The concept of the emergency pantry has been around a long time, it wasn’t even new in the Great Depression, but even so, it’s a new concept to many people who were raised in a house that didn’t practice the concept. So exactly what is an emergency pantry?
It isn’t food stored in storage tubs, ready to be put into a car or truck and hauled away with a fleeing family. It isn’t food stored in a fall out shelter just in case of the unthinkable. It isn’t food stashed in the emergency backpacks. At the same time, it could be!
Don’t be. It is really a simple idea, practiced by many people across the nation. It’s the idea that a smart family stores food “just in case” of a number of things happening, ranging from unexpected guests to a cash shortfall in the family. It is not about anticipating the worst (and somehow attracting it) but rather about being prepared all the time…for almost anything. It doesn’t matter if its Aunt Suzie with her six kids coming for a week long visit without forewarning or if it is because Dad had to take two weeks off of work to build a new garage or because Mom’s had the flu and doesn’t feel well enough to go shopping.
It means there is food on hand, in the house, to cover a variety of situations. That emergency pantry is no different than the regular pantry, just larger perhaps than what some families keep on hand. I was surprised to discover that most families don’t have more than two or three days worth of food on hand, and that even a best case scenario had the Average Family of four people seriously hungry after a week, and in dire straights in less than two weeks.
What does that mean? It means that someone has to go to the grocery store every 3 days to purchase food, and if, for some reason, that shopping trip does not happen, there is little to nothing left in the house to eat. For someone who comes from a country family that typically shopped about once every other week, it’s almost incomprehensible to think about a cupboard that bare!
Stocking up means having a full pantry. A full pantry means that in the event something happens that the shopping trip does not happen, there is still food in the house. That covers everything from a severe storm to an epidemic with a mandated quarantine to a cash flow issue to unexpected guests, with a lot of things outside of those parameters too. With the food stored in the pantry, it wouldn’t take long to select desired items in the event of an evacuation order either. It makes meal preparation easy too, as most staple items are kept on hand, and many luxury items are purchased on sale.
It saves money too. Not only are items purchased on sale and stored for use later, it reduces the overall number of shopping trips as well. Reduced exposure to impulse items at the store means you will spend less. It also means listening to a lot less of the begging for expensive impulse items from children. It allows your shopping trips to be more like organized tours than a mass invasion as you venture forth after reading sales flyers and making your list (don’t forget to check it twice, it works for Santa Claus after all!)
So how do you start this project of keeping a well stocked pantry?
Start with making a list of your staple items. These are items you use every month. Typical examples might be flour, sugar, vegetable oil, tomato soup, canned green beans, canned corn, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, salt, pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, oregano, garlic powder, ground cumin, gravy mix, instant mashed potatoes, refried beans, taco shells, tortilla chips, tuna packed in water, canned salmon, canned chopped ham, cheese dip, salsa, saltine crackers, snack crackers, and beef bouillon.
Figure out about how much of each item you use each month. For example, perhaps you use 2 boxes of pancake mix, 1 syrup, 2 jellies, 17 cans of tuna, 4 boxes of saltine crackers, and 12 packages of instant mashed potatoes each month. (This isn’t a complete list, but an example.)
Inventory what you have on hand. Compare how much you need to have at least 3 months on hand. (12 months is the average lifespan of a grocery store canned item. Some items may not store that long, depending on how long it sat in a warehouse somewhere.)
Make your “3 month” shopping list up. Make a short term list as well. This short term list is what you need to get by for the current week or two week period.
Read the local sales flyers and compare your 3 month list to the flyer, along with your short term list. Purchase the items you need for the current shopping list, and then as many of the items as possible, especially if they are on sale, from your 3 month list. It may take considerable time to increase your pantry to the 3 month supply, depending on your current budget. Even purchasing 1 extra item will help you achieve your goal, so be diligent and frugal.
Think about the recipes that you cook and which ones can be accomplished exclusively from pantry items, not requiring anything fresh, refrigerated or frozen. Try to come up with a 3 day menu and purchase the items to fill in those ingredients first as part of your emergency pantry goal. Having a 72 hour supply of foods that require little cooking and no refrigeration is a great help in the event of losing power. These easy to prepare pantry foods can be a great addition in the event of an emergency or unexpected guests. Some suggestions? Breakfasts can be instant cereal, canned fruit, and instant beverages. Lunches can be made with ramen noodles, canned vegetables, and canned meat or fish. Dinners can be composed of instant mashed potatoes, canned meat with instant gravy, canned vegetables, and canned fruit. Snacks can be crackers and peanut butter or cheese spread. Remember also to keep any necessary special diet items such as infant formula or senior nutritional drinks on hand. For toddlers, some of the special foods packaged for toddlers might also be a great idea.
The emergency pantry should also include an alternative form of heating food, such as a camp stove or emergency stove. There are a wide variety available on the market, ranging from very inexpensive to very expensive, depending on your budget. These alternative fuel stoves will work in the event that utilities are compromised due to the emergency. This might be critically important in areas prone to blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes or severe storms such as tropical depressions, micro bursts, or hurricanes. Familiarize yourself with the stove and its operation. (Many are excellent for camping, picnicking, barbeques, and other occasions in which an extra burner may be needed.) Make sure you have appropriate fuel on hand and safely stored.
Stash a spare flashlight with fresh batteries and some candles in your pantry too. These will go a long ways towards ensuring everyone feels safe if there is a power interruption or other emergency. This may require frequent checks to ensure they have not been “borrowed” and not returned, as flashlights have a way of wandering and batteries getting used. Matches and/or a lighter are also another good item to include.
Having the essentials on hand in the event of an emergency can be very important, but not everything for every emergency is included in that pantry. Emergencies vary as much as the people responding to them do. Think about current events, and what items would be important to you. Read about survival and emergency preparedness. Remember the things that are happening in Japan and other places in response to emergencies, and what kinds of things would be useful to you. Make contingency plans with your family and establish an out-of-the-area contact for everyone to contact in the event of a local emergency and your family becoming separated. Keep your vehicle in good repair so that you can evacuate in a timely manner without extra worries about a mechanical failure.
Here on the Gulf Coast, our typical worries revolve around storms and floods resulting from them. Power can be cut off for days (or longer!) and people know better than to expect some government agency to deliver aid soon after an emergency strikes. Stores and other businesses are closed before and after hurricane warnings, forcing everyone to get by with what is on hand, even if the storm misses. Being prepared means that there is one less thing to worry about.