Practical Family Food Readiness Plan
A reasonable and feasible emergency food storage method.

“So, I’m going to make this easy on you with my expert advice. This is the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to get your family totally prepared for any emergency in a few simple steps. First, go to a discount farm and feed store and buy 150 pounds of dry beans and 150 pounds of rice. Next, put all the beans and rice in mylar bags and stack them in your basement. When the need arises, go in the basement and eat beans and rice to survive. Now, you are prepared for anything!” Wow, seriously? I cannot count how many times I have read the same rehashed advice in online threads. What nonsense! I would sooner go outside naked and play in the radioactive fallout than lock myself in the basement and eat 300 pounds of beans and rice. It seems many people start their preps with a sense of urgency and want to get to a certain level of preparedness with a quickness. These so called fast and easy food storage instructional threads do not give realistic information. Yes, you could survive by eating only beans and rice. It will become not so fun in quick order. Survival does not need to equate to misery. Food is a powerful morale booster and should be used to lift spirits and invigorate the survivors. I want to re-introduce a method for food storage planning applied with an easily thinkable mental image based on the food pyramid. You may even already be more prepared than you realize.

Years ago, people were taught how to eat a balanced diet by using the food pyramid. This pictogram is no longer taught but is still a recognizable and easily understandable symbol. It’s simple, the bottom of the pyramid is widest and biggest. So, the most amount of a type of food goes in the bottom. The next level is not quite as large and is made of a different type of food. As the levels go up, they get smaller and represent other kinds of foods in lesser amounts. It’s just too easy to understand when referring to the picture. This is the model we use to plan and use our foods for long term storage, just inverted. To build our survival storage food pyramid we will use regular grocery store food, nonperishable dry / canned food, MRE or rations of similar type, and freeze-dried food with the longest shelf life.

Most people do not even realize what a surprising amount of every day grocery store bought food is contained in their house. The majority of Americans have so much fresh food on hand they are continuously throwing it away, a little at a time almost every day! There is no reason to keep so much fresh food that your family cannot eat all of it and it is constantly being wasted. For this reason, fresh foods and foods requiring refrigeration should make up the least amount of survival food on hand. Take an inventory of what is being eaten and what is being thrown away and adjust grocery shopping as indicated. While society is going along as planned, a quick grocery run is not an issue. Initially, when an event happens that necessities implementing use of your family’s survival food stores, start by preparing and consuming the fresh and refrigerated foods on hand almost exclusively so they do not spoil. Most refrigerators can stay cool for a whole day without power and that time can be extended by placing ice and frozen food from the freezer (or outside during winter) into the refrigerator. Eat this first, it will make up the smallest section of the pyramid and will be the quickest to spoil.

The next level of your survival food pyramid will be canned and dry grocery store foods. These foods are usually safe and tasty LONG past the printed expiration date. Cereal, fruits, vegetables, soups, meats, etcetera canned and dried are all plentiful and inexpensive. Likely, there is more than you realize in your home already. Most families could eat for a week or longer using only the cans and boxes in the basement and pantry. It may not be gourmet dining but is easy, filling, and nutritious. While the world keeps chugging along, punching the time clock day after day, there is little reason to stockpile cases upon cases of canned and dry foods. It takes up space, it must be rotated, and you can always buy more. A modest supply of canned and dry foods will suffice. An idea I recommend is that if rotating your stock requires planning and thought that is time consuming or needs to be written down, your supply is more than adequate for reasonable purposes.

The next item on the food storage pyramid is MRE’s and similar products. I recommend MRE’s because they are an easy and complete meal. Many people are turned off at the idea of MRE’s without ever trying one. In my experience, first time MRE eaters are pleasantly surprised! Like anything else, some menu options will taste better than others and each family member will have their favorites. However, kids seem to especially like them. Children enjoy opening all the packages and favor all the different components and snack items. MRE’s contain water activated heaters so the meals can be heated up quickly. Also, they can be eaten hot or cold and require no rehydration. Besides preparing various included drink mixes, no additional water is needed for MRE's. They do have a limited shelf life but MRE's will last much longer than manufacturer recommendations. Most manufactures will state a shelf life of three years if stored at 80 degrees. Shelf life is considerably extended when stored in cooler conditions. A cooler basement or even a root cellar will dramatically extend the shelf life. I have personally eaten MRE’s that were more than ten years beyond expiration date and they tasted fine. For convenience and practicality, I recommend storing enough MRE’s or similar products for your family to have at least two a day for a minimum of a week. A drawback to storing MRE’s is that cases of MRE’s are large and heavy. MRE’s are ideal for convenient dinning while bugging in or waiting on the power to come back on. However, if you stuff four to six MRE’s into your pack or go bag, there will be no room for other gear. Because of the size and weight of MRE’s, when on the move it is best only to carry a few at a time and have a resupply system in place. Also, storing a month or more of MRE’s for your family may mean enough extra storage space requiring building an addition on your home to keep them in!

The largest section of your survival food storage pyramid should be freeze dried foods from one of the brands with the longest proven shelf life such as Mountain House. Surprisingly, there are major manufacturers whose freeze dried foods have relatively short shelf lives, even as short as 18 months! There is no point to stocking up on freeze dried food with such a short shelf life. Buy a brand of freeze dried food with a shelf life so long that you will never have to rotate it, 25 to 30 years. One benefit to having such a long shelf life is you will not need to make excuses to eat and rotate your stockpile. Make this your largest supply. Freeze dried foods are very stable and do not need special storage conditions. These foods are light weight and packable also. You can buy a little at a time even on a small budget and build up your supply. In time, you can have a sizeable cushion of everlasting freeze-dried food. The important thing is to buy a brand that has a very long shelf life and that your family will actually eat, such as Mountain House.

A word of caution: not all freeze dried food is created equal! Before buying any quantity of food, compare ingredients, serving sizes, calorie content, prep methods, and meat content. There is great disparity among these variable among major brands. Some brand products are all carbs and salt with no meat or protein. Many are made from fillers and imitation flavorings. As with anything else, you get what you pay for. If a food bucket has a huge serving content at a price that seems too good to be true, buyer beware! Check the label and see what is considered a serving size and what it contains. Every food made by Mountain House is made from real meat, not meat flavoring. Finally, buy a small amount and feed it to your family. How’s it taste? Will your kids eat it? Is it easy to prepare? Is it filling? Are the serving sizes as big as Mountain House? If your spouse and children do not like it don’t buy it! Since Mountain House has the longest PROVEN shelf life (30 years!) and is easy to store, set up a small budget for monthly purchases of Mountain House, or ask for it as gifts, and soon you will have a nice supply. Opinions on how much freeze-dried food to store varies depending on the source of information. Many recommend a minimum of two years, some even way longer. I would suggest storing what you can fit in your home and lifestyle reasonably. Start by preparing for the historically and statistically likely events for your region. Is your area prone to winter storms? Do you have floods every five to ten years? Is there a large tropical storm averaging every other year? How long do the typical disruption and recovery periods last and what do they look like? Previously, how long has it taken to restore utilities and damaged infrastructure.

Many people reading this will remember Hurricane Sandy, a very destructive storm in 2012. During this storm, a tree fell on my mother’s house splitting the wall apart at the corner. For 14 days she had no utilities, no water, no electric, no gas, and an 18 inch gap in her wall looking out into her yard. It is common knowledge that for major natural disasters it can take the American Red Cross up to ten days to set up all necessary resources and fully implement assistance services to a community. They never showed up, never. If my mother had put all her faith on the Red Cross or other government agency coming to her aid, providing food and water, and rescuing her, she would have fared very poorly and possibly not survived.

Your food plan should allow for a variety of responses suitable for a number of different scenarios. If the power goes out for the evening, you do not want to start busting open all of your #10 cans from your stockpile, the same way you should not plan on relying on 25 year old MRE’s as your only food source. Having a well-developed plan reduces waste and maximizes available resources. In the initial stages of prepping, it is normal to feel a sense of urgency in gathering preps and supplies. However, resist the urge to overspend your budget and never ever take out an extra credit card or borrow money to build up your preps. As long as you have a good plan to build your supplies and use your time to prepare wisely, you will have plenty of time to prepare. Think it through, make a plan, and don’t procrastinate. As always, you may contact Family Centered Prepping for information, advice, and opinions.

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