Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Bessie M. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.
In the prepping world some people differentiate between long-term food storage and short-term food storage. Some don’t. Long-term storage stores longer (you probably figured that out on your own). It doesn’t have to be rotated as quickly, though you should always strive to rotate. It is generally much less expensive, and takes less space than short-term storage foods, and it is loaded with calories and the basic building blocks for nutrition (at least, it should be). In general, long-term storage food staples like whole grains, beans, flour, oil, sugar, etc., aren’t usually eaten on their own and they can take considerable time to prepare. They are not the foods you want to have when a natural disaster strikes.
That’s what short-term food storage is for.
Short-term food storage is a supply of foods that you normally eat. In our family, we aim for a minimum three-month supply. When TEOTWAWKI hits, especially if it is a natural disaster or involves the loss of the power grid, those initial days are going to be highly stressful. This is not the time to make dietary changes or to have the stress of preparing new and unfamiliar meals from scratch. This is definitely the time to keep meals as close to normal as possible for you and your family, especially children. You really don’t want to add stress to your digestive system. That will only make life a lot more stressful. Because it will also be hard to think and plan meals, you will be much better equipped to deal with the disaster if you have prepared in advance.
Planning for Short-Term Food Storage
In the first one to three days of TEOTWAWKI, you’re dealing with the shock of it all, with multiple problems. Over the years in our family we’ve experienced several power outages and several boil water orders. However, we’d never dealt with both at the same time, and so we decided to give that a try. I was truly astonished at how difficult it was to create meals—and this was during a time when there wasn’t the added stress of a real emergency. We were just trying to get an idea of what it would be like without clean water and power. Of course, we had water stored—a lot of it. But in a real disaster you don’t necessarily know when the water is going to be safe again, so you want to be careful with your supplies. I didn’t want to make meals that required a lot of water to prepare or to wash afterwards. The whole experience was quite eye-opening.
So when TEOTWAWKI hits, you’re going to want to eat foods from the fridge and freezer first, if possible, if they don’t require much preparation. Beyond that, you’ll want true convenience foods. A few cases (depending on family size) of MREs and freeze-dried foods would be reasonable. We have three cases of MREs here, to be used as a last resort due to the high salt, fat, and calorie content (not necessarily a bad thing, especially for those involved in heavy physical labor). However, you really want to make sure you have some laxative to help pass it. Freeze-dried foods and meals are more expensive than MREs but can be prepared just as quickly. They do require water to re-hydrate, but lack the undesirable constipating effects of MREs. And they generate very little in the way of dirty dishes.
After the first three days, things are still going to be difficult. You are still going to want convenience-type foods that you normally eat. For breakfast meals you’ll want boxes of cereal, instant oatmeal packets, freeze-dried fruit to add some variety, and shelf-stable milk. Pancake mix will work when you need a little change. Powdered eggs can provide for instant scrambled eggs, but they have a greyish tint to them that some find unappealing. Plan to have some salsa or ketchup (or low lighting) to hide the color. And you can’t go wrong with hot chocolate. Breakfast is also a good time to include a multi-vitamin for each member of the group.
For lunches canned soups (make sure to get a good variety) and chili will still be very quick and easy. Boxes of macaroni and cheese can be prepared without too much trouble, assuming you have milk and (shelf stable boxes of milk or evaporated milk) and butter (freeze-dried butter, or coconut oil makes a surprisingly good butter substitute). Crackers and peanut butter, canned or dried fruits, and some juice boxes will round out your midday meals.
As far as dinners go, you’ll want some packages of hamburger helper (make sure to get varieties you actually enjoy) and cans of stew. You definitely want several boxes of instant rice. Not only does instant rice take far less time to prepare, it also needs far less water. Rice-a-roni and couscous (plain and flavored) are also prepared fairly quickly and will add variety to your diet. Canned meats, such as hamburger for adding to your hamburger helper, canned vegetables and canned fruits will round out your meals. As you purchase your canned goods, bear in mind that cans with the pull tabs that you just peel back and don’t require a can opener are not as sturdy as the cans that don’t have the pull tabs. I’d go with the sturdier can any day.
For treats have on hand small packages of a wide variety of foods. You’ll want healthier items such as jerky, dried fruit, and nuts, as well as sweet comfort foods such as cookies and candy. Chips don’t store as long or as well, but you understand the need to rotate your foods, right? Also consider storing pretzels, goldfish crackers, or whatever items your family enjoys.
These foods will eventually run out, and they aren’t necessarily all that healthy. Again, as you build this short-term food storage, remember the importance of variety. I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t be like my son’s college roommate out on his own for the first time. He bought a case of Chef Boyardee raviolis and thought he was set. After ten days into this experience, he realized the error of his ways and spent the rest of the semester trying to trade it away. He was never successful—and he never finished the case. This three-month supply is to be utilized as you gradually transition your body and taste buds and cooking skills to long-term storage foods.
In addition, as you build this storage, make sure you have enough calories, like 2,500-3,000 calories per person. Yes, this is at least 500-600 more calories than most people need each day. If TEOTWAWKI isn’t stressful or demanding a lot of you physically, you’ll have extra food. You’ll never regret having stored too many calories. And please don’t deceive yourself into thinking it will be the ideal time to start your diet. With the stress and exertion, you’ll start shedding pounds immediately. Don’t add the stress of insufficient calories. I often see companies promoting a 1,200 calorie per day meal package, or a plan that suggests 1,600-1,800 calories per day will be adequate. Now this is fine for children, but not for teens, not for adults, and not for anyone who is experiencing stress. It’s not sufficient for anyone doing heavy labor, like often occurs in a disaster, and not for cold temperatures when the body needs more calories.
Unfortunately, I can’t really provide a shopping list of exact foods and quantities to purchase. For one thing, individual tastes vary widely. For another, the food manufacturers are constantly changing the packaging, labeling, and ingredients. Sometimes the packages are actually decreased in size. Sometimes the manufacturers maintain the same can size, but they actually decrease the amount of food and increase the amount of water. And sometimes they do both while claiming to have the same number of servings per container, even though they have decreased the number of calories in those servings. It’s something we all have to pay attention to when we shop.
And finally, as you build your short-term food storage, make sure you store it properly. Properly means cool, dark, and dry. It does not mean in a hot garage or in the attic. Nothing decreases the nutritional value and palatability of food faster than heat. The number of people who disregard or ignore this counsel is staggering. Do store your food in closets, under the bed, in the basement, etc. The cooler, the better. If you haven’t started yet, begin building your storage today with a trip to the store on your way home from work. You’ll be glad you did.