Low Budget Food Storage

Fact facts, special “survival” food is expensive. Regardless of the brand, freeze-dried or dehydrated food options are pricey. If you want true sticker shock, check out MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). It might take you most of their shelf life to pay off the loan you’d need to invest in a few pallets of them to have on hand for the long haul.

There is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. Rather than take out a home equity loan to stock the shelves in case the apocalypse strikes, head to your local grocery store. There, you’ll find an incredible array of shelf-stable foods that are perfectly suitable for any prepper’s pantry.


Rice and Beans

These are staples in the survivalist meal plan going back decades. Both are cheap and filling. Plus, when eaten together, they form a complete protein and provide the body with necessary amino acids. Beans are a so-called “superfood” and are packed with nutrients, including iron, potassium, and fiber.

Pinto beans are a common choice, as are kidney beans. Consider storing a variety of beans so you won’t be eating the same thing over and over. Over time, beans will harden to the point to where softening them through cooking will be all but impossible. Storing them in a sealed container with an appropriate size oxygen absorber will extend the shelf life considerably. As a general rule, figure at least a couple of years just on the shelf as is and up to a decade or two if sealed without oxygen. If they do turn hard as rocks before you get to them, don’t throw them away. Grind them up into powder and add that to soup as a thickener.

Also in this category would be dried split peas. These will last a couple of years at room temperature on the shelf.

There are a few hundred varieties of rice. There is a difference beyond color between brown and white rice. White rice has been polished, removing the outer husk and the bran layer, leaving just the white grain. Brown rice is unpolished and retains those layers. White rice is more common than brown and will store a lot longer, all other things being equal. The bran layer in brown rice retains a small amount of oil that could go rancid after some time.

If you open the container of brown rice and it smells nasty or looks moldy, toss it.

The shelf life of brown rice is about six to twelve months, though it will last longer if kept in the freezer. White rice, on the other hand, can last upwards of 30 years if kept cool and dry.


Spam and Other Meats

Few self-respecting survivalists don’t have at least a few cans of Spam kicking around. While something of a prepper stereotype, Spam has been around since 1937. Pan frying is arguably the most common way to prepare it but there are numerous other recipes out there. Variations of the same sort of product are the Amour brand Treet as well as canned hams.

Tuna is another common canned meat and is relatively inexpensive. While in normal times we might lean toward buying it packed in water so as to save a little on the calories, the oil packed varieties might be a better idea for the survival pantry. It tends to have a longer expiration date, plus the oil adds fat to the diet, which might be in short supply in a long-term grid down scenario.

Canned chicken is great for adding to soups and other dishes, as well as eaten right out of the can. It is, however, often very bland so be sure to season it to improve the taste.

Other options for canned meat include roast beef, Vienna sausage, potted meat, corned beef, and shredded pork, all right on the shelf at your neighborhood grocer. Most canned meats will last 3-5 years in the pantry, if kept cool and dry.

Many of these meat products are also available in pouches rather than cans. These tend to have expiration dates of about three years. Pouch options might be easier to store, depending on the pantry layout, and are certainly lighter than their canned counterparts if weight is an issue, such as when considering options for the bug out bag.


Soups and Stews

These can be a great way to provide a fairly complete meal without too much effort. A can or two of chicken soup will provide meat, vegetables, and starches all rolled into one. Whip up some just-add-water baking mix for dumplings and you’ve got it made.

Canned stew and chili are fully cooked and could be eaten cold, push comes to shove. Hopefully it won’t come to that, though, as heating dramatically improves the taste. Pour a can of chili over a bed of rice for a very filling meal.

Of course, there are many dry soup mixes as well. Shore Lunch is just one brand to seek out. While these do require a good amount of clean water, up to 8 cups for some varieties, they also make quite a bit of soup. One package of wild rice soup with a can of chicken added is enough for dinner for a family of four.


Fruits and Veggies

These provide much needed vitamins and other nutrients, as well as some variety in the diet. Fruits in particular, such as canned peaches or pineapple, can be something of a treat, given their sweetness.

When possible, use the water from canned vegetables for soup as some of the nutrients from the veggies will have leached into it. The water from canned fruit could just be consumed as is.

Citrus fruits tend to have shorter shelf lives than low acid vegetables. Even so, they’ll be fine for a year or more.

Another way to get a fruit fix is with preserves and jellies. A little jam spread on a hot biscuit could be quite a treat.


Baking Mixes

Look for a few boxes of the just-add-water varieties of baking mixes. You can use these to make biscuits, dumplings, pancakes, and more. These mixes are generally good for at least a year on the shelf, if stored properly. Once a package has been opened, unless you’re going to use the entire box at once, store the mix in a sealable plastic bag so as to keep air out.


Instant Mashed Potatoes

There are a number of instant potato mixes on the market. Most of them simply require the addition of hot water and a quick stir. Look for the pouch varieties as they usually won’t need milk or butter added. One pouch will typically serve two people. You can also add potato flakes to soup as a thickener, should you so desire.


Pasta and Sauce

It doesn’t get much easier than tossing some spaghetti noodles into a pot of boiling water. Heat up some jarred sauce to go along with it and you’re ready for dinner. Of course, dry pasta comes in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes. All of them, though, are simple to prepare and will certainly fill bellies on the cheap.

Canned pasta is another possibility. Choose your favorites, with or without meatballs or cut up hot dogs. Maybe not as nutritious as some other options but hot food is still a morale boost.


Cooking Oil

We often do whatever we can to avoid fats in our normal lives but in a true survival situation, fats are an important part of the diet. Yet, they can be difficult to obtain. Cooking oils can bridge that gap. They also give us more options for cooking. Stick with vegetable, canola, or olive oils, rather than lard or other animal fats. Those will go rancid far too quickly to be a good addition to the survival pantry.


Baking Staples

If you have the experience and skills, there are many meals that can start with simple flour, salt, and other baking essentials. They are inexpensive, store well on the shelf, and are extremely versatile. Salt is especially valuable, as is sugar. Honey, while not cheap, has numerous healing benefits as well as being a great sugar substitute when the need arises.


Spices and Condiments

Don’t overlook the necessity for spices and other ways to enhance foods. Choose the ones you use the most in your day-to-day cooking, such as pepper, garlic powder, and such. Condiments like barbecue sauce and hot sauce will last a year or more if left sealed on the shelf. Gravy mixes can be wonderful additions as well.

One great way to plan ahead is to come up with meal plans for your family for two weeks. On paper, plan out every meal, including snacks. Stick with foods your family normally eats but concentrate on items that are shelf-stable. Make sure to account for every ingredient you’d need for each meal, including quantities. Once you know what you’d need for two weeks, it is a matter of simple math to extend it to a month or more.

Don’t try to buy it all at once. Add just a few items to your shopping cart each time you go to the store and it will add up over time. Rotate your supply regularly, using the oldest items first and replacing them. Sooner rather than later, you’ll find your pantry filling up.


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