The Basics of Building a Food Stockpile

By , SparkPeople Blogger

Winter has officially just arrived but there have already been countrywide weather related issues that have changed plans, caused need to rush to the store as well as panic. At the same time, the unemployment rate is high, budgets are tight, and there is constant talk about the need to eat healthier.

Recently I have seen ads for special companies and services to buy long-term emergency food insurance or shelf stable emergency food kits to help your family be prepared for whatever may come. Building a stockpile takes time but the right approach can get you started in a cost effective and health conscious manner. Here are some basic tips to help as you start a stockpile in the New Year.

  • Have the Right Equipment - Establishing a stockpile will be easier if you have what you need on hand, which will also simplify the task and allow you to build a well-stocked and nutrient rich supply of food and non-perishable supplies for your family. A chest freezer is very important but the size necessary will depend on the size of your family as well as how much food you want to store. If you garden or have fruit trees available to you, canning supplies can be helpful as well. Now is the time you can find bargains on these types of items so you will want to be on the lookout. Before fresh produce was available year-round in supermarkets, a root cellar was an important part of many homes. My grandparent's home had one as well as a "canning kitchen" in the basement where my grandmother would prepare their winter supply from the summer labors in her garden. If building a root cellar or learning the canning process is not for you, perhaps food dehydration is. A food dehydrator can allow you to preserve many types of fresh produce as well as some types of meat. Shelf storage space will be important for stockpiling as well. Be sure you have space in a clean, dry, cool place to ensure proper food safety.

  • Know What You Need - Every individual and family is different when it comes to likes, dislikes and food preferences. You can find a terrific price on black-eyed peas but if no one in your family likes them and they will go unused, it would be nothing more than a waste of money and shelf storage space. Likewise, you can want to stockpile a lot of food and supplies but if you don't have the appropriate space to do it, food can go to waste as well as the money and time used to attempt to stockpile it. Some of the best types of food to stockpile include those that all in your family enjoy and can eat such as non-perishable ready-to-eat foods, dried foods, and protein bars. One question many people have relates to how much is right to stockpile if you have the space for as much as you need. Some of it depends on you, what you are most comfortable with and able to maintain efficiently. Typically, it can be anywhere from a three month supply to a three week supply. The Department of Homeland Security recommends all families store at least a three-week supply of non-perishable foods and supplies. There are also online food storage calculators that can help you determine how much is necessary for your family.

  • Know How Much You Can Spend - Remember you are building a stockpile for the unknown future but it is important to do it in as cost effective manner as possible. Building your stockpile should not be at the detriment of your monthly budget or nutrition plan. Know how much you are able to spend each week or month, as you are intentional about adding to your stockpile. Shop sales in the stores you visit so you are buying what you need below regular price. Use coupons on sale items whenever possible for additional savings. Take advantage of BOGO (buy one, get one) opportunities especially for the foods you use most often. Use the first for your weekly or monthly needs while putting the free item in your stockpile storage. Take advantage of warehouse shopping when it provides you with the lower cost option for regular needs and stockpile supplying.

  • Keep Your Stockpile Supplies Rotated - Just as you need a process for rotating foods stored in the pantry, you also need one for food stored in your stockpile. There would be nothing worse than going to your stockpile in the case of an emergency and finding that some of what you thought you had was not usable or guaranteed safe. When I was growing up, my mother had a "blizzard box" ready and waiting each winter. When spring arrived, we would eat the contents of the winter supply and each fall my mother would re-stock her supply for the coming winter. In order to be sure you can stay on top of your stockpile rotation, it is best not to have more than a one-year stockpile supply for anything with an expiration date. Stock your food in a manner that will allow you to easily know expiration dates so the first in can easily be the first out as you rotate. When canning and freezing items, be sure to mark items appropriately. Home canned foods should be used within one year. Be sure to follow suggested frozen food guidelines which typically indicate fruits and vegetables are safe for 6 to 8 months, meats for 3 to 4 months, fish for 3 to 6 months, poultry for 6 to 9 months and processed meats for 1 to 2 months.

  • Remember Other Long-Term Storage Items - Food items are not the only thing you will want to remember to stockpile. You will also want to have other necessity items for the storage time you are preparing such as paper products, cleaning supplies, detergents, personal hygiene supplies, and water. You will also want to have a plan and appropriate storage for lighting whether that is from candles and matches or lighters or lanterns and batteries. Heating, cooling, and waste plans may also require storage space in your stockpile as well so think through your typical day-to-day life and be sure you are planning for all needs for yourself and your family.
You can use this printer friendly grocery stockpile list to help begin your planning. With careful planning and intentional efforts, it is easy and cost effective to build a stockpile of nutrient rich food and supplies so you will have what you need, whatever the reason you need it.

Have you thought about stockpiling before? Is it something you may consider for 2010?

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We've always done this. My mother grew up during the depression, but they always had enough to eat. Skills are important, too. Keep learning. We first moved to FL in 2004 & experienced Hurricane Charley. We were fine. Although, we didn't have a grill, I found out I could use my party supplies, sterno cans under aluminum pan set up (lage with water in the holder with two smaller on top) like a buffet to cook actually worked okay and we even had the neighbors over for dinner...out of power for 3 days - not my first experience having lived in Ohio most of my life...snow, ice, & regular old thunderstorms can cut out the power when you live in the boonies. Report
I grew up on a large farm and we had a LARGE supply of food in our basement, since my mother didn't stop and run to town every time she was out of salt or something. We just went down in the basement and got a new box, and then marked the "shopping list" so when we did shop, we restocked.
My mother did "can" a lot of food, as we went to the Apple Orchard and got bushels of apples, etc. I remember making pickle relishes and jams, etc. Now food is so cheat that it really doesn't pay to do that. I buy "Knox Berry Farm" jams when they are on sale in the fall for about $1.50 and there is no way I'd be able to buy fresh strawberries, etc. and "can" a jar at that price. Getting FROZEN fruit from the freezer section of the store is the same way. Report
Being raised in the deep south I was taught at a very early age about canning and freezing what we grew. Living just outside of Chicago in a rural area hasn't changed much as my husband and I have a nice sized garden in our back yard and do as much canning and freezing as we can. I still laugh when my daughter's boyfriend asks if we can have green beans and corn with dinner. Poor boy had never had anything but store bought before he ate at our house!! Report
With the latest "swarm" of temblors, this is timely information. Find those hidden storage spaces, like under the bed, on the closet floor, under the desk, those darn corner cupboards where you almost have to crawl in to store things. Report
I lived on a fly-in reserve for the past 4 years so when milk is $12 for 4 litres, you learn real quick that powdered milk is well worth stockpiling. Another good thing to have on hand is powdered egg whites and lots of flour for baking. I got to be quite a shopper for things that could be purchased for a fraction of the cost in the city.

And I can still remember almost 50 years later seeing my mother's cupboards and all that was there was a bag of macaroni.... so I do hoard food, and now that I live 2 hrs. from a city that I can drive to, I have still managed to fill a 5 ft. freezer since October... I hadn't really thought of it from the perspective you gave in your blog, but more out of financial Report
Now that we're in a house, we have the room to stockpile a little more... but, since the first year of home ownership can be pretty expensive (lawnmower, grill, snow blower, endless tools we never needed in an apartment, higher utilities, etc. etc. etc.) it's been slow going. A chest freezer is on our list for upcoming purchases, and then we'll be in good shape. We're planning a garden for spring in our big back yard, and plan to get canning supplies, as well. It may take us a few years to really be in good shape, but we're on our way. :)

The only major weather event we have to worry about in western New York is SNOW SNOW SNOW, but our area gets back on its feet pretty darn quickly, even when we get something like 40 inches in a 15-hour period (been there, done that! LOL). Report
I grow a huge garden, can, freeze and dry foods. I have goats and make cheese, chickens for eggs, raise turkeys and lambs....I buy a beef from the if I could just figure out how to grow my own TP...... Report
Great article with lots of good things to think about. I was surprised that almost all of the comments are people who are considering (or already do) stockpiling for weather emergencies. My thoughts is that my family should start a stockpile in case of national emergency, like a highly-fatal pandemic or act of war. Maybe I am the only one worried about this! Report
I do this during the hurricane season ! I think this would be good for the hard winters that people can't get out! Great idea for all ! Report
I certainly don;t have a problem with food stcokpileing!! Report
I've been meaning to stockpile because we live in earthquake country, but I also live in a small apartment with little storage space so I have been putting it off. One of my goals for this month is to create an earthquake kit for my husband and I. I used the last of my FSA money last year to buy a big first aid kit, so that's one step in the right direction! Now I just have to find a place to put enough non-perishables to last us 3 days. :/ Report
I appreciated the info in this post, thank you. Report
I have a pantry stocked with enough canned and dry food to last about 3 months.
I have always had a refrigerator/freezer and another freezer packed with several months worth of meat and frozen foods, but I am buying a generator soon. I live 6200 feet up a mountain in a forest, and last year we had a huge snowstorm which knocked out our power for almost five days. We lost everything in the refrigerator/freezer, and most of what was in the seperate freezer. Report
We don't really have a formal stockpile, but always seem to have plenty of non-perishables and personal supplies around. It may not be such a bad thing to be a little better organized about it though just in case. Report
I have thought of stockpiling but have never specifically done it in a planned fashion. However, I am an inveterate food stocker! I will buy extras when things are on sale and at any given time you can eat for about 3 months on what we have on hand. Admittedly it would be a little strange at the end but it would be relatively healthy. My husband was active duty military for many years and when we would be ready to move I would have to say "I will buy only what I am out of" about 6 months before we would move and would still have some extras left to move or share with others!! ( Once I had 20 bottles of ketchup stocked up in the back of a cabinet!! We did eat it all up and my kids had a good laugh!) Report
I do not think of it as stock piling. It is a way of life. It is a way to provide for my family. My menu plan is for a month and I do try to keep about 2 weeks worth of food in the house. Canned goods, rice and noodles, etc for 3 months. I grew up on a farm. I was always taught that the less trips you made to the store, the less you spent in the store. And I was also taught that having food on your pantry shelf was as good as having money in the bank. We had huge gardens, canned and used a root cellar. We did very little freezing of vegetables as the freezer was used for the beef that we raised. I have a Rubbermaid tote partially filled with what the Red Cross advises for an emergency. I keep their list in that tote so I can use it to toss what is needed in there in just a few minutes. I have flashlights in almost every room and I check them every month to make sure they are working. We have the coolest emergency radio - ETON - and it can be powered by battery or by hand cranking it. We purchased an attachment that will allow you to charge your cell phones. I make sure that we never run too low on our medications. If I have properly taken care of my family, I can take better care of my neighbors. Report
Having lived in Hurricane prone NW Florida and The desert in Nevada. We have stockpiled for years. We still make mistakes, but we always try to be prepared. My big thing besides the food supply is have bottled water. We also have at least one flashlight in every room due to the power outages. Stanley now makes tripod flashlights that are wonderful. You can get two in a set and they work on a minmum of three batteries. There are two in the set. The small light works on three and the large works on three to nine batteries. That is important if you are going to be without power for a long time. The tripod makes them hands free if you need to fix something in the dark.
Good article and the link to the storage list is useful. I have stocked up on easily prepared soups, etc. in case I get sick and don't feel like I can stay up long enough to prepare other food. I also have a stockpile of canned goods. I don't have a back-up source for heat or cooking, so I look for foods that could be eaten without cooking or heating. They might not taste as good, but in an emergency, you could eat a can of chunky soup or can of beans. Report
I don't have room to stockpile too much of anything. Report
I have a "ready bag" that contains emergency supplies, rain gear, flashlight, radio,etc. as well as some protein bars, some foil pack tuna, a few cans of Spam (the meat junk, not the Internet junk! LOL) and a jug of water. There's enough in there to last DH and me for about 3 days and we can be ready to evacuate our home in less than 15 minutes if need be.

In addition to those items, I usually put away some canned food during the peak season and make jelly and preserves. Some things I freeze, but I don't have a chest freezer, so I try to keep that to a minimum. None the less, if we had to grab and go, I would be able to pull that stuff out of the freezer and throw it into a small soft-side cooler we have in about a heartbeat along with whatever meat is in there. That would probably extend our provisions for at least 2 or 3 additional days in the event of an evacuation.

We've never had to leave our home before, but there's always a first time for everything. We have, however, had to weather power outages, ice storms, tornados, and a few other not-so-fun times.

I work in a law enforcement environment, so I know how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected. In rough times, I have to be ready to do whatever is necessary to take care of my family first and my community second. Report
I try to have food on hand for emergencies. I wish I figure out how to make an accessible root cellar, just to take advantage of the times I've happened to have large quantities of onions or potatoes on hand (from a bountiful CSA harvest, a gift from my father in law, or good sales). Our basement is too humid, I think, to effectively store root vegetables for extended periods of time. Report
I've never really thought about stockpiling foods before, and frankly the thought scares me. But, I think that attitude is naive and amounts to me sticking my head in the sand. Just a few years ago, before I moved here to my current home town, there was a terrible ice storm that knocked out power for over a week. Our area seems to be prone to this kind of weather. I don't have much storage space, and no extra freezer space, but I live alone so I don't need that much.

I'm definitely going to check out the links provided in the article and start making a personal plan for stockpiling some food in case of an emergency. Thank you so much for providing such an informative and timely blog! Report
Good article. I have "emergency rations", both food and non food items, stored in a safe room in our basement. They are meant for snow emergencies, tornadoes, etc. I only have about a three week supply and rotate what is down there twice a year ... once when we load our motor home for the summer and once when I get ready for my big baking period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The article made me think of a few more things to add to my list of supplies Report
Great ideas but an absolute necessity for many of us is a backup power source- a full freezer will be a huge waste of money and food if there are power outages. Might be better to stock up on items that don't require cooking or refrigeration to tide you over. Don't forget the water as well. Report
I have two refrigerators with freezer compartments that have been packed with meats and frozen veggies that I have bought on sale. Haven't been to the store and have already planned all meals through Sunday morning. Could go for at least another week. Report
good article Report
I have a chest freezer and I keep it pretty stocked with meats, breads, and leftovers (I'll make a big pot of soup or stew and divide it into containers to freeze). I also keep quite a few canned soups, chili, tomato sauce, and such. Living in the Northeast, we do have blizzards or ice storms that can keep us out of power for 1-2 weeks, tops, but the best thing I did was change my electric stove for a gas one, and convert to gas so that I can always light a burner and have a hot meal, even if the power is out. I guess I have about 3 weeks' worth of food at any one time, though I never really thought of it as "stockpiling!" Report
I just checked the pantry after reading the article and comments. I need to stock up on the basics just in case!! You never know when a storm will come through that knocks out power. You need to have things on hand that will not need refrigeration. I plan to stock up this week as we are expecting a storm to come through with snow. In the south, since we do not get much snow it causes nearly everything to come to a stop. Roads are closed, everything is closed. So I am going to make sure that we have keroscence for the heater and food for the stomache!! And lots of blankets that are clean and ready!! Report
When I was worried about my husband losing his job I started stocking up on non perishables and I am really glad that I did. We have tons of pasta, canned vegetables, soups and snacks that has gotten us through several rough months since he actually did lose his job. Report
Whenever I think of stockpiling foods, I think of weather emergencies. I also think we should consider things like making sure we have a hand operated can opener, water for drinking, and some way to cook foods. No matter where you live, you will have some sort of weather related emergency, but hopefully, it won't be one that's on-going. Report
I dont stock pile on food cause I eat fresh most of the time. I dont like canned goods from the store.I do canning in glass jars with my own veggies I grow. Frozen also dont keep too well. Meats kept frozen will to me not taste as good. BUT I would stock pile in paper products-shampoos things like that.. Report
Been building a stockpile for over a year now. We never pay full price for anything! Report
I try to keep extra canned goods on hand. We have a freezer in the garage that we keep pretty full. I try to go through the meats that I know have been there the longest. I buy bread at the bakery outlet, a dozen loaves at a time as I have teenage sons. The freezer is good for that. We have been on the lookout for an inexpensive, used, second refrigerator for additional storage. I want to cook ahead on the weekends to minimize prep time during the week but don't have enough refrigerator space. (I really don't like my side-by-side that came with our house. Never again!) Report
I am not a stockpiler of food items. Biggest thing is that I am worried it will sit there and go bad. We will stock on items when there are sales on items we are already planning on buying for the house. Report
I've never lived anywhere that getting snowed in for a period of time was an issue, but my parents always kept a "stockpile" of sorts--probably a result of their upbring as "depression children." I tend to keep one of everything backed up (flour, sugar, salt, etc.) at all times, if I have the space.

Right now, I don't have an extra freezer and haven't been able to keep a lot of perishables, but I'm fixing that tomorrow! 8-)

Linda C Report
I am basically a food hoarder. I have a pantry, two drawers, an additional shelf, my fridge/freezer, and two additional freezers FULL. All perfectly organized. I feel that things can be stored in the freezer longer than it states above though. Somethings lose flavor, but they don't go bad. Hmm, same goes for canned goods.
Either way, I definitely have a stockpile! Report
We have always had a stockpile of food. my mom was always buying extra when things were on sale and we had a big freezer and a big storage room in the basement where we stored canned goods and extra detergent etc
She hated to pay full price for anything so bought ahead on sale and with coupons and I still do the same. especially since I worked in a grocery store for 39 years and always had first choice of marked down products plus found all the sales. we have enough food for at least a month or more.
In fact, since my mom still stockpiles even now that she lives alone, she decided that she didn't even want to go to the grocery store this week since it has snowed for a week straight and wants to use up some of her stockpile..
It keeps us from having to run to the grocery store in the middle of a snowstorm.
You know I never thought about stockpiling. I have in the past gone to the store to buy up a lot of supplies before bad weather gets to us. Then everyone else is in the store going crazy because they think it's their last meal. All the prices are extremely high so there's no savings at all. But anyway, I think I will make it a point to stockpile for the hurricane season and just in general. You never know what could happen. Report
I've been doing it for years, living in Louisiana with hurricanes and such we have made it a point to do so. I grew up with a huge vegetable garden and we would always put things up and can preserves, jellies and jams. I have made it a habit as an adult to keep up the practice. I just don't have a garden anymore, I go to the local produce market to purchase what I want to put away. I have peaches and pears canned away in my pantry, strawberries and blueberries in the freezer. I have always bought in bulk being I hate grocery shopping. I have batteries, candles, canned goods, etc. I don't know what my life would be like if I didn't do this, it is embedded in me. Report
I can food from the garden, have food in freezer, gather up some water in milk jugs, and have a wood stove for back up so if the power goes out I am good to go for some time.........hubby has small generator to keep freezer going Report
I can food from the garden, have food in freezer, gather up some water in milk jugs, and have a wood stove for back up so if the power goes out I am good to go for some time.........hubby has small generator to keep freezer going Report
A fantastic, resourceful article, Tanya! The stockpile-staples is helpful, and the Food Insurance site is fascinating. I also enjoyed hearing about the generational differences between your mom's "blizzard box" and your grandparents' extensive food-storage arrangements. We've had a stockpile for some time now. Although rotating stock can be a pain, a stockpile's well worth the effort. Report
The last time my family tried stockpiling was 10 years ago during the y2k scandal and even that didn't work out too well b/c I kept donating all the food to my school's can drive (I was 11 and naive with good intentions lol) BUT I really think it's something that we should have. I doubt it will be as intense as some other peoples but it'll be a start and that's better then what we have now, nothing. Report
Food storage is an essential way of life, and it is important to have foods that you enjoy in storage, also to rotate items every 6 months, which I have on my calendar to manage.. Report
I use a battery backup power source that if necessary, I could plug the fridge into in case of power outage in the summer. In winter it could be used for electric cooking appliances, space heater, etc. I used to live in the ice storm belt; it was common for power to be out for 3 days. Depending on the manner in which they are used, battery backup can work for 3-10 days usually. Long enough to keep the fridge cold and eat up everything in it and in the fridge's freezer.

If I ever purchase a chest freezer, I will purchase another battery backup power source for it at the same time.

My parents were children during the time of the Great Depression and believed in being prepared. I am not Mormon but do agree with their system of each household having a year's worth of nonperishables, example peanut butter, tuna, oatmeal, dried beans, rice, pasta, canned goods, cleaning supplies, shampoo, soap, detergent, health & beauty aids, water, camping stove, hand crank radio. I also store water in 2 liter pop bottles with the requisite chlorine drops added. In case of ANY emergency - not just Katrina or severe weather but also, hello, job loss - each household is supposed to have enough be able to get by for a year. Yes fresh produce is better; but if you don't have grocery money, OR if you no longer have the grocery store, THEN what are you going to do? Too many of us have forgotten what it's like to be self reliant. Take personal responsibility; be prepared; it's wrong to EXPECT a handout.

I am also going to learn to can so I can make my own healthy homemade soups and fruits, year round, aside from stockpiling. I'm not too thrilled about dehydrated tho I suppose I should give it a fair try before turning up my nose. I do not have a garden but I can buy at farmers' markets, as well as seasonally like the sweet potatoes were on sale for 25 cents/lb at Thanksgiving. Join the "Putting Food By" SparkTeam.

I use and recommend "Can Solidator" systems; they are plastic and modular; they come in pantry style and shelf style. There are also free-standing metal racks; I just bought the plastic ones that snap together and made my own "rack" on the floor. Just google cansolidator. Things you buy on sale canned, anyway, even if you aren't a stockpiler, can be stored in a space-saving system that automatically rotates itself. For flour, rice, beans, etc., I use Tupperware and write the use by date, or, the expiry date on the outside on tape. You can buy specialty labels for dating but I just use plain tape. Report
Having food storage is something I've always grown up with in the church. So when I married and moved forward with my life this stayed with me. When hurrican Andrew hit us, the whole house was gone except the room where the food storage was, and where we were. We went 21/2 months on no power we went into camping mode...I love to camp....we used our grills to cook foods so they wouldn't be lost...the most amazing thing to me was....people didn't have hand can openers...It was the hottest time I've gone thru, but because of food storage we were fine plus we were able to help others. Report
Two weeks after DD and SIL moved into their new house, they got hit with a 100 year storm, 96 inches of snow. They didn't even have a snow shovel. We had to bring emergency supplies and a snowblower. They are much more sufficient now. I'm a natural pack rat, so always have staples on hand. Our trailer is great too. It's always stocked for dry camping. Report
I keep a stockpile of about 6 months of food and another 6 months or so of dehydrated food that doesn't need to be rotated. I also tend to keep extras of essential non-food items as well, in large part because I can tend to be absent-minded and I hate to run out. Whether it's a natural disaster, a (ahem) "man-made disaster" or a severe economic downturn, it always pays to be prepared. You put away in good times to sustain yourself in bad times. It's sort of like "stockpiling" money (ie, saving) I dare say that there are a LOT of folks that now wish that they had put a little something back when they could have. Same principle. Report
We started stockpiling a few months ago using The Grocery Game. We have a few months worth of non-perishable and frozen goods stored up. By matching up the coupons to the sale items, we have saved a lot of money too. Report
If the electricity went out I would be out of luck. I just do not keep much on the shelves. Report
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