butternut and spaghetti, as well as potatoes. These won’t last as long as the dried and canned stuff, but they’ll give your food a boost if you’ve got them.

Other Non-Edible Necessaries:

  • Toilet Paper. Quit buying it by the roll, and buy it in bulk. Don’t wait until you’re down to one roll before you get more.
  • First Aid Supplies. Bandages, antiseptic creams, gauze, etc.
  • Soap. For washing. Duh. Have body and washing soap handy.
  • Other Cleaning Basics. Instead of buying bulky containers of commercial detergents, consider making your own laundry soap and dishwashing detergent. The supplies (kosher salt, citric acid, borax, and washing soda) all take up less space for the amount of cleaning supplies they make, compared to commercial detergents.
  • Disinfecting agents. Yes, like bleach. Vinegar works for some applications (and we definitely keep a good supply here!) but doesn’t disinfect as well. If you’re worried about safety, consider that bleach breaks down essentially into salt and water in most cases, and that you probably don’t need as much as you think to disinfect. Follow the directions, in other words, and don’t mix it with other cleaners.
  • Batteries. Because powering things without electricity.
  • Basic Camping and Grilling Supplies. Flashlights, blankets, sleeping bags, tents, charcoal or woodchips, matches…basically anything you need to survive outside and/or during a power outage.

Recipes and Advice

So, now you have quantities of dried, preserved, and shelf-stable goods to use. Now, how do you use them?

To keep a good amount of supplies in rotation without using too much of one type (say, protein) at once, get in the habit now (in both normal and crazy times) of making your items go farther by mixing them in meals. This means getting out of the habit of eating slabs of protein (chicken breasts, steaks, etc.) on their own, and instead mixing them with rice, beans, pastas, vegetables, and/or other bulk-building foods. All the time, every time.

We’re not medieval kings and queens: we don’t get whole chicken breasts to ourselves, and we certainly don’t need to prove our worth to anyone by eating like royalty every day.

Below are recipes from the blog for preparing basic items (such as beans), as well as recipes that do this sort of mixing admirably:

Basics:

Basic Breads:

Stretching Proteins and Veggies:

If you’ve got more supplies, recipes, or advice to add to the list, leave it in the comments. Stay safe and healthy, friends and, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, be excellent to each other.

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