So what little occasional treats will make a world of difference to your spouse, your children, and you? This small investment of time, money, and space will yield tremendous dividends.
Coffee- I don’t drink it and never have, but I recognize the importance many people attach to it. It’s my understanding that coffee beans store better than ground coffee and both are best preserved by vacuum sealing.
Hot chocolate- the LDS Home Storage Center carries a very good hot chocolate packaged for long-term storage in mylar bags. (It has a two year shelf life.)
Other beverages- Nesquik will be a godsend to children (and some adults). Herbal teas, especially peppermint for calming upset stomachs and raspberry for women’s issues, should be included in every pantry. Kool-Aid should be stored for making flavored electrolyte solutions, especially for inducing dehydrated children to drink.
I remember watching Little House on the Prairie as a child, and what a treat it was for the children to get a bit of peppermint candy in their stockings at Christmas or to be able to get a piece of candy at the store. We started storing candy pretty early on, and over the years we’ve learned a few do’s and don’ts.
When I began vacuum-sealing candy in jars, I thought it would be nice to have a wide variety of candy in each jar to satisfy everyone in the family. So the first jars had Skittles and Starbursts mixed with Snickers and Milky Ways. We learned, much to our dismay, that chocolates will take on the fruit flavors. So be racists; chocolates must be in their own jars, while fruity, gummy candies must be in another.
How long will candy keep? Well, that depends on the candy, of course. We actually just opened a jar of Christmas candy bought after Christmas 2011 at a deep discount. We also took the additional measure of adding an oxygen absorber to the jar. It may have been overkill, but this was chocolate. Anyway, the jar contained peanut M&Ms, Twix, and the Hershey miniatures mix (milk chocolate, Special Dark, Mr. Goodbar, and Krackle). The caramel in the Twix was too hard to chew after four years, but the kids sucked on it, so it wasn’t a waste. Everything else was perfectly delicious…for about an hour. Then it was gone.
Marshmallows do not vacuum seal well at all, even for a very short time.
Gum (we only have sugar free) is still perfectly soft and chewy even several years after being vacuum sealed.
Chocolate chipsget vacuum sealed in quart jars and placed in our basement crawl space. They have a shelf life of at least five years, when stored in cool conditions. Chocolate will develop what’s called a “bloom” if frozen. It is a grayish white discoloration on the surface of the chocolate and has virtually no effect on the taste of the chocolate. The shelf life of butterscotch and peanut butter chips is much shorter.
The shelf life of vacuum-sealed breakfast cereals varies widely, depending on the ingredients in the individual cereals. Most sugar cereals have a shelf life of two to three years. Golden Puffs have a very short shelf life. Frosted Mini Wheats and Rice Krispies last about three years. Froot Loops seem to last forever.
Due to the oils, nuts generally have a pretty short shelf life. However, this can be extended by vacuum sealing in glass jars with oxygen absorbers. (Don’t store nuts in the cardboard packaging. They are not only vulnerable to vermin, but they have a much shorter shelf life if left in the original packaging.) Peanut butter usually has a shelf life of less than two years, but it lasts much longer when stored in (or purchased in) glass jars.
Pretzels have a two- to three-year shelf life. Sadly, most crackers even when vacuum-sealed have a shelf life of less than nine months.
Jell-O gelatin stores indefinitely. It’s a good idea to have at least a few boxes on hand for those recovering from intestinal illnesses. Instant and cooked pudding mixes have a shorter shelf life. It might be nice to have a few on hand for your favorite recipes, but pudding can easily be made from butter, milk, and flour. We store a few cake mixes for our family’s favorite recipes, including dump cake. They have a 1-2 year shelf life. Cool Whip comes from the freezer section of the grocery store, but a powdered option is available. The powdered option is Dream Whip, and it has a shelf life of two years.
Boxed Macaroni and Cheese
I did not grow up with this stuff, and I so wish my husband hadn’t made it a staple in the lives of our children. However, it is what it is, and unfortunately it is a serious comfort food for them, like it is for many in this country. So, consider having a nice supply of boxed macaroni and cheese for your family.
I have tried a few times to duplicate making Oreos at home, very unsuccessfully. So we decided to see how long they would last being vacuum sealed in a mason jar. They have always been good for at least two years, but they have never been good at three years. It is always the creamy filling that has gone bad.
Before concluding, I want to share an experience our family had. In the spring of 2009, I informed my sixteen-year-old son and chief (rototiller) operating officer of the need to expand our garden from its then-current size to nearly ¼ acre. He wasn’t exactly pleased about that prospect, but he recognized what was going on and the need to prepare and learn. His protests were really pretty mild; however, he insisted that if he was doing all this work, we were planting a whole lot more corn and watermelon. Done! It was a great year for gardens, and we had boatloads of corn and watermelon (along with everything else). We had been having corn and watermelon with every single dinner for about three weeks, when Luke voiced a bit of an objection.
I was really surprised. So I asked, “Luke, don’t you remember insisting on planting more corn and watermelon?” Luke got that deer in the headlights look on his face. “What would you have done in my situation? If your hard-working children had insisted on more corn and watermelon—their favorites—would you have planted it?
“Would you have been really surprised when they got tired of eating it?”
It was a great lesson for everyone in the family. No matter what our favorites are, we absolutely have to have variety. Flavor fatigue is real, and that was at a time with lots of other fresh produce and everything we could possibly want from the store, without any other outside stresses.
Remember as you plan meals, you may be in a grid down situation. Don’t be planning on electric grain grinders, food processors, et cetera, unless you have the backup sources of power. Women need to prepare themselves mentally for this situation. Our modern appliances, large and small, have made our lives very easy and given us a great deal of leisure. That will drastically change with TEOTWAWKI. Before the advent of our modern conveniences, women spent the better part of each day preparing food for their families. There was no instant anything. There was no microwave and no refrigeration. Fortunately for us, for the days when we will need an instant meal, there are many options in freeze-dried meals and canned foods.
Storing Food in General
Food grade buckets are available in several sizes from at least two- to six-gallon options. Make sure you can handle the size of the container and the weight and that you can manipulate the lid. Smaller and older women may struggle with a 45-pound, six-gallon bucket of wheat. Those lids can be difficult to remove. Make sure you have a handy bucket wrench or two. (The “two is one, and one is none” principle applies.)
Consider buying foods in smaller containers with the idea that refrigeration will not always be an option and that it will be important to reduce opportunities for cross contamination.
If your food is stored in a moderate to high humidity area, consider dipping each end of your cans of LTS food in paraffin to protect from rust and/or consider removing the cans from their cardboard boxes. Do not store any foods, whether in jars, cans, or buckets, directly on cement. Make sure all foods are at least one inch above the cement.
The ability to vacuum seal foods when you live in a moderate to high humidity area is critical to being able to store food for your family. That is a given. Deciding whether to store these foods in jars or in bags becomes a trickier question. Jars prevent foods from being crushed, but they are also more vulnerable in earthquakes. On the other hand, bags are more efficient with space and weight, but they are vulnerable to rodents.
Tailor your storage to your family’s needs and wants, but also strive to accustom your family now to the diet they will have to become accustomed to. Perhaps it’s time to cut back on sodas and so much sugar. Start eating beans once a week or twice a month. Gradually begin working whole grains into your diet as well. Instead of microwave popcorn, try popping it on the stove.
Now, here’s a note of caution. There is a popular series of books currently available; each book focuses on one the basic food storage groups. I bought the one that covers dry milk. I can forgive a poorly-written book that actually offers valuable information. This one did not and is actually very misleading. As an example, a recipe is provided for making parmesan cheese substitute. While reconstituted powdered milk mixed with lemon juice and dehydrated makes something that resembles Parmesan cheese, it does not taste anything like Parmesan. You absolutely must be learning how to make the foods your family wants now. You should not trust everything you read. You need to have the recipes that work for you and your family now. You need to adapt them to your circumstances. For example, making bread—good bread—in a warm, humid area is entirely different from making it in a dry, cool, or cold area. Being able to make artisan bread is great, but when your family wants a nice loaf of bread for making PB&J’s, artisan may not work for that.
Also, once you have gotten the basic foods, start getting your equipment and supplies. Garage sales and older ladies at church can be great sources for getting canning jars. Avoid jars and lids made in China. (Walmart’s Better Homes and Gardens jars and lids are, or were when I last checked, made in China. There have been several reports of the BH&G jars having uneven rims. If the rim is uneven, your jar won’t seal.) Over the years I have purchased hundreds of boxes of canning jar lids at garage sales. So far, I think only three or four boxes of those lids have been bad. Two boxes were Bernardin lids; two were Kerr. In all cases, the sealing compound kind of disintegrated after being softened in hot water, so there was no loss of product in canning.
May we all plan and prepare well, and may God guide and bless our efforts.
Disclaimer: I have no financial interest or gain in any of the websites I have mentioned in this article.
Wonderful website for learning to use your food storage now.
Great online store for herbs, spices, teas.
Notes on the LDS Home Storage Centers: One or two years ago some changes were made at the home storage centers. Before the changes, all items could be purchased in bulk bags. Now only a few items—wheat, rice, beans, onions, and carrots—can be purchased in bulk. Everything else is only available prepackaged. Also, most centers had empty #10 cans for sale and the option of borrowing a machine to fill and seal cans at home. This is no longer an option, unfortunately. Also, you are no longer asked to provide any information when you make purchases there.
Notes on oxygen absorbers: Oxygen absorbers unopened (in their original packaging from the manufacturer) have a shelf life of six months. Any unused absorbers after opening should immediately be put in a glass mason jar—the smallest size in which they will fit—and vacuum sealed. Once the package of oxygen absorbing packets is opened, they will start working within 20 minutes of being exposed to oxygen. If left exposed to air, the oxygen absorbers will be rendered completely useless in as little as five hours. Plan ahead and use all of the absorbers or vacuum seal the remaining packets.