Without enough food, all other preparations you do are worthless. In a SHTF (grid-down) scenario if you are out of food, there may not be any way to obtain more. This article represents my own research on how to get a year’s supply of food on a budget. By the end of this article, you will see how I can feed a family of four for under $2,000 for an entire year.
First off, let me tell you why my focus is on inexpensive instead of nutrition or other criteria. The short answer is I don’t have a ton of extra money laying around, and when I do have some extra money to spend I prefer to get something that could last as long as possible. Lastly, and this is probably the most important reason to me, the more I research I do the more convinced I am that something really bad could happen at any time. I hope I am wrong, but if I’m not I need to be prepared, and I need to be prepared quickly. The only way to prepare quickly, without having a lot of money, is to focus on the basics first while keeping the costs as low as possible.
Therefore, the phases of my food storage plan are the following:
- Get enough food that will keep my family and me alive for a year.
- Get additional items that will add more variety and better nutrition.
- Add comfort items that would make the emergency food supplies more enjoyable to live on but are higher cost and/or have a short shelf life.
The most important principles for phase one food storage is to have a long shelf life (20+ years). I personally don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to focus on keeping an elaborate food rotation schedule. If you do, good job on being awesome. I want food that I could buy and let sit for 20+ years without having to worry about it or rotate but that I can still know is there for me if needed.
Once I have a year’s supply of food and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that my family could survive for a year, then I will start to work on the second and third phases of my food storage plan. Those phases could very well include canned and freeze-dried foods with shorter expiration dates that need to be rotated.
I decided that I needed to start moving quickly towards having a year supply of food, so I went to Google and searched for “food storage”. I found all sorts of sites, and most of them offered food storage packages. These appealed to me at first because they are easy, but I quickly realized that in order to get a pre-planned package for a year for four people (the size of my family) I would probably have to spend at least $4,000 and probably closer to $6,000-10,000. Yikes!
One warning about these food storage packages is that they like to sell you on servings instead of calories. For example, I found one food storage package that sold under the title of Month Packages. It included 84 servings of breakfast and entrées. It said, “How long will 84 servings last? 1 Month at 3 servings / day”. This implied that one person could live off this food for a month. I had to manually add up the total calories from six different entrees and servings (a lot of companies like to obscure this information), and I discovered that it only equaled out to 444 calories a day. No one can survive on that! Then I changed my math and calculated the calories I was getting per dollar spent. It equaled out to a grand total of 66 calories per dollar. That’s not a very good bargain for the money.
I don’t want to completely trash these food storage packages. Yes, they are expensive and not very forthcoming on how long they would really last you or your family. However, they have their place. Most of them are just add water, and they have a good balance of nutrition. They are quick, easy, and overall have a good balance of nutrition. So if you have more money to spend then these might still be a good option. In fact, after I complete phase one of my food storage plan, I will probably add some of these packaged foods to my food storage.
After going through this exercise, I decided to go back to Google and search “Food Storage Calories per dollar”. I found an article right here on SurvivalBlog called “Let’s Talk About Calories Per Dollar”, by Mississippi Girl. In this article I found out what foods get you the biggest calorie bang per buck. It basically comes down to this: Rice, Potatoes, Beans, Wheat, and Oats. These foods can range anywhere from 600 calories per dollar to 5,000 per dollar! That is a big difference from the 66 calories per dollar I saw in the example above.
One other thing I had to consider is that my wife is gluten intolerant (meaning she doesn’t eat wheat), it won’t kill her, but she functions much better without it, which could be crucial to a survival/stressful situation. Unfortunately for our family situation, wheat is one of the least expensive foods out there for calories per dollar. Luckily, the other foods listed by Mississippi Girl are gluten free, and I know from firsthand experience that rice and beans can keep people alive for a long time. I served as a missionary for two years in Venezuela, so I saw firsthand that people can live off of rice and beans for a major portion of their daily calories.
After reading the list above from Mississippi Girl and fact checking it with some research of my own, I realized that for my situation the least expensive way for me to get a year supply of food was to load up on the items listed by Mississippi Girl, going heavy on the rice and beans and lighter on the wheat.
Having decided that my food storage is mostly going to consist of beans, rice, potatoes, and oats (at least for phase one), I started looking for the best deals. Being a member of the LDS church, I knew that the church has Storehouses or Home Storage Centers. You do not have to be a member of the church to use them though they may require that you be accompanied by a member. [Editors note: I have used the Bishop’s Storehouses, and they are indeed a great place to buy a limited selection of important long-term storage foods at awesome prices, however, recent FDA rule enforcement has limited much of their bulk sales at many locations. The #10 cans the author talks about are available at nearly every Bishop’s Storehouse location. Also, every time I have visited one, I was subjected to a hard sell on the LDS church before I was allowed to purchase any items.] They basically take all the work out of preparing food storage and can sell it to you pre-packaged in #10 cans or the big 5-gallon buckets at cost. That being said, other places like WinCo, Sam’s Club, and Costco are other great places to buy food in bulk. There are articles on the net that tell about places to buy in bulk.
So here is my phase 1 plan broken down for you. This is for a family of four, all in #10 cans.
Total #10 Cans: 390
Total Boxes (6 cans per box): 65
Total Cost: $1,756.50
Total Calories: 2,965,200
Average Calories per dollar spent: 1,688
Calories per Person (4 people) per year: 741,300
Calories per person (4 people) per day: 2,030
Now, is this an ideal diet by any stretch of imagination? No way. Would you be so sick of beans and rice that you would be ready to eat worms? Well, maybe it wouldn’t be that bad. The point is you would be alive. With this diet alone you would NOT be in optimal health, but the hope is that you would be doing other things to augment this diet, like hunting, fishing, gardening, or bartering. You would have enough calories and a “balanced enough” meal to keep you alive. Even better, after you have this base of food from completing phase 1, you can then start working on improving it with other things that are much lower in calories per dollar but will help make you feel more normal and be in better overall health (e.g. freeze-dried fruit, canned meat, nuts, eggs, pre-made freeze-dried meals, MREs, et cetera).
There are a few more things I want to mention about this basic diet.
First, rice and beans makes a complete protein, which is part of why so many people in central/south America can live on a diet of mostly rice and beans.
I think everyone should have a good variety of heirloom seeds stored away for safe keeping, but just in case you don’t or you want to augment your garden, most of the time you can actually plant the beans from your food storage. Although this seems extremely obvious now, this didn’t dawn on me until I was writing this article.
If you are not getting anything green in your diet and your garden isn’t ready yet, you can sprout your wheat for some extra nutritional value. Here is a quick article on how to sprout wheat.
As with any food storage you might have a hard time trying to figure out where to put it all. There are a total of 65 boxes with my setup here, so it does take up a fair amount of space, but the beauty of this first phase is that there is no rotation. This food storage is easy to buy, store, and forget about it. For that reason I don’t need to have ready access to it. My plan is to store the boxes underneath my beds and then put a bed skirt around the bases, hiding the food storage. Just make sure you get a bed frame that can clear the 7-inch boxes underneath. One person posted that they can fit between 20-25 boxes under one king bed!
Keep temperatures in mind. It basically works out that the colder you store your food, the longer it keeps. However, as long as you keep it inside an air conditioned house you should be okay. Don’t leave it in the garage or attic where temperatures can get up to 115° F during the summer.
One other thing to note with a setup like this is that you will need a supply of water, the ability to cook, and possibly the ability to grind (for the wheat) without electricity. So plan accordingly.
How many calories do you actually need to live on? That completely depends on your situation, but for an easy number to use I choose 2,000 calories per person per day. In many cases, especially when a lot of physical activity is required, it will be much higher than that. Check out this article for a more in-depth discussion on this topic.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the caloric needs of kids. Check this page out for a brief overview of caloric needs per age and gender. My youngest is four years old and lives an active lifestyle (what kid doesn’t?); her caloric needs are 1,400-1,800 per day. Plus, that doesn’t even consider that by the time I need this food storage, she might be a teenager. So the long story short is that you should not skimp on calories for kids.
In conclusion, this plan is really powerful because for $1,756.50, I can buy food that will last for 30+ years that will keep a family of four alive for an entire year! I can buy it, store it, and forget it. Plus, after you complete phase one of this plan, it is my hope that you won’t completely forget about food storage, but that you will continue improving upon your supply. Like I said in the beginning, if you don’t have enough food, all other preparations you make will be worthless. I hope this article gave you some other ideas around food storage. Good luck everyone. Now go and stock up on some food!