There is so much advice on the internet on how to get started on preps for the newly awakened prepper, that it can become overwhelming. Much of the advice is to go out and buy large amounts of food. However, many of us are on a shoestring budget, which makes such advice not practical. Many of us are living on small paychecks with bills to pay, can’t afford that extra $100 at the grocery store, let alone the overpriced specialty foods such as freeze dried foods. This is not to say there is anything wrong with freeze dried foods, but for the prepper on a budget, that’s a lot money spent on special handling and packaging.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t prep, you just have to find a way that works for you, and I hope to give you some ideas of how you can do that.
One thing I always notice in the pantry when I meet with other survivalist minded folks, is they buy foods that are already pre-made, such as canned food, boxed food, or pre-made meals. Those are great for those of us on the go, but let’s look at these a little more closely.
If you buy canned food such as pre-made soups, that’s a very convenient meal, just add can opener. But now you have to deal with the trash of the can, and you must have some kind of tool to open that can. There is an expiration date, which sometimes makes a difference and other times doesn’t (depending on contents of the can). And often times there are other added ingredients, some of which you might not want, or might even have an allergy to.
But most importantly, the cost factor of one can of soup can be very limiting. Some suggest buying these pre-packaged products in bulk and buying large sized cans, but then you have to refrigerate any leftovers to prevent spoilage. And in an emergency, you might not have a refrigerator, so that cost factor might not be saving you after all.
If you look at a box of cereal, you are paying for a small amount of cereal in a plastic bag, covered up by a colorful box. This not only takes up space, but now you have a non-burnable box to get rid of, plus the plastic, and if you store it long term the food can develop a plastic flavor.
So the alternative here is to buy the ingredients that would go in to such pre-packaged foods, and store these dried ingredients instead. Then when you’re ready for soup, just add water, some heat, and for the price of one can of soup, you can now make four or more. That’s a huge savings factor. The disadvantage here is that you need water, you need a pot to cook in, and you need a source of heat. Depending on your situation, this might not be the way to go, or it might just be the way to store a lot of food inexpensively.
Figure Out Your Storage Game Plan!
First, you need to figure out how you’re going to store this dried food. I bring this up because I’m going to suggest that you go to the dry goods bulk section of your grocery store, and purchase your food there, then bring it home and store in your own container. I highly do NOT recommend storing your food in plastic containers. Over time, the plastic will degrade and pass on to the flavor of your food, and will not taste good. I found glass to be a good way to go, and as someone who home cans regularly, I have plenty of jars lying around. I also recycle the glass jars that my pre-made food comes in that I eat regularly, such as tomato sauce. I make sure to clean and sterilize all my jars before use of course. As a side note, I make sure to keep all my stored foods out of light. This is important if you are storing your food in containers that would allow light in, such as glass jars.
If you don’t have any jars, then it’s time to look in the canning section of your grocery store, craigslist, or even yard sales. Yes, this is an initial added expense, but these canning jars will always be useful, whether for yourself, or even as a barter item. I’ve seen them for as cheap as 10 cents a jar at yard sales, even for those in their original packaging that have never been used before. The disadvantage is that glass is heavy, and they can break. But you’re not left with a tin can that must be disposed of somehow, and you can re-use the jars indefinitely unless they break. I’ve actually replaced all our drinking glasses with jars a long time ago. It’s the country way to live. Also, if you keep the box that the jars come in, some of them have a cardboard separator between each jar, and they stack very nicely. This way you have jars you can store your food in, and once empty, can be used to preserve food in.
Now that you have figured out what to use to store your food in, it’s time to go to the grocery store for your regular groceries. But this time, you’re going to take a trip through the bulk foods section, and decide what you want to buy this trip that you are going to add to your prepper pantry.
The Bulk Section Is Where It’s At
The bulk section carries on amazing amount of foods. Everything from black beans to nuts. A lot of people don’t like to shop in the bulk section because they feel because the food is out in the open, it might not be as fresh. But as it turns out, foods in the bulk section are rotated much more often than those found in a box. The only time I have seen anyone not use the bin scoop was a little kid digging for some bulk chocolates, whose mom yelled at immediately when she saw what he did. So there is nothing wrong with the foods found in the bulk section of your grocery store. And even if you only buy organic, you can find organic in bulk as well. There is a great article on the advantages of buying from the bulk section here: http://thecouponproject.com/eating-healthy-on-a-budget-discovering-bulk-foods/
Here’s the real key important part of this type of prepper food. With each trip, you also need to be able to dish out another buck for a gallon of water. This too will go to your preps.
I only purchase foods that I eat/use regularly. For instance, for split pea soup, I buy dry split peas and store those. One quart size canning jar of dry split peas will make the equivalent of four cans of split pea soup assuming you don’t add other ingredients in. This way I am able to choose how much I want to make at a time, and what other ingredients I want to add. Same with black beans, lentils, rice, oatmeal, etc. My favorite bulk food to buy are dry garbanzo beans, because you can make so many things out of them, including hummus (yum). Here is an an article that tells you foods you might want to avoid storing and also foods that you can make yourself (and thus save money):
Pick up your favorite canned soup and look at the ingredients in the back, then buy those ingredients that are available in the bulk section. You now just bought four times the amount of food for the cost of one can of soup. Just add water, a pot, some heat, and you’re on your way to storing foods that you both actually eat, and can store for a long time. Each time you go to the grocery store for your regular groceries, you buy a bag of something, which should only cost a few dollars. Then bring it home, pour it in your jars, label accordingly, and store away. Do keep that food away from light, and make sure you seal the jar tightly. And of course, make sure you started with a clean sterile container to begin with.
You might even consider switching from your pre-packaged foods such as trail mix, pasta, cereal, etc., and switch to the bulk foods now instead of just for preps. This will save you a lot of money, which will allow you to purchase more foods to prep. Just the other day I walked through the isle that had pre-packaged herbs, and I was dumbfounded by the price. The very same herbs that I can by in bulk or dry my own fresh herbs for less than a buck, were selling for over five!
Once you have been to the grocery store a few times, and discreetly purchased your stored foods and put them away, you can now take it to the next step. Figure out how you want to dehydrate fresh foods. Dehydrators can be expensive depending on what you choose to go with, and they can also be inexpensive depending on how resourceful you are. If you’re handy, you can probably build your own. Check out craigslist for some good deals, or go in with others you know on a large dehydrator together to share. Or, here’s a great article showing you how you can dehydrate without electricity!
Timing Can Be Everything
Next, look for really good sales on produce. During certain times of year, there is excess of certain foods based on season, and that’s when you buy an extra bag of produce to bring home. Just wash, blanche, throw in your dehydrator, and then store in your jars. If you have a garden, then grow extra and dehydrate those rather than looking for sales. If you want to learn about dehydrating, see my article on how to dehydrate foods.
Here’s a picture of what happened when I found broccoli on sale for 59 cents a pound, and cabbage for 29 cents a pound. I bought extra, brought it home, and threw it in the dehydrator. After washing and prepping the food for the dehydrator first of course
Other things you can add to your food supply are things like powdered milk or preferably protein powder (whey and/or casein). These aren’t usually in the bulk section at the grocery store, but are easy to pick up each shopping trip, and just store away. Note that some online retailers do sell protein powder in bulk. Again, you will need water, but with either the powdered milk or the protein powder, you can substitute for any real milk, but the powdered version stores for a very long time.
Think about the foods you eat, and ask yourself, can you find them in the dry goods bulk section. Chances are, if you’re willing to be a little creative, and don’t mind spending one evening a week on making sure you have a long term food supply, you can accumulate a large amount of food (and water) in a short amount of time, for only a few extra dollars a week.