Sugary cold cereal, pop-tarts, microwavable meals, fast food. It’s easy to fall back on convenience foods in our fast-paced world. Eating healthy and putting nutritious meals on the table for your family can be tough on the best days. So how do you ensure that you have a healthy food storage pantry so, in tight times, you can still maintain some semblance of healthy eating?
Things are looking a bit dicey these days—are we in an inflationary period that will continue with prices going up, up, and up or are we a recession with the economy grinding to a halt? In addition, mid-term elections are on our doorstep, and passions are running high. Will this mean more civil unrest? It seems it’s time to step up the stocking up in your food storage pantry.
Maybe you’re in a situation where you’re barely eeking it out until payday, or perhaps you already have stored food but need to increase your stash so it will last longer.
Let’s consider some critical questions. First, how long can you live off your pantry—1 week, two weeks, three months, six months or more? And what if you can’t leave home or perishable items aren’t available? How can you close that gap and still feed your family?
Another consideration is keeping the meals and, thus, the nutrients they provide balanced for your family by including protein, fruit, vegetables, grains, and fat. Of course, you’ll adjust these food categories and specific foods according to your family’s preferences and food sensitivities.
Let’s look at a couple of weeks’ worth of menus using what is in the pantry and see how they stack up. Then we’ll look at the individual categories of foods.
Healthy Food Storage: Week One Menu
In my simple menu plan, Week One includes perishables since they need to be used up first, especially if the power is out or they might spoil soon. Week two will move on to canned, dehydrated, and freeze-dried foods.
Sample Menu for Week One Prioritizing the Use of Perishables
|Menu||Pancakes||Oatmeal||Scrambled Eggs||Oatmeal||French Toast||oatmeal||Scrambled Eggs|
|Protein||eggs/milk||powdered milk||eggs||powdered milk||eggs/milk||powdered milk||eggs|
|Fruit||berry syrup||fresh/frozen berries||fruit jam||fresh/frozen berries||berry syrup||fresh/frozen berries||fruit jam|
|Vegetable||N/A||N/A||Sneaky Mom’s dried veggie powder||N/A||N/A||N/A||dried veggie powder??|
|Menu||Tuna salad sandwich||Meat Sandwich||Chili & Cornbread||Beef & Veggie soup||Meat Sandwich||Beef & Veggie Soup||Meat Sandwich|
|Menu||Chili & Cornbread||Chicken Pot Pie||Beef Stew||Spaghetti||Tacos/Nachos||Fish with fried potatoes||Chicken and Rice|
|Protein||meat/beans||chicken||beef||sausage crumbles/ground beef||meat/beans/cheese||fish||chicken|
|Grain||corn meal||flour in pastry||bread/rolls||pasta||tortillas||potatoes/breading||rice|
|Vegetable||onion/peppers||mixed veggies||onions/celery/carrots||Sneaky Mom’s dried veggie powder, mushrooms/onions/salad||Salsa/onions/peppers||green beans||broccoli|
|Menu||Cheese/Crackers||Popcorn||Fruit & Veggies||Cheese/Crackers||Popcorn||Fruit & Veggies||Popcorn|
|Protein||cheese||nutritional yeast||hummus||cheese||nutritional yeast||hummus||nutritional yeast|
|Fruit||available fresh fruit||available fresh fruit||available fresh fruit||available fresh fruit||available fresh fruit||available fresh fruit||available fresh fruit|
|Vegetable||celery/carrots/radishes||butter||celery, carrots/cucumbers etc.||celery/carrots/radishes||butter||celery, carrots/cucumbers etc.||butter|
Healthy Food Storage: Week Two Menu
Week Two’s menu also includes any deli meats you might have in the fridge, and whatever fresh and frozen meats are available to cook up before they spoil. Eggs, milk, mayo, fresh veggies, and fresh fruits must all also be eaten before they spoil. If you have power, use this margin of time to dehydrate or can your remaining food. If you don’t have power but have a camp stove and fuel, consider canning outside.
Sample Menu for Week Two Using the Remaining Perishables & the Pantry Stash
|Menu||Pancakes||Oatmeal||Scrambled eggs||Oatmeal||Pancakes||Oatmeal||Scrambled Eggs|
|Protein||Complete mix||powdered milk||freeze-dried eggs||powdered milk||Complete mix||powdered milk||freeze-dried eggs|
|Fruit||dried/canned fruit||dried berries||fruit jam||dried berries||dried/canned fruit||dried berries||fruit jam|
|Vegetable||N/A||N/A||Sneaky Mom’s dried veggie powder||N/A||N/A||N/A||Sneaky Mom’s dried veggie powder|
|Fat||butter? Ghee||N/A||butter? Ghee||N/A||butter? Ghee||N/A||butter? Ghee|
|Menu||Canned Chicken Noodle Soup||Leftover Shepherd’s Pie||Meat spread sandwich||Canned Potato Soup with clams||P & J Sandwich||Canned tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich||Meat spread Sandwich|
|Protein||chicken||meat/beans||Canned deviled ham/chicken||clams||peanut butter||cheese (American/Velveeta)||Canned deviled ham/chicken|
|Vegetable||celery in soup||mixed dried veggies||Sprouts||onions||N/A||tomatoes||sprouts|
|Menu||Shepherd’s Pie||Mac & Cheese||Canned beef stew||Spaghetti||Enchiladas||Salmon patties with fried potatoes||Chicken and Rice Casserole|
|Protein||meat/beans||cheese||beef||Freeze-dried sausage crumbles||meat/beans||canned Salmon||canned chicken|
|Vegetable||mixed dried veggies||Sneaky Mom’s dried veggie powder||onions/celery/carrots||mushrooms||salsa/onions/peppers||canned green beans||canned veggie|
|Menu||Cheese & crackers||Popcorn||Fruit & nuts||Popcorn||Fruit & Nuts||Cheese and Crackers||Popcorn|
|Protein||cheese||Nutritional yeast||nuts||Nutritional yeast||nuts||cheese||Nutritional yeast|
|Fruit||N/A||N/A||dried fruits||N/A||dried fruits||N/A||N/A|
Key Components in a Healthy Food Storage System
A Selection of Proteins
Protein is a must for a balanced diet and should be a significant part of your emergency food storage. Familiar protein sources include seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Beans are incomplete proteins, but when combined with grains can be a complete protein. Rice and beans are one classic combination and can be cooked in so many different variations that it would take quite a while to become bored.
My pantry has canned tuna, canned salmon, canned chicken, Spam, corned beef, minced clams, and packets of tuna and salmon. Minced clams, you ask? A can of minced clams can turn a can of potato soup into a tasty clam chowder. There are also a few cans of sardines just for my dear husband.
Protein powders are another easy way to give oatmeal and other foods a boost.
An Assortment of Grains, Flours, and Legumes
Oatmeal is a wonderful breakfast grain and can be added to other recipes to stretch them out, providing more servings. In addition to oats, other grains that are nutritious and easy to store are rice, various types of wheat, millet, and the ancient grains that are now available. (See SMS-Food Storage Grains: An inexpensive calorie with lots of versatility).
However, we cannot live on grain alone and stay healthy enough to deal with the stress that caused us to tap into our supplies. So I store many of my extra flours and grains in my big upright freezer, not because they need to be frozen, but because it’s a good place to put them away from mice and pantry pests. In addition, freezing grain kills any insect eggs, so you don’t have the heartbreak of opening a bag of flour and finding a colony of nasty bugs crawling around.
A Mix of Fruits
Fruit is something that we skip over under the best of circumstances. Still, when we’re trying to keep a nutritionally balanced diet under stressful circumstances, you might need to get a little creative with including fruit in your meal plan.
First, remember to use up any fresh fruit before it spoils, then move on to the canned, dried, and freeze-dried ones. Dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, and blueberries are readily available in grocery stores, and many different fruits come in a freeze-dried version from companies like Thrive Life. If you dehydrate foods, then you undoubtedly have an excellent selection to choose from.
Here’s an example of how you might use fruits. To make a bowl of oatmeal a more nutritious meal, throw in some chopped-up fresh or canned fruit or a small handful of dried cranberries. Most people like applesauce, pears, pineapples, or canned peaches. Dehydrated apples, bananas, and citrus keep well, too.
A Variety of Vegetables
Next, we dive into our nutritionally diverse and balanced pantry and retrieve vegetables. It may be ideal to have lots of dark leafy greens in our diet for optimum health, but short of multiple cans of spinach, a la Popeye, how are we going to make sure we get enough veggies into a balanced diet that’s dependent on food storage?
Canned veggies are one answer. Green beans, corn, peas, asparagus, beets, and mushrooms come in cans at the grocery store, but the big question is, “Will they eat it?” So, by all means, if your family likes canned vegetables, keep some on the pantry shelf.
However, other practical options are freeze-dried and dehydrated vegetables. With an inexpensive food dehydrator, you can quickly dehydrate veggies (and fruits!) that, right now, would otherwise spoil. The same with frozen veggies. They are a snap to dehydrate and keep longer in a jar than in a freezer if the power is out. But, again, use up the fresh and frozen first, then move into the dried and canned.
Fresh Greens Year-Round
Another great way to get fresh greens is to grow sprouts or microgreens on the kitchen counter. They are loaded with micronutrients and are great in salads and on sandwiches, and can also be dehydrated and added to the jar of green powder or to flour if you don’t eat them up that quickly. These can be continued for as long as the seed supply holds out.
A Supply of Dairy Items
Next on the nutritious pantry menu are fresh foods like eggs, milk, and cheeses. These are good protein sources but are also common ingredients in many recipes.
As long as you still have power, they’ll remain fresh, but what if the power is out?
First, read more about how to store fresh foods. Then consider powdered and freeze-dried forms. Eggs, butter, and milk are all available in powdered form. As a matter of fact, freeze-dried cheese is just as good as fresh when rehydrated. Powdered whey is also an excellent protein boost and deserves to be on the pantry shelf. It can be added to oatmeal, pancakes, and baked goods.
A Selection of Spices and Seasonings
A variety of common spices and seasoning in good supply is integral to healthy food storage as it keeps nutritious meals interesting and avoids food fatigue.
Spices and seasonings have a long shelf life when stored in a dark, cool location. I like to have chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, herbs (fresh and dried), oils, vinegars, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, and paprika on the shelf. One brand I particularly like is Badia.
For seasoning mixes, I keep an Italian herb mix on hand, a taco seasoning mix, a gravy powder mix, and a barbeque rub mix in my kitchen.
I’m a fan of a great bean soup, but I always wondered what I would do if I didn’t have any ham bones or ham hocks to flavor it. This Bob’s Red Mill seasoning mix adds so much flavor you might not miss any added meat.
In fact, Bob’s website says it’s also good on scrambled eggs, popcorn, and roasted potatoes, as a seasoning for tacos and veggie burgers. Again, this underscores the importance of keeping a broad selection of herbs and spices on hand.
Bob’s Red Mill Bean Soup Seasoning
- 3 Tbsp Chili Powder
- 5 tsp Dried Basil
- 4 tsp Ground Cumin
- 4 tsp Dried Oregano
- 4 tsp Black Pepper
- 2-1/2 tsp Salt
- 1-1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1-1/4 tsp Onion Powder
Combine everything together and store in an airtight container away from heat and light. Season food to taste. This recipe makes approximately 1 cup.
A Collection of Oils and Fats
Oils and fats are another critical component of the healthy pantry and nutritious meals made from food storage. Butter, lard, and oils all help transport vitamins and flavors to foods. For example, sautéing some onions, pepper, and celery in olive oil or butter carries the flavors to the food you’re preparing.
Ghee stores at room temperature for a long time and butter can easily be stored in the freezer. In fact, I routinely buy butter when it’s a good price and stash it in the upright freezer. But, of course, butter powder is also an option.
Mayonnaise and/or Miracle Whip keeps well until opened. I tend to buy small jars, so I go through them faster. If they aren’t refrigerated, you’ll need to lower your sights to mustard on your sandwiches.
Crisco and lard need not be refrigerated, and they make a nice pie crust for a savory meat pie or a dessert. Solid shortenings usually aren’t included in the same breath as health, but they have their uses, and this is one of them. In my menu plan, I include Shepherd’s Pie, which could be made with or without a crust.
Oils are good for about a year or so without going rancid, and that shelf life can be extended by storing them in the refrigerator or freezer. Coconut oil has a longer life span; olive oil is good for about a year. I’ve started buying my canned tuna, salmon, and sardines in oil, not water. They pack a double-whammy that way—protein plus good Omega-3 oil.
How to Fill Gaps in a Healthy Food Storage Pantry
Even with all bases covered, I really think a stockpile of multivitamins is necessary to fill in the gaps in nutrition if things go on for an extended time. In addition, an occasional bottle of wine or cocktail will be required for mental health if things get rough. So, plan accordingly.
Chocolate is also considered medicinal in times of high stress–just saying. It keeps. Halloween candy is cheap on November 1 and can be stored in vacuum bags to keep it fresh. You never know when a Snickers Bar is required.
We can’t always choose our crisis, but we can try to be prepared for things that may come our way. During times of economic instability, stockpiling what is on sale so we don’t have to pay more for it later is good household management. Maintaining healthy food storage so we can pull together a nutritionally balanced pantry meal when the paycheck doesn’t stretch to payday is one less thing to be stressed about. Knowing you have what it takes to keep your family well-fed with healthy meals is security.
What items do you stock in a healthy pantry to help you prepare nutritious meals?