The provident lifestyle includes living within our means, working hard, being content with what we have, diligently saving and preparing for rainy-day emergencies. We have found great joy and peace as have chosen to live providently.
One important aspect of living providently is to have a pantry filled with nutritious foods that will sustain your family without disrupting your normal diet for at least 3 months. We often hear the question: Why should I stock food in my home when the grocery store is right around the corner? We have learned that food storage:
- Saves time and money
- Buffers against personal financial crisis
- Provides hunger insurance
- Reduces stress
- Prepares for emergencies
Saves Time and Money
A well-stocked pantry will save you both time and money. We have raised 11 children on a federal employee salary and are able to provide well for our family. Feeding a large family on a limited budget may seem like an impossible feat unless you know a few secrets.
One secret to reducing your food budget is to have a 3 month, or more, supply of foods stashed away in your pantry. It reduces last minute trips to the grocery store, impulse spending and saves on gas. I rarely every have to run to the store for a missing ingredient and always have what I need to whip up treats for a hungry basketball team.
I am able to stock up when items go on a great sale. For instance, I know how much of each of the basic staples our family will go through in a year. When ketchup or green beans or brownie mixes go on sale for a killer price, I purchase enough to last for a year. Your goal may only be 3-6 months, but you probably aren’t feeding 11 hungry children.
I will admit that this doesn’t always work as planned. One time chocolate chips went on sale for 50 cents a bag. I thought I won the lottery and bought 300 bags. According to my calculations, those chocolate chips should last at least 2 years. A short 6 months later, I discovered that I didn’t have any chocolate chips for my cookies. Unbeknownst to me, the kids and their friends had started eating them by the bag. Surely it couldn’t have been me, could it?
Buffers Against Personal Financial Crisis
A 3 month supply of food is the perfect buffer when personal finances are strained. Normally, I continue to stock up and replace the items that we have used. However, sometimes the challenges in life have made me very grateful that we had those resources on hand.
Once a government shutdown meant that Jon’s paycheck was delayed for several weeks. Having a stocked pantry meant no stress about what we were going to eat.
I gave birth to twins 6 weeks early and they had an extended stay in the hospital. Even with a houseful of teenagers, I didn’t have to worry about any major grocery shopping for several months. It was a huge relief.
We have had other experiences with car repairs, medical bills and other unexpected expenses that have been easily managed because we had the ability to flex and didn’t buy groceries that month. Our food storage has enabled us to avoid going into debt to handle these financial emergencies.
Provides Hunger Insurance
We purchase insurance policies for our home, cars, and health and yet none of those are of any use for us if we starve to death. A pantry full of food is a great insurance policy against hunger and unlike other policies, there is a return on your investment.
Food insecurity and famines are increasing around the world. The economy, along with our food supply, is becoming increasingly fragile. There is great wisdom in stocking up on food while it is widely available and relatively inexpensive.
For more details read our post, Hunger Insurance – Don’t Get Caught Without It!
A pantry full of food provides a sense of security and peace. I have found that it also reduces the stress in my life. I am better prepared for the unexpected.
A surprise guest drops by for dinner and I am able to whip up something delicious on the spot. One of the children suddenly remembers that they had volunteered to bring a treat to an activity and that box of brownie mix comes to the rescue. Dinner for a sick neighbor is easily created without the time and expense of running to the store.
Prepares for Emergencies
Natural disasters are increasing exponentially. It is not a matter of if one strikes near you, just when and what form the disaster takes. Being prepared for the unexpected provides great peace and often mitigates some of the threats.
A winter storm blows in and knocks the power out. You don’t skip a beat and make it into a grand adventure because you have everything you need. That storm can last for weeks, and your family will be living well because you have a well-stocked pantry.
Check out our post Safe Indoor Emergency Cooking Solutions to make sure you are ready to cook your food when the power goes out.
Building a Short Term Supply of Everyday Foods
Now that we have established why you should spend the time and resources on building your food pantry. Let’s get to work on developing the perfect plan for you. It is important to consider the following aspects when developing your short term food storage plan:
- Time – What are your time restraints? Are we designing meals from scratch or from boxed mixes?
- Space – Food takes up a lot of room. Where are you going to store it?
- Preferences – What foods does your family like to eat?
- Finances – Can you afford to do this in one big Costco trip? Or will you need to slowly build your pantry by purchasing a few additional items each week?
- Special Needs – Do you have someone who has special dietary needs? A baby? Teenager? Allergies? Be sure to factor these into your plan.
Designer Plans for Building a 3 Month Food Supply
Don’t sweat this! Even an elephant can be cooked up if we take it one small step at a time. Relax and let’s look at some of the ways that our friends have built a supply of everyday foods to stock their pantry. Every family is unique and different storage plans work for different people.
Two Week Menu Plan
Develop a 2-week menu of meals. Start by asking each member of your family what their favorite meals are. McDonald’s is not an option so leave that, and all other fast food favorites, off the menu!
Select menus based around shelf stable ingredients. It is okay to include some frozen foods, but wisdom would dictate that most ingredients come from shelf stable easy-to-store items.
Let me use one of our family favorites as an example. Spaghetti with meatballs, green salad, green beans, and garlic bread make a delightful meal especially when followed with a slice of cheesecake.
The shelf-stable ingredients include the pasta, canned spaghetti sauce, green beans, ranch dressing mix, mayonnaise, powdered milk, and no-bake cheese cake. Frozen meatballs and bread dough are in the freezer, which we count in our three month supply. The fresh green salad is not a good storage item so it may or may not be available. Dinner will be fine without it.
Gather the recipes from your family survey and make a list of the ingredients for each one of them. You should have 14 breakfast, 14 lunch, and 14 dinner entrees. We have a hard time coming up with 14 different breakfast ideas so we use 7 breakfast entrees and double it. Multiply each ingredient by 7 and you have a 3 month supply of everything you need to make this menu for 3 months.
Once implemented, this plan can save a lot of “what’s for dinner” stress. Your menu may change a bit depending on the season. We eat differently in the winter than we do in the summer.
Plain Old Math
Plain old math is used to develop this plan. It just doesn’t get much easier. For this method, you have 90 breakfast entrées, 90 lunch entrées (optional), 90 dinner entrées, 90 fruit/vegetables/side dishes and, of course, 90 treats or desserts large enough to feed your family.
In addition to this, you need a healthy stock of basics such as flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vegetable oil, shortening, spices, cornstarch, vinegar, bouillon cubes, etc. The idea is to store what your family eats everyday so you never worry about wasting and you always have what you need on hand. This is how it might look for a family of six people.
- Breakfast – 30 boxes of cereal, 3 #10 cans powdered milk, 10 pounds complete pancake mix, 3 bottles maple syrup, and 30 packages of muffin mix. Juice mix or hot cocoa would be a nice addition. Mix it up anyway you like. You should have a total of 90 very basic breakfasts. You can use fresh milk and just store the powdered with your long term storage if you prefer.
- Lunch – Many people choose not to include lunch in their planning. That would be fine for adults, but not for children. It can be as simple as 30 cans of SpaghettiOs, 30 cans of mandarin oranges, 30 cans of chili, 6 boxes of crackers, 30 boxes of macaroni and cheese, 30 cans of green beans and enough drink boxes for each child to have one a day. Simple, basic stuff which you will rotate through anyway.
- Dinner – 15 cans of pasta sauce and packages of pasta, 15 boxes of Hamburger Helper, 15 cans of soup and 5 boxes of crackers, 15 packages of rice mix, 15 packages of gravy mix and 3 #10 cans of potato flakes, 15 cans of Chunky Soup and 30 pounds of rice, 90 cans of meat or 1 pound packages of frozen meat, 90 cans of vegetables, and 90 cans of fruit. Vary the menu any way you like. Shop the sales, but make sure you have basics you eat every day.
- Treats – Comfort foods are critical! What makes you feel better during times of high stress? It is different for everyone. Let’s include 10 cake mixes, 10 cans of frosting, 10 brownie mixes, 10 cookie mixes, 5 boxes of graham crackers, 30 packages of Jell-O, and 30 packages of pudding. One treat each day for 90 days. Include a #10 can of powdered eggs, powdered milk, and oil with your basics.
Tiffany’s Super Simple Plan – Part Math – Part Menu
Tiffany and her husband are busy professionals with a one year-old daughter. They live in a hot climate with no basement storage. Meals are simple and they eat out weekly. After considering their lifestyle, they settled on a plan which creatively combines both the plain math and the menu plan.
Their highest priority was to make sure that their toddler is well fed. Her 90 day supply is based on plain old math. Six boxes of Multigrain Cheerios, 6 boxes assorted crackers, 90 cans of assorted fruits, 90 cans of assorted vegetables, 90 boxes of shelf-stable milk, and 90 juice boxes.
Fat is important in a toddler’s diet so the shelf-stable milk is a better option than non-fat powdered milk at this point. She also stores a 3 month supply of baby vitamins.
Breakfast is usually hot or cold cereal. Simple math leaves them with 2 boxes of Cream of Wheat, 6 boxes of instant oatmeal, 24 boxes of cereal, 24 bottles of juice, and 3 #10 cans of powdered milk. Lunchtime usually consists of leftovers or lunches provided at work. Dave eats 2 packages of oatmeal every day at work, so they store an additional 12 boxes of instant oatmeal for his lunch.
The menu portion of the plan enters at dinner time. Tiffany calculates the ingredients for a dozen of their favorite meals and stores enough for three months. Her favorite comfort food is a fruit smoothie. She makes sure she has plenty of frozen fruit. Dave’s favorite comfort food is pizza, so they have plenty of frozen shredded cheese, pepperoni, turkey sausage, and other ingredients on hand.
Betty’s Box-a-Week Plan
Our dear friend, Betty, came up with a great plan which works perfectly for her family. She puts shelf-stable ingredients in a labeled office storage box that contains breakfast and dinner ingredients for one week. Apple boxes also work well. The boxes are carefully labeled with the individual contents and dates. She knows exactly how much food she has by simply counting her boxes.
She doesn’t worry about missing any ingredients that may have been accidentally used for a different meal. The boxes store nicely on top of each other in an out-of-the-way place. Rotation is simple. She takes a box and puts the contents into her pantry. The empty box is filled with a fresh supply and relabeled. She perfects her menu with each rotation and notes changes on the side of the box.
Our family uses the healthy harvest plan, along with a menu plan that Jon created on a spreadsheet. It requires a significant investment in both time and energy and is not right for everyone. We feel it is the healthiest, most sustainable, and least expensive way to obtain a food supply.
We grow a big vegetable garden along with fruit trees, berry bushes and grapevines. We raise a few chickens for fresh eggs. We take the bountiful harvest and bottle, freeze, dehydrate, or store it in a root cellar.
We take all of those beautiful fruits and vegetables and combine them with rice, beans, pasta and freshly made bread from our longer-term food supply. We add a freezer full of frozen meats and have delicious, and highly nutritious foods to feed our family.
We do not follow our menu exactly. We change it up depending on what is ripe in the garden or what I am in the mood for.
Meals in a Jar
I am a big fan of Chef Tess, also known as Stephanie Peterson. She wrote a book, The Meals in a Jar Handbook: Gourmet Food Storage Made Easy. If you lead a very busy life, this plan might work well for you.
Chef Tess includes recipes for breakfast, dinner and desserts that will feed 4-6 people. The dry ingredients for each recipe are placed in a quart jar and sealed with an oxygen absorber. The jars will remain self-stable for 5-10 years.
You may initially spend several hours creating your meal jars, but that investment pays off when dinner time approaches. In this plan, you just count the number of jars you have prepared and are ready to go. A 3 month supply of meals will include 90 breakfasts, 90 dinners, 90 desserts or treats and perhaps 90 bread jars.
It’s in the Bag – Fast Food Storage
It’s in the Bag a New Approach to Food Storage is another unique way to build your 3 month supply. It is a great idea for a busy family to save time every day.
All of the ingredients for each meal are placed in a reusable gift bag with the recipe on the front of the bag in a CD sleeve. When you want to make a meal you just grab a bag and 30 minutes later, dinner is served. A three month supply would require 90 breakfast bags, 90 lunch bags (if desired) and 90 dinner bags. It’s that easy.
Gather your favorite quick and simple recipes and make copies of them. One copy for each time you would like to eat that meal. Put the recipe in a CD sleeve taped to the front of the gift bag. Place all ingredients in the bag; can of pasta sauce, a bag of noodles, can of green beans, spices should be measured into a Ziploc snack sized bag. Include the appropriate amount of water bottles in the bag for any water the recipe calls for.
After the bag is used, place it with the others to be refilled. Everything is reused, including the Ziploc bags which held the spices. The authors of It’s In the Bag, Michelle and Trent Snow, suggest using regular tap water, when it is available, and just putting the unopened water bottles back to be used in another bag.
Some ingredients may be stored in the freezer, such as hamburger or shredded cheese.
Simplest Plan Yet – No Math
I use a variation of this plan … don’t tell Jonathan because he is an engineer who loves to do math. This plan would be inexcusable nonsense to him. But for a girl who isn’t overly fond of numbers, it works.
It is important to have a large pantry or storage area to make this plan work. Over time, you develop a general sense of how much food you go through in a certain period of time. The storage room must be highly organized and divided up into general categories. For instance;
- Proteins (canned meats, peanut butter, nuts, etc.)
- Fats (coconut oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, shortening, etc.)
- Dessert mixes
- Dinner mixes
- Starches (pasta, rice, rolled oats, potato flakes, etc.)
- Baking Staples (flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, spices, etc.)
Each category has a permanent labeled home in the pantry. It may make sense to label shelf space for some items within a category. Once established it is easy to know when you are getting low on an item at a glance.
A common practice in warehouse management is to take a photo of an item and place it behind where the item belongs. It makes it quite apparent when the item is missing and also helps others to remember where the item belongs.
One aspect that we didn’t discuss above is that in addition to a 3 month supply of every day foods it would be wise to include a stash of non-food personal items. We have listed a few ideas below.
- Hygiene items: toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash, hand soap, body wash, bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, diapers and baby wipes.
- Medications: 90 day supply of critical medications, pain relievers, cold/allergy medications, anti-nausea/anti-diarrhea medications and vitamins.
- First aid supplies: bandages, antibiotic cream/ointment, hydro-cortisone cream/ointment, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, and burn gel.
You Can Do This!
Which of these ideas appealed to you? Did it spark your creativity to design a plan that wasn’t presented above? Quite frankly, this is all about the unique needs of you and your family.
Start by developing a personalized plan, prepare a place to store your food and start stocking up a little each week. Make this a priority and make consistent progress until you achieve your goal.
Once you have your 3 month supply, then get to work on obtaining your longer term food supply to sustain you if life gets really tough. Visit our post Long Term Food Storage: Creative Solutions to Build a Critical Asset to get started. If you are struggling to find a place to put all of your food storage check out our post Ingenious Places to Store Your Emergency Food Supply for some great ideas from our friends with lots of photos.
Don’t ever get up! I am confident that you can build your family food stores and be ready for the challenges that are in our future. Knowing that you have enough food to care for your family when times get tough will bring amazing peace of mind. The time may come when you look back with incredible gratitude for the sacrifices you make now to build your food supply.
Remember that true wealth is measured by a full pantry.
Thanks for being part of the solution!