How Long Will Your Provisions Last?, by D.G.

Growing up on a farm in the Midwest I was exposed to the “self-sufficiency” mindset early on, even though I probably didn’t fully appreciate it at the time.  I can remember my grandmother keeping a large kitchen drawer nearly stuffed full of aluminum foil scraps, string, and assorted sacks and bags, all to be reused and never thrown away until completely used up.  Being snowed in for a few days each winter was never a big concern.  When the electricity was out we had propane and firewood to heat the house, plenty of food had been canned in the summer, and the worst thing we had to do was chip ice out of the water tanks for the livestock.  It seemed like a fair trade for some welcomed “snow days” away from school.

Like many of my cohorts, I grew up and left that world for a career in business and the relative “security” that a salary and benefits could provide.  Some 25 years later, however, it became apparent that the need for tangible security through diligent and thoughtful preparation was far more important than the gratification of immediate but not necessarily important wants.  Now having started to give serious attention to prepping only about one year ago, it’s amazing to see how the deliberate accumulation of “beans, bullets, and bandages” begins to come together as an appreciable stockpile. JWR’s “List of Lists” spreadsheet is a great help in the preparation process, but it’s at around this time that I began to realize that it’s not enough to just buy the necessary or recommended supplies.  I really started feeling pressure to organize more effectively and find a way to manage all the items that are accumulating.

With particular attention to the food supplies being stored, I knew I needed to be able to answer the following:

  1. Exactly what foods (type, quantity, & nutritional value) are stored?
  2. What dates are the foods set to expire?
  3. What is the value of these foods?
  4. How long will these foods support my family and me?


The reasons to know this are important and simple.

  1. I need to know how to consider the foods already stored against the list of foods still required to balance a diet (assuming you may not be able to supplement your stores for some period of time).
  2. I need to know the expiration date of stored foods in order to rotate stock effectively and be able to donate those food stores to an appropriate shelter or organization while they still have enough life to be distributed and used by those in need.
  3. I need to record the value paid for these foods so at the very least we can deduct the cost on our tax returns under charitable contributions.
  4. Most importantly, I need to know how long these stored foods will hold out.


Since I have a penchant for Excel, I developed a simple spreadsheet to track my food stores and help me plan for future needs.  This spreadsheet is organized in three sections, with several columns for recording information.  For purposes of example I will use a can of cooked chicken breast to illustrate how the spreadsheet works.  This can of chicken breast is 13.0 oz. and costs $2.00 at the local Sam’s Club.  The label says each serving is 2.5 oz and has 70 calories, 2 grams of fat, no carbohydrates, and 12 grams protein.  The expiration day is December 2013.

The first section includes the general information about each food, such as Category (i.e, Meat), Quantity, Description (Chicken Breast), Brand (Member’s Mark), Package Size, Serving Size, and so on.








Serving Size


Meat 10 Chicken Breast Members Mark Sam’s Club     13.00 oz.     2.50 oz.        70 g      52

The second section is for the nutritional content of each food.  This includes serving size, the calories per serving as well as the grams of fat, carbohydrates, sugar, protein, and fiber in each serving, as well as columns to calculate the total nutrients.


Per Serving (g)






Total  Calories


Tot Fat


Tot Carbs


Total Protein



Chicken Breast







Nearly every commercially available food product in the U.S. has a label which contains this information.  For home canned or preserved foods, a kitchen scale can be used to record the weight of a container and either a label from a comparable commercial product (such as canned fruit) or a food guide available from or a good bookstore can be used to estimate the nutrition value of those items.  Now with all of this information I can begin to make informed decisions about how many people I can feed and for how long.

In order to do this I’ve added three lines to my spreadsheet.  The first is a total for each of the columns called Total Calories, Total Carbohydrate, Total Fat, and Total Protein.  The second line is used to enter the average daily nutrient requirements for each person.  And the third line is simply the number of people to be supported and the calculated number of days our supplies will last.

In order to complete this part the spreadsheet I need to know what amount of nutrient components a person will require each day.  As a guide I used the Daily Reference Intake (DRI) available from the USDA web site.  The chart below is an adaptation of the daily needs for an individual based on the DRI information.  For people four years or older, eating 2,000 calories per day, the Daily Values are:

Total Fat 65 g
Total Carbohydrate 300 g
Fiber 25 g
Protein 50 g

*Source adapted from: USDA. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrates, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (2002/2005).

The DRI and other sources of information from the USDA and FDA are extensive and can help you plan needs using more exacting numbers than contained here.  The complete data includes guidelines including by gender, age, activity level and even information for pregnant and lactating women.

In this example and for simplicity, I will plan for four adults.  Of course, you will want to modify these requirements depending upon the actual number and make up of those people with whom you going to share your food stores.  You may also want to allow some margin for friends and neighbors that will inevitably end up on your doorstep when trouble begins as well as any supplies you want to designate for charitable giving or barter.

Now let’s assume that today my food stores include a total of 160,000 total calories, 6,000 grams of fat, 20,000 total carbohydrates, and 5,000 grams of protein.  Using the guidelines above, and with the arithmetic formulas in the spreadsheet I will determine that I have about 20 days worth of calories, 23 days of fat, 17 days of carbohydrates, and about 25 days of protein.  The chart below illustrates these numbers:


Total Calories

Total Fat

Total Carbs

Total Protein


Total Values:






Average Daily Requirements:


65 g

300 g

50 g

Persons Supported:


Days Supplied:






Not too far off balance, but if your goal is 30 days of supplies on hand you might be surprised to learn that you have a little ways to go.  But nonetheless, using this tool still gives me a better idea of how to plan future purchases and the number of days I can support people with a reasonably balanced and varied diet.

The third section is where I record the price paid for each of these stored foods and the expiration date stamped on the container.  Instead of Expiration Date (it really doesn’t expire, does it?) I prefer to use the term “Donate By”.  Here columns exist for Price/Package, Price/Unit of Measure (typically ounces), Price/Serving, Total Price, and Donate By Date.








  Total Price

Donate By


Chicken Breast     13.00


 $2.00  $0.15  $0.384  $20.00


Total price is of course the price per package x the number of packages purchased.  At the bottom of this column I total up the entire amount spent of food storage.  This helps to understand the amount of money required to maintain a well stocked pantry or to replace those stocks when consumed or donated.

The one item I haven’t mentioned here is water.  Your stored water supplies whether in bottles, buckets, or barrels can be tracked using this spreadsheet as well.  However, since there are no nutrients to consider, I just make sure to divided my stored water by 7.5 liters (about 2 gallons) as an allowance for each person per day.  You may want to allow more for increased cooking or washing requirements, but it’s still very easy to calculate.

To be successful (in nearly every endeavor) you need a well thought out plan.  Since the accumulation of emergency food provisions is not likely to be done all at one time, and that those stocks need to be rotated and certain foods will be more or less available at any given time, it’s important to inventory what you have and how far it will really go.  I am more than happy to share my workbook with other preppers and hope you find it useful for planning and tracking your stored food resources.

JWR Adds: D.G.’s Excel spreadsheet is available here.


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