When talking to people about stocking an emergency pantry, people often say they don't know where to start or how to calculate what they will need for their family. That can be a daunting process if you look at it as the big picture.; What I suggest is to break things out into smaller, more easily-handled tasks. I think that the best place to start is to look at what you cook at home right now and write it down in a notebook that you have designated for this project. Mark down what you and your family eat, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, remember to note condiments that you used and what beverages you had.. Also make note of how often you eat out and what you eat when you do go out for a meal. Save your shopping lists and your cash register receipts, put them in an envelope that you have taped to the back inside cover of your notebook. Keep diligent notes for a month. This information will be used to help you make a plan for beginning your emergency pantry. For the present you will be focusing on building up your every day food supplies, we will call this your "Three Month Pantry". The goal for this pantry is to provide your family with foods that can be used daily, rotated and restocked frequently. But that will ultimately have a three month stockpile of foods available in the event of a short term emergency situation.
During the month that you are collecting data about what you eat, you can begin to look around for an area that you can designate to hold you pantry supplies. I know that this may actually be the hardest part of the process... Many people live in apartments with little storage, or in homes, but are up to the gills in stuff and have no where to put anything. This might be a good time to take stock of what you have and what you need, to de-clutter and pass along things you don't use or that are just taking up space. If you are an apartment dweller, does the apartment complex give you a storage locker or outdoor shed
that you can store some of your possessions in to make room for your
food stockpile inside the where it is climate controlled? Can you spare 6 inches of floor space and pull your couch out from the wall, so that you can store some supplies behind it? My son did this in his apartment. He made room behind the couch by pulling it out several inches,(6-8"), then used the area he made to hold some of his storage goods. He kept the end tables up against the wall to hide the gap,; I never even noticed that he had done so until he pointed it out. Consider under-used spaces like the top shelves in closets, how about that dead space at the back of a kitchen base cabinet that you have to be a contortionist to get into? Can you put your bed on risers and use the space under the beds? Do you have a closet you can retask by de-cluttering? How about a garage? Do you have a designated junk/storage room that you can organize and use part of ? At one point in our lives, we used some of our storage as furniture... instead of an end table we had a crate of stockpiled good that we topped with a piece of plywood and covered with a pretty table cloth and a lamp. No one ever noticed that it wasn't a table. The same thing could be done for a coffee table. We did away with our bed frame and used our 2 gallon long term storage buckets, covered by a dust ruffle to hold up our box spring and mattress... it worked fine and we never had to clean under the bed! How much space you can carve out will determine how much of a stockpile you can realistically put aside as a reserve.
I have already written a blog post on this subject, but I feel like more detail would be helpful, so I will elaborate and hope to not repeat myself. To read the first blog post on this subject, go here. For simplicity of illustration, lets suppose that you found adequate space for your emergency pantry goods, inside your living space, with easy access. Now it is time to take all the notes you have been compiling on your eating and shopping habits and turn them into a comprehensive list of your most often used food items. From the list of meals that you prepared during the month, write down the ingredients that you used for each of the recipes. Once you have done this for all the recipes, you should start to see some patterns emerge. Are there ingredients that were used in the majority of the recipes you prepared? Make a list of these items on a separate Item page, one food item per line. Each time an item appears in the recipe notes, make a mark next to it on the Item list. This Item List will tell you which foods you use the most. Look at your cash register receipts to see if there are repeat items on them, if there is a repeat item on the receipts that is not on your Item List, add it to the list. What you want to end up with is a list of items that you can use as a shopping list to begin your emergency pantry.
At this point you will be able to see what foods your family most commonly eats. These foods, coupled with some staple items like sweeteners, salt, oil or shortening, flour and seasonings, will be the base that you will build your pantry stock on. Now you are ready to start adding these items to your regular shopping list. Start with the foods on the Item List that are used the most. If there is an item on your regular shopping list that is also on your item list, then put a star next to it on your shopping list and purchase two of those items instead of one. In the case of fresh meats or produce, purchase your fresh items for immediate use and a shelf stable version of the same item for you stockpile. For example, if you have meat on your menu frequently, then buy whatever meat you will use for your meals this week and then add at least on can of some kind of shelf stable meat, poultry or fish to your stockpile. It may not be fiscally possible, every time you shop, to get doubles of all the things that match on your grocery shopping list and the Item List. So on each trip try to add at least a few things to your pantry stock, starting with the things that are used the most and moving down the list from there. This is a great time to plan your weekly menus by watching for sales, and clipping coupons for items that you regularly buy, to keep the costs of stocking up to a minimum.
In order to make sure that you are covering all the important bases, here is a list of items that would be important to have in an emergency. Shelf stable milk, either aseptic boxes, evaporated canned milk, or dried milk powder, shelf stable fats, like coconut oil , ghee, canned shortening, and to a lesser degree olive oil or vegetable oil. These fats need to be rotated out of stockpile and into the kitchen regularly, since they can go rancid. When you use your kitchen supply of oil up, then shop from your pantry stockpile
to replace kitchen stock and replace the emergency supply on your regular grocery trip. Shelf stable meats, poultry and fish, need to be in your pantry stock, to take the place of fresh meats, etc. if there is no way to get to a store. Sweeteners, flour, grains, canned vegetables, canned soups and stocks, pasta, rice, and spices and seasonings, can help to round out a menu should you have to depend on your emergency pantry to put meals on the table. I don't stock any beverages except bottled water in my emergency pantry. Since water is very important to health, especially in stressful situations I don't want to have less healthful choices available. Also fruit juices and bottled drinks don't have a long shelf life so I don't spend money on them.
These are the beginning steps to establishing an emergency pantry. There is still much left to do, but if you start by buying shelf stable versions of the foods that you eat the most, then you will be well on your way to having a stockpile of food that you can depend on in an emergency.
In future posts on stocking an emergency pantry, I will discuss Beginning a long Term Pantry. Until next time!