How much food storage is enough?

Keeping food for long-term storage is an essential part of preparing for any eventuality, whether it is a natural disaster or a SHTF scenario.  If you’ve decided to start stock-piling food, that is great news, and you’re already setting yourself up for success!  But you may be wondering, what kind of food do I need, and how much is enough?

Well, “enough” is a relative term, one that is dependent on the goals you’ve set for your food storage.  The first decision you need to make is how long you want to be able live off of your food storage.  If for some reason you were unable to acquire food from outside sources, do you think you’d need to sustain yourself for 2 weeks? 3 months? One year?  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping at least a three day food supply.  In my opinion, that isn’t nearly enough to ensure your safety.  If you want to plan for a worst case scenario, keeping enough food for one year will keep you well protected.  Of course not all of us have the space or means to store that much, so you can aim for 3 to 6 months to start with.  If space is a huge issue (like if you’re living in a studio apartment that can only fit a bean bag chair), then you might need to consider finding another place to store your food and creating a plan to get there if the need arises.

So let’s say you’ve decided to store enough food for just yourself for one year.  Now what?  There are a few basic genres of food that you will need as your bare minimum requirements for survival: grains, legumes, dairy, fats, sweeteners, leavening agents, salt, and water.  A great resource for figuring out recommended amounts for each item type is the LDS calculator, as the Mormon Church has been practicing long-term food storage for generations.  Let’s break down some options for each food type.

Grains: 300 lbs.

Grain is powerful survival tool that has been used for thousands of years.  Because of its structure, grain in general is naturally protected from spoilage, so it will last much longer in whole form than any bag of flour.  Now, grain can count as any carbohydrate, such as pasta, bread, and cereal, but we’re just going to talk about the bulk foods, and you can decide to supplement or replace with other items later on.  One of the best grains to store is wheat.  It is extremely nutritious, and lasts many years if stored properly.  Plus, there are many varieties of wheat to choose from.  White rice is another great staple, especially for those who cannot eat gluten.  Make sure not to try storing brown rice, as the high levels of oil in the grain will cause it to spoil more quickly.  Rolled oats can be used to make porridge, and corn can be kept for cornbread.  I stocked up on popcorn, because I can grind it up if I want to bake, and if I feel in the mood for a snack, I can pop it on the stove.  Sometimes it’s the little things that keep life fun.

Legumes: 60 lbs.

Legumes are an excellent source of protein and fiber, which will keep you feeling full and nourished after your meal.  Dried or canned legumes also last longer on average than canned meat and are less expensive, so are an ideal protein source to keep in bulk.  You can prepare them many different ways, so with a little creativity you won’t get bored with your meals.  There are tons of choices of beans, so experiment and find your favorite kinds!  Some ideas to start are garbanzo beans (homemade hummus would be a delicious treat), black beans, black eyed peas, kidney beans, and lentils.

Milk: 75 lbs.

It may not be the most delicious, but powdered milk is essential to keep in your food storage.  It can last 2-10 years depending on how well it is stored (it must be kept in an air-tight container that blocks all light, and ideally is stored in a freezer).  You can also keep evaporated milk, which is better for cooking and baking (in my opinion), but only lasts one year.  You may not want to drink these on their own (blegh), but milk is very helpful in preparing other dishes, and is a good source of fat and protein.

Fats: 25 lbs.

Not only is fat an important part of a healthy diet, but it is absolutely necessary for cooking.  Have you ever tried scrambling eggs in a cast-iron pan without butter or oil?  Yeah, not pretty.  Oil can be one of the most difficult things to store because it spoils so quickly, but there are some options out there.  Extra virgin coconut oil lasts anywhere from 2-5 years, to indefinitely depending on how well it is stored.  You can also make or purchase ghee (aka clarified butter), or purchase commercially canned butter.  The USDA does not recommend canning your own butter, as it can easily lead to botulism poisoning.  If you’re looking for a fat source to just eat rather than cook with, peanut butter is always a good choice.  Try to find a brand that does not contain too much sugar or hydrogenated oils if you can.

Sweeteners: 60 lbs.

Ah yes, sugar: the arch nemesis of American health.  But in an emergency situation, sugar and other types of sweeteners are going to be an invaluable source of energy, and will help make your dishes more palatable.  You also don’t have to just store 60 lbs of refined sugar.  You can supplement it with brown sugar, jars of honey (preferably raw, unfiltered honey to preserve the nutrients from pollen), or blackstrap molasses (which is packed full of important vitamins).  If you intend to make jams or can fruit, you might need to add more sugar into the equation.  These sweeteners can also be stored for many, many years (although you should be eating and rotating through your pantry as a best practice), so a bit of up-front investment is going to pay off in the long run.

Leavening Agents: 2.5 lbs

You wouldn’t be able to bake much of anything except for hard, flat crackers if you don’t keep leavening agents around.  Luckily a little bit goes a long way.  Make sure to have plenty of baking soda and double acting baking powder.  You also will need to get yeast if you want to make bread. Unlike the other items on this list, yeast is actually a living organism, but it can stay alive for a remarkably long time if kept in an oxygen deprived environment – about 7-8 years – and even longer if kept in a freezer.  Depending on how much bread you intend to make throughout the year, you might need more yeast but half a pound is a good place to start.

Salt: 2.5 lbs

We always hear about how to be healthier we need to cut down on sodium, but the truth is salt is incredibly important and is one of the key minerals keeping you alive right now.  In fact, sodium (along with potassium) is vital for proper nerve function.  So make sure that you are including it in your food storage!  2.5 lbs of salt is purely the minimum amount you will need for eating. If you are planning on pickling veggies or preserving meat, you are going to need more, and you might need different kinds of salt for different tasks.  For eating, I would recommend keeping iodized table salt.  It is readily available and cheap, and also has iodine added to it.  This is good for a couple of reasons.  Your thyroid gland absorbs iodine, so a deficiency can lead to problems in your metabolism.  Another consideration is that in the case of a nuclear event, radioactive iodine will be released into the atmosphere and may become concentrated in the thyroid, causing a risk of thyroid cancer.  If you already have iodine in your diet, you have a smaller chance of absorbing large amounts of the radioactive kind.  On top of these important points, food just tastes better with a pinch of salt added!

Water: 14 gallons

The general rule of thumb is that you should have one gallon of water per person per day that you think you’ll have no access to water.  That would mean for a year for just one person you would need 365 gallons of water!  Now that is a feasible goal if you want to invest in large water tanks and have a place to store them, but for the average apartment-dwelling young professional that is just not realistic.  Instead, a safe bet is to keep 2 weeks’ worth of water on hand.  It would be ideal if you have another way to procure and purify water on top of this, but otherwise you’ll have to hope that after two weeks, water service will be restored to your area.

So there you go – the minimum food requirements to keep you alive for one year.  If you want to store for a smaller amount of time, say three months, you can just divide these numbers to work out how much you’ll need.  Keep in mind, this does not cover other foods you will likely need, such as vegetables, fruits, and meats, but it is a good place to start and you can build up over time.  Just buy a little bit every time you go to the grocery store, and you’ll have a full pantry before you know it.

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