For years, leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have counseled their members to store shelf-stable foods for times of emergency. Living in an area where hurricanes are prevalent, our family saw first hand the reason for being prepared. The day the storm rolled in you were either prepared or you weren’t. There were no grocery stores open for business, no gas to drive to a different area and no community resources available for several days. Sometimes the “emergency” may be as simple as losing a job, and therefore a chunk of income. Again, having some food to fall back on can bring peace of mind.
Church guidelines recommend starting with a 3-month supply of food, using basic items your family eats regularly — extra canned soups, cereal, canned meats, etc. Once you have that in place, begin working toward a longer-term supply of shelf-stable foods. These are items like wheat, beans, rice and powdered milk. Although these foods are full of nutrition, they’re often things today’s families don’t eat regularly and it takes a bit of work to figure out what to do with them.
There are about a hundred different ways to structure your food storage. You can… store the basic ingredients recommended by the LDS church (oil, wheat, rice, pasta, salt, yeast, milk, beans). You can buy a freeze-dried food storage that is custom-tailored to your family (some run up to $10,000! Yikes!) You can use a bag system where all ingredients for a particular meal go into a bag or container. One friend of mine has even divided her storage into thirds. She stores 1/3 frozen (plus fuel to keep the generator running), 1/3 canned and 1/3 freeze-dried + water. We believe no matter which method you choose, planning ahead of time what to do with your storage is valuable.
When I began our family’s food storage, I worked toward storing the list recommended by the LDS church. I diligently acquired wheat and powdered milk. What I didn’t acquire immediately was the knowledge of what to do with it. I learned to make wheat bread, but powdered milk! Ugh! I was troubled by the idea that I was storing things in an impractical way – for example, chili is great, but dry beans from a #10 can by themselves? Not so great. So I added some spices, a few cans of cream soup and some tomatoes to our storage.
After several years of floundering around, Robin and I attended a Relief Society meeting where the sisters presented different ways of approaching food storage. We were inspired by that meeting and began working out our own plan, based on an idea called 19X19. It’s pretty simple. You choose 19 meals your family likes to eat that you can store easily and store each of them 19 times. (that’s 361 meals, which is about 1 year). Finally I felt like I was storing food that I knew what to do with! And I had the peace of knowing I had enough!
Since identifying WHAT you’re going to be eating is a pretty basic first step no matter how you decide to food storage, that’s where we recommend starting!
Some guidelines for identifying your 19 meals
1. Does my family really like this? I started with tuna casserole on the list because it’s filled with things that are easy to store. What could be better?! After I stored enough supplies for tuna casserole 19 times, I discovered that in my family, we all hate tuna casserole!
2. Does this dish use items that are possible to food storage? You may love steak and baked potatoes…however, not so easy to food storage! Now there are a ton of things available in freeze-dried format (cheese and pork chops, for example!) that you may not think of as food storage, so it doesn’t just have to be beans and rice! For example, they make eggs, cheese, butter, chicken…all sorts of things in storable form now.
3. How expensive are the items I’m planning to use? Is it reasonable? I could store pork chops for one of my meals and it would cost me over $350 just for the pork chops…so even though I could, I probably won’t!
4. How versatile is what I’m storing? I really like to store canned items that I can use in my 19 recipes AND a bunch of recipes that aren’t part of my storage. That way my pantry is well stocked (fewer emergency runs to the grocery store) and it’s easier to rotate my canned stuff without getting sick of my food storage meals.
5. Just because you start with it on your list doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever…There are things on my list that were a good beginning point. Take cracked wheat cereal, for example. It’s relatively cheap and easy to store. I don’t have to rotate it, and it has good nutrition. It’s on my breakfast menu twice. However, I’m moving toward storing granola for one of those days instead. To do that, I’ll use some of that wheat in my bread and slowly build up my supply of granola ingredients. Changes are fairly easy to make after you have a well-stocked pantry!
6. Don’t go crazy! When Robin and I first did this we decided that 19 wasn’t nearly enough variety. I think we started with lists of 65 meals that we were going to use 6.5 times each. The variety of our storage was going to be amazing…and complicated! We learned quickly that it’s really hard and frustrating to try to track and rotate miniscule numbers of 9000 different items. It’s much more doable to keep it simple, and in an emergency, I don’t think our families will mind having to repeat food every 6 weeks or so.
Each method of storing food has pros and cons
Freeze-dried products taste awesome (almost exactly like fresh!) and they store longer so you don’t have to rotate them as often. However, you can buy canned chicken and throw it away 5 times before it costs as much as buying the same amount of chicken in freeze-dried format. In addition, you either have to eat it dry or have the water to rehydrate it when the time comes.
Frozen is fantastic, too…unless you lose power and everything in your freezer goes bad. If you plan to use this method of storage, be sure you have a generator and gas to run it.
Canned is cheap and could even be a source of a little extra liquid (around the fruits and veggies), but the flavor isn’t as good, it tends to be filled with salt or sugar, and it’s heavy, if you move often.
So, your solution? Use some of each. Maybe you keep several meals worth of frozen chicken and cheese in your freezer. In an emergency you could eat those things first before they spoil. Perhaps there are some freeze-dried items that are worth the extra cost (I keep green peas, broccoli, zucchini, bananas and strawberries in this form.) I got them on sale and love that I don’t have to rotate them very often! Consider what canned items your family will use on a day-to-day basis and stock up.
After you’ve got your 19 list solid, move to Food Storage 202 to learn more about acquiring, tracking and rotating your storage.