Friday Food Storage Quickie: Now’s the Time to Take Inventory

Sharon October 24th, 2008

Ok, I have no idea whether the fact that world markets are falling like stones and Karl Denninger started drinking at 5:30 am means anything.  Could be a big deal, could not be - my bet would tend to be on “big deal” but y’all know I have predilictions in that regard. But now is as good a time as any to call for an inventory - how are you situated?  What’s missing?

Now let me be clear - I’m not suggesting you should panic at all.  Even if we are having a stock market crash, the reality is that the present economic model of “a rising tide swamps all boats” will probably take a while to trickle down to most of us.  If you’ve already lost your job or are in crisis, you may not be able to do much - but inventory of your resources is valuable even then.  What I’d suggest for those already in crisis is to begin to consider your options - could you consolidate housing?  Take in a boarder?  Take a job outside your field?  There are a lot of things you can’t control right now, but you might as well take control of the ones you can.

 If you are just beginning to store food, look at these posts:  The first explores the very basics, for people on a low income.  The second covers things in more depth, and the third explores other cheap ways to get food.  I’ve also included my suggestions for food storage shopping if you ever have to do it in an already developed crisis, as the last piece here.  Note, that I really recommend you *not* wait that long.

If you’ve been working on this, but you don’t feel you are ready, here are some questions to ask yourself, and some possible remedies.

1. Do I have staple foods that I can rely on as the basis of my meals?  A staple is a nutritious starch that contains some protein as well, and that can meet most of your needs.  It could be a grain - most Americans rely on bread for our staple starch.  But it can also be oatmeal, corn (if you are primarily relying on corn, it must be corn that is nixtamalized, so that you won’t get a major nutritional deficiency - you only have to worry about this if you are mostly eating corn, not if you eat an occasional meal of tortillas - so if you are storing whole corn, know how to process it, and if you are buying cornmeal, buy masa, not plain corn meal), barley, quinoa - or root crops.  You can also rely primarily on potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, turnips and other roots, or a combination of those.

You can order bulk grains online or through a coop or whole foods.  This time of year, you can often get a 50lb sack of potatoes or sweet potatoes quite cheaply.  Ethnic markets often have good deals on grains as well.  Don’t forget popcorn and pasta.

 Here are a couple of posts about staple foods:

2. Do I have protein foods that can supplement my staples?  This is not as important as the staples - if you had to, you could get along quite well with just a starch for some time, but you wouldn’t enjoy it.  And diabetics, hypoglycemics and others would struggle with this.  For most people with normal diets, you need about 1/3 to 1/4 protein dense foods.

What are some choices here? The traditional choice is some kind of legume - beans, split peas, lentils, cowpeas.  You could buy dry milk - mixed with oatmeal, or into flour in a dairy bread recipe, that would be enough to sustain you, but it gets kind of boring.  You could can your own meats and fish, or buy pre canned meat and fish that your family likes if you like meat.  You could also add seeds - sunflower, flax, pumpkin seeds, or nuts like almonds or filberts.  Powdered eggs don’t taste very good, but they will allow you to bake, and add necessary protein.  Or perhaps you have eggs, if you just store enough chicken feed.  What you do is up to you and your budget.  Think about foods you know your family will eat and that they like.

 3. Do I have some fruits and vegetables to add flavor, fiber and nutrition?  The two hardest to cover vitamins are vitamin C and A.  So choosing C and A rich fruits and vegetables to add to your storage reduces the danger of both nutritional deficiency and constipation.  For vitamin A, canned pumpkin, squash or sweet potatoes, or fresh stored orange vegetables are the best option.  For vitamin C, dried elderberries or rose hips are an excellent source.  You can and should also have some seed that can be sprouted for fresh green vegetables if you live in a place where you can’t easily go out and forage a safe, unsprayed supply of greens (dandelions, plantain, chicory, etc…) all year ’round.  Or you should have them if you don’t know how to recognize those foods.  Wheat seeds are easy to sprout, but you might prefer broccoli, radish or others.  These can be bought online or at a supermarket or health food store.  I would recommend more vegetables and fruits as well - either dried, canned or kept in cold storage.

4. Fat.  You need some cooking oil.  You probably already have preferences on this, but most oils will keep a couple of years in a cool dark place.  Oh, and everyone will probably want some salt (salt is necessary for life, so buy a few boxes) and sweetener.  These are cheap and useful at making food palatable.  Add in as many inexpensive spices as you can afford, or as many home-dried herbs as you can gather.  These make the difference between survival and misery.

4.  Do I have the basic ingredients of making meals we eat?  Think about what you actually eat for breakfast, lunch and dinnner.  Do you like granola?  Well, then you need some oats, nuts, maybe a bit of honey and oil.  Can you not imagine a meal without bread?  Make sure you have yeast and salt.  Think about what you need in terms of the things that make you happy. 

5. Do I have water stored?  This is an easy one - go raid your neighbor’s recycling bins and fill the bottles with water.  If you don’t plan to rotate them every few months, add a drop of bleach to each one.  All done.  Now make sure you have something to flavor the water, because stored water tastes a little icky - you can get tang, which has vitamin C, tea, coffee, or just go pick some mint to add to your water.  Think again about what you need to feel good.

6. Do I have multivitamins at a minimum?  What about other supplements that I might need?  Our family keeps not only multivitamins for kids and adults, but also vitamins C, E and fish oil capsules (the latter don’t keep long).  Do I have a reliable way of getting necessary medications?

7. What about basic hygeine items?  Think soap, shampoo, toothpaste and tooth brushes, vinegar or some other cleaner, laundry detergent or borax, as well as toilet paper.  You can substitute for some of these - you can use diluted Dr. Bronner’s soap for almost all these needs, baking soda in place of tooth paste and deoderant, and use cloth for toilet paper if need be, but if these items will make you happier and more comfortable, store them.  Make sure you have plenty of soap!  Washing hands will be essential.

8. If my basics are covered, are there luxury items I’d like to add?  Are there things my family needs or wants that would be useful? If the crisis overlaps holidays or festivals that are important to me, are there ways of storing items to allow us familiar treats or special foods?

Have I prepared for household pets and livestock?  Do I have adequate food for them, or ways of making a nutritious diet for them out of my stored staples? 

9. Do I have warm clothes, blankets, a way of heating myself, my home and/or food?  Do I have flashlights and batteries, a cell phone charger? How will I cook, bathe and do laundry without power?  That is, am I ready for an emergency?  My claim is not that we are facing an immanent one, but that we’ve already seen an increase in emergencies, and a slow down in our response to them - being able to take care of your own needs.

Am I prepared to deal with basic medical needs, or to handle an acute situation when I cannot reach a hospital or when they are overflowing?  Do I have a book on first aid, or better yet, have I taken basic first aid, CPR and medical response classes?  Do I have a good first aid kit?  Does my household have a supply of basic OTC medications, and perhaps a broad-spectrum antibiotic (and the wisdom to use it only when truly necessary?)  Do I know how to handle the range of basic injuries?  Check out Chile’s first aid kit info:

10. Do I have mental health needs met?  That is, can I handle the stress of a difficult period - a job loss, service loss or other crisis?  Do I have ways to keep busy, to feel productive?  Do we have games and educational materials to keep kids entertained and learning?  Does my family have the habit of supporting each other through difficult times - do I have a strategy for dealing with stress productively?  Do we have ways to have fun - music, games, sports equipment, books whatever our family likes to do?  Can I not panic, and keep a sense of perspective

Again, none of this should panic you.  Answering “not yet” to some of these is not the end of the world. It should simply move you towards the next step, and the next.



21 Responses to “Friday Food Storage Quickie: Now’s the Time to Take Inventory”

  1. risa bon 24 Oct 2023 at 10:15 am

    Our water is dependent on our electric connection, except when the little creek is running, December to June (but it tends to be high in nitrates and such) so right now we are concentrating on flushing and reviving the spare well, which hasn’t been used in thirty years. It’s shallow enough to run on a pitcher pump, though we might need one that can go deeper than 25 feet — in other words, the one in our possession is possibly too cheap.

    For most other things we have probably prepped about as “well” as we can.


    Sharon, we’re giving away 8 copies of your book this December — and my father-in-law loves his, which came last week. Thank you!!

  2. Chileon 24 Oct 2023 at 11:48 am

    For #8, my post on making liqueurs might be handy. LOL!

    Good advice as usual, Sharon. We’re actually feeling pretty okay about our preparations, but we wish we could find the right property at the right price, out of the big city. And having our vehicle in the shop right now seems like bad timing, but it sure is going to make me ride my bike more. Wouldn’t ya know that tonight’s CSA share includes a great big carving pumpkin.

  3. Shambaon 24 Oct 2023 at 11:57 am

    Thank you for the calmness that comes through in all your posts, Sharon. Today I’m meeting a friend for lunch where I used to work. We’re both packing our lunches though and taking them with us. That’s a first for us but our weather is beautiful today and we may have a picnic lunch. :)


  4. Aaronon 24 Oct 2023 at 12:04 pm

    Yes, it’s a big deal. Though lengthy, watching Roubini’s talk is worth it to get a sense of what we are looking at going forward:

    Although things seemed to improve earlier this week, that trend has not continued. Credit markets showed hopeful signs of thawing but the ice never cracked. LIBOR is worse today than yesterday and never did significantly improve beyond the three week term. If there is no counterparty trust three weeks or more into the future, there isn’t much of an economy. And the Baltic Dry Index has continued its relentless plunge.

    “The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of commodity-shipping rates, declined 5.9 percent yesterday in London, the lowest since Sept. 11, 2002. The gauge has plunged 62 percent since Oct. 3, the last time it rose.”

    Godspeed to all in these times!

  5. Leila Abu-Sabaon 24 Oct 2023 at 12:36 pm

    I still think it’s something we’ll all get through… and I’m grateful for this series, because it’s making me stay on top of my stored water supplies. My staple foods pantry is decently stocked (we have at least a month’s worth of food plus enough to spare for relatives or neighbors) and I’m organizing bug-out bags with food and camping gear. We live in earthquake country, I feel it’s important to be prepared to camp out for some time. BUT our water supplies have dwindled since the last time I stocked up. I really don’t want to go buy more plastic gallon bottles but I think I shall, and then refill them with tap water.

    Am training hubby not to throw out the plastic club soda bottles he likes to buy during hot weather. They are refilled with tap water and sitting by the back door.

    If I had the energy, we’d drive over to Marin and buy a 55 gallon water storage barrel… but how do you fill such a thing - the garden hose has lead in it, right? Ak.

  6. Greyon 24 Oct 2023 at 1:13 pm

    I’ve been working hard all year to preserve all kinds of food by drying, canning and yes, freezing. We have a woodstove to keep the house warm (it’s our primary heat source) and I love cooking soups, which would be easy to do on top of the stove.

    I’m about to order a bag of hard red wheat, and another of soft white. I’m adding to our bean collection, and we have lots and lots of dried pasta on hand (I hit a big sale on whole-wheat pasta a few months ago). Otherwise, we’re fairly well stocked around here and can survive a month or more easily.

    In addition, I’ve amended my raised beds so they have clear plastic covers - making them mini-greenhouses in which I have been planting greens like broccoli, spinach and lettuce in.

    Medicinally, I’ve been studying herbs and been making all kinds of tinctures and getting into salves and such. My herb garden is growing every year, and so does my knowledge on the application of each herb.

    Love your blog - you are such an inspiration!

  7. Christinaon 24 Oct 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Leila, you can borrow or purchase a potable water hose - we had to figure that out when we did our waterbirths.

  8. Matriarchyon 24 Oct 2023 at 1:40 pm

    Happily, I found your blog 6 months ago, so I’ve had time to wrap my head around these ideas, and then get busy. Your “Adapting in Place” class online was also a big help. I have more than 3 months of stored food, and we are eating from it. Still weak on water, and a bit short on non-food items like batteries and jar lids. We are moving my mom in with us for the winter, in preparation for our longer-range plan to fix up her house and hunker down there. Our household is FAR better prepared than it would have been. Thanks, Sharon!

  9. Fernon 24 Oct 2023 at 4:54 pm

    It’s a bit late - but I’m going to quibble with Ms. Mouse’s figures for oatmeal. One half cup of oatmeal, dry - the usual serving - is NOT 4 oz. It’s 40 gms, less than 1.5 oz, and only 150 calories.

    People must have really been freaking out over stocks when the market opened in the US this morning - it took 20 minutes for my on-line brokerage account to come up: every single other person must have been trying to be online there at the same time. I sign on every morning at that time, I run the retirement fund for our company and HAVE to have it up. If I was trying to buy or sell during that time, I’d have been furious or scared, I suppose.


  10. Gracieon 24 Oct 2023 at 5:34 pm

    We’ve been stocking up for a long time now, so I have weeded out the things we don’t use any more. We eat from our stock regularly, so it’s continually turning over. We’ve got enough for the two of us for a year or more, or, if I’m going to feed the entire family, which would consist of 10 adults and four children, now one infant and another infant after the first of the year, I could feed all of us for at least three months, perhaps more, considering the other families would have some food of their own.

    I started listing my food inventory on my blog a while back and haven’t ever finished it. Seems like now might be a good time.

  11. Karinon 24 Oct 2023 at 8:07 pm

    This is when the IDC demands creativity. The Garden is done for the year (except for kale, spinach and carrots under cover). A friend just gave me a bushel of beets (oy) so that will be the last of the canning.

    I am focusing on putting away some rainy day money at home. Just in case.

    Winter clothes are easy to find right now, so getting some stashed away for the kids in bigger sizes is on the goodwill list.

    Winter feels like it is knocking on our door, so we are still building a wood supply. We have what we need for the winter but we have access to free wood we have to cut; so we cut what we can.

    We have saved seed and purchased some seed from fedco at their end of year sale at the Common Ground Fair.

    Summer water is covered but we are more likely to lose our power in the winter so I will beef up water supplies at home. And hope we have a snowy winter. A good neighbor has a hand pump so getting containers to haul water should be on the list.

    Most of these things might have been on the list anyway as homesteaders. But we don’t feel that we have the luxury of saying, “oh well, next year”. Nothing is certain.

  12. conchscooteron 24 Oct 2023 at 11:50 pm

    I have my own water catching system off the roof with a 12,000 gallon storage tank ( the size of a small room) and I am slightly surprised to find that my sweet tasting filtered water may soon be a survival tool? Living in the Florida Keys means we can grow vegetables year round pretty much ignoring the seasons Up North and if the a/c fails we won’t need blankets anymore. I find my head spinning contemplating a future where these esoteric things may mean something more than water that tastes better than the aqueduct supplied stuff.

  13. aurorabon 24 Oct 2023 at 11:53 pm

    Thanks to this blog, we’re in better shape than we’ve ever been before. Living in the UP, I’ve always done some stocking up to get ready for winter – power outages and road closures are always a possibility during blizzard time. But this blog has really helped me get organized to be ready for disruptions of longer duration than a few days. We have more things to do (probably always will) but I feel like we’ve covered the basics.

    Thanks to you, Sharon, and everyone who comments. Your help and support is better than Xanax, no matter what the NYT says!

  14. Ebyon 25 Oct 2023 at 6:29 am

    RE:First Aid Kit.

    Include a copy of “Where There is No Doctor” in the big kit. If you have a genuine emergency, and no phones, you’ll be glad you have it. Its available in many languages, and is public domain.

    You can order a copy from your favorite bookseller, or just print off the PDF. Personally I have a rather large library of ebooks. Some of which would get printed to have for immediate access if things began looking really bad. Others are safely on a CD, where I can charge a laptop battery (by hand if needed) to get information on projects that aren’t time-critical (planting, construction, etc).

  15. Chris Mon 25 Oct 2023 at 10:07 am

    Thanks so much for this. Really well thought-out, useful information, and exactly what I have been trying to do on my own, compile a list of things we’re going to need to live sustainably and self-sufficiently. My partner and are are still looking around for the “where”… an intentional community perhaps, or small-close knit rural community, but this posting has really helped with the initial planning. Great work! Please keep it up.


  16. Pine Ridgeon 25 Oct 2023 at 10:46 am

    The first thing I always do when I feel panic-y is do an inventory. Now, I don’t write things down or actually count how much I have… but when you use your pantry every day it just becomes an extension of your kitchen. I know I am low on something if it doesn’t fill up “x” amount of room on a shelf. I do get nervous when the coffee runs low though, lol.

    For those just starting to stock up the holidays are a good time to get baking supplies and a few extra turkeys or hams for the freezer (or can them!) I haven’t seen butter on sale yet, but I get as much as I can afford in the winter and stash it in the freezer.

    Also, while things are still abundant and cheap, now is the time to get your family to try new foods. Out of the 6 in my house, only one person likes beans-and it’s not me- but I did find out that everyone but dh likes corn bread. Experiment now so you can stock what your family actually eats, not what you grabbed at the store ’cause everybody says you HAVE TO HAVE BEANS :)

    If you are low on bottles for water you can use other containers for storing “wash water” or NONPOTABLE water. I fill up empty detergent bottles so that water could be used for laundry, I fill empty cat litter buckets with water for other cleaning. I keep several milk jugs of water in the freezer in case the power goes off and as water storage. Obviously this works for short term emergencies, but they happen too.

  17. Kation 25 Oct 2023 at 3:27 pm

    I added 2 300-count bottles of mutli-vites to my shopping cart yesterday when I found that the store had BOGO on them, as well as a second bottle of 250-count Extra-Strength Tylenol.

    I wish I could find a place to store more TP; as it is the most we can stash is 4 packs of 24-extra-large rolls in our bathroom, and maybe 1 pack in DD’s bathroom. I also bought some 3-tiered wire racks for increasing storage space in my bathroom cabinets, which made it so much easier to organize them last night, and fit some extras in, freeing up room elsewhere. I need to get some more stackable storage containers for beans and pasta, as they’re a mess of baggies and such in my kitchen cabinets. (Yeah, I DO use cleaned out pickle jars and such, but they don’t stack very neatly.) For me it seems that it’s primarly about storage issues these days. I’ve got a decent stock of a lot of things (though not nearly 3 months worth, MUCH LESS 1 year’s worth), but very little room to add more, and the storage possibilities in my little house are very poorly designed. *sigh*

    As for water, I’ve got one 5-gal jug of the stuff stored under my kitchen banquet, and I hope to add a second, but just don’t have room for more than that. On the other hand, I’m hoping I can fill a couple of old bleach jugs with water and stash them in smaller places. Just have to remember to label them AS water when I do, so I don’t go dumping water in my laundry load instead of bleach. *grin* Also using vinegar jugs for water storage. I guess I Have close to 10 gallons, all told. Wish I could persuade the hubby how important it is to prepare more thoroughly. He’s still not seeing it, though. *sigh*

  18. Karinon 25 Oct 2023 at 4:30 pm

    Kati, I know the struggle for space. Always in my effort to organize, I feel like I am just moving stuff around usually at a monthly interval. But, I have learned that the stuff i need all the time I keep close at hand and out and about. Especially for food so I know that I am using and rotating food.

    But for other things like TP or medical supplies I would look for space that doesn’t get used regularly like under the bed or in a trunk that can be also be used as a end table. Can you empty you pots and pan drawer and maybe hang them up?

    As for Tp we keep a good supply but IF for any reason we should run out ( this would be like major earthquake, TP rationing lines) we keep a gallon sized ziplock of old cloth baby wipes. They take up much less space and would be there in a pinch.

    We save juice bottles for water. They are smaller and easier to fit into random small spaces.

  19. valereeeon 28 Oct 2022 at 11:29 am

    To the basic hygiene items, I add feminine hygiene products. There are few things I’d miss more than tampons and pads if I suddenly had to do without mass-produce commercial items. I set up an every-month delivery from Amazon; the price is good and each month about three times what we need gets automatically delivered. We’ll build up a year’s supply in six months’ time, at which point I’ll probably cut down to a delivery every other month.

  20. Michelleon 30 Oct 2022 at 2:54 am

    Instead of such a big stash of feminine hygiene products have a look into menstrural cups -
    It will reduce costs, and take up much less space :-)

  21. Sharonon 30 Oct 2022 at 8:17 am

    I strongly agree with Michelle’s advice - cloth pads or menstrual cups are not only much, much less expensive, but also more pleasant to use. I do keep a couple of boxes of disposables, but only for the occasional visiting guest with a menstrual emergency and because disposable pads make terrific bandages - they are sterile, absorbant and useful. But I’ve been very, very happy with my diva cup and my glad rags.


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