Think fast: What food items always seem to be on the shortlist when you head to the grocery store? Chances are, foods with the shortest shelf life will be on that list, e.g. milk, bread, eggs, produce. Foods that will spoil or rot within a couple of weeks are also ones that we depend on for variety and a well-rounded diet, and your prepper food storage is incomplete without it.
During the virus pandemic and quarantine, these foods are on most people’s shopping lists again and again and again! Why worry about finding these fresh foods when it’s so easy to store versions of them that are shelf-stable?
As you build your prepper food storage pantry, it’s important to consider how you can keep these fresh foods in storage, long-term so you have the benefits of their nutrients, the variety that adds to your meals, and can avoid grocery store visits and food shortages.
By the way, even if you’re brand new to prepping and are looking for a place to start, you can still begin with the foods listed here as a solid foundation to your food storage.
First, what is a food prepper?
In a world of fast-food and restaurant take-out, most people rarely give much thought to having a well-rounded food pantry — one stored with enough extra food to last a month or more. Instead, we’re trained to run to the grocery store sometimes several times each week.
The downside to this haphazard, by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle is that when a real emergency happens, anything from a job loss to a power outage, you could face empty store shelves and escalating prices.
A food prepper, on the other hand, adds a few items to their grocery list on a regular basis and gradually begins building a pantry filled with foods already familiar to his or her family and does it on a budget. Learning about which foods to store, which foods to not store, and commonly held beliefs that turn out to be food storage myths will all help you stock up the smart way and avoid wasting money on these purchases.
Fresh foods, such as milk and eggs, though, require a little more planning since they can quickly spoil, especially during a power outage. Read on for a multitude of ways to add milk, bread, eggs, produce, butter and cheese to your own prepper food pantry.
Milk as a prepper food essential
A lot of households depend on fresh milk as a basic food — for drinking, cooking, and baking, and for a bowl of cereal and cold milk. Since it’s fresh, though, it’s a food that can spoil in a matter of a couple of weeks in the fridge. In an emergency, though, there are 2 different ways to store milk so you have it whenever fresh milk isn’t available.
It can be stored long-term in the form of dry milk and also in shelf-stable containers, meaning, the milk is packaged in such a way that it doesn’t require refrigeration.
For dried milk, one handy option is to get it directly from a commercial dairy if one is nearby. Often, they have small, attached stores that sell their products directly to the public and, it’s possible to purchase dried milk in large quantities at very reasonable prices. You can also buy dried milk from Thrive Life and similar companies. This tutorial will walk you through the different types of dried milk you’ll find to purchase online.
If you buy large quantities of dried milk and the packages are more than you can use within 3 or 4 months, re-package the dried milk in canning jars or PETE plastic containers, along with an oxygen absorber or two. As with all stored food, keep it stored in dry, dark, and cool locations for the longest shelf-life.
Shelf-stable milk is another very handy form to have on hand. It’s packaged in cardboard cartons with a spout. They’re available in individual sizes, which are nice for including in an emergency kit as long as you’re careful the cardboard container can’t be damaged by anything with sharp edges. My kids loved drinking the organic Horizon brand sold at Starbucks stores and available in grocery stores as well as on Amazon.
Commercially canned milk is yet another form of milk, and since my family no longer consumes large amounts of regular milk, I like to have a few cans of this handy when all I need is a small amount of milk for a recipe. In addition, I keep several gallons of milk in the freezer.
It’s possible to home-can milk, and I know that many people do this. You can find instructions for that process here.
Fresh bread for long-term food storage
For short-term storage, say a month or so, commercially baked bread can stay in the freezer and taste just fine when your kids are clamoring for PB&J. However, for long-term food storage, there really is no substitute for baking your own. Flour can be stored for a year or so in air-tight containers, and even longer when stored in the freezer. To avoid insect problems, freeze containers of flour overnight to insure that anything remotely resembling an insect egg is quite, quite dead.
You can store flour in canning jars, clean, dry 2-liter soda bottles, mylar bags, Food Storage vacuum-sealed bags, and buckets with airtight lids. If you like the bucket idea, I recommend getting at least a couple of Gamma Seal lids that provide the airtight seal but are also easy to open and close when you need to get into your bucket of flour.
To make sure your family has bread in the truly long run, there’s just no way to get around storing wheat and grinding your own flour. Wheat can be stored for decades, so there’s no worry about it becoming rancid or losing its flavor as is the case with flour.
What can’t be stored for decades is yeast. In a yeast shortage, you’ll need to have mastered the essential skill of developing your own yeast. Learn here how to make your own yeast.
Along with baking bread, you might as well start learning how to bake your own crackers, pita, naan, and tortillas now and avoid the learning curve if you’re ever under pressure to produce a loaf of bread for sandwiches now! By the way, watch for wheat grinders on Craigslist, eBay and even in thrift stores. One sharp-eyed friend of mine found not one but two wheat grinders at Goodwill stores.
Add eggs to your prepper foods list
How do you feel about adding a few chickens to the family? A coop in your backyard is probably the best way to ensure a supply of fresh eggs or becoming friends with someone who has backyard chickens. I’ve also found local farmer’s markets to be good sources.
You can dehydrate eggs yourself, and I’ve done this with fairly good results. Just keep in mind that eggs contain fat and fat goes rancid in a fairly short amount of time. This information will be helpful if you want to DIY dehydrated eggs.
Include fresh produce
During the virus quarantine, I noticed that canned veggies and fruit were running low on grocery store shelves, but there was always plenty of fresh produce available.
In your prepper food pantry, fruit and vegetables can be home-canned, frozen, freeze-dried, dehydrated, or grown right at home. I’ve persuaded a number of my readers to give Square Foot Gardening a try, and we’ve successfully used that method ourselves, but even an AeroGarden filled with fresh herbs is an advantage here along with container gardening.
A super-frugal way to begin growing certain veggies is just by placing them root-side down in the water and allowing them to sprout and grow. Here’s an article to help you get started with this.
Home canning ensures fresh and unadulterated produce for your family, although commercially canned varieties are often too inexpensive to pass up. You may have noticed the rush to stock up on canned foods once shelter-in-place orders were issued across the country. You can read more about the advantages to stocking up on canned food in this article. In a nutshell, canned food is inexpensive, readily available, versatile, and generally nutritious.
When you can your own produce, though, you can add a new dimension to your prepper food stash because home-canning allows you to be picky about the foods and additives you preserve. Depending on the produce you choose, you’ll either use a water bath process or pressure canning. This article goes into more depth, and there are multitudes of videos and websites that will walk you through the learning experience, step by step. I like the Canning Diva’s books that provide excellent recipes, instructions, and illustrations.
Another way to preserve produce at home is by dehydrating them. The first veggies I ever dehydrated are the ones I usually include in soups and stews: carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes. Dehydrating is so inexpensive because you only need to buy a dehydrator. You can store the home-dried foods in canning jars, mylar bags, and even zip-loc bags if you’ll be using the food within a few weeks. It’s important to protect dehydrated and freeze-dried foods from humidity, so keep that in mind if you live in a part of the country like I do where humidity is a fact of life! Read more about home-dehydrating food here.
Store that dehydrated food by repackaging it in a way that shields it from light, oxygen, moisture, and pests. Here are complete instructions for repackaging not only your home-dehydrated food but also many other basic foods that will stay fresher when they are packaged properly.
Freeze-dried produce is another great addition to any survival food pantry by providing light-weight fruits and veggies that are packaged to last 20-30 years. I’m often asked by people new to the world of freeze-dried food, “Where do I start?” My answer is, start with whatever you’ve eaten during the past week!
If you made homemade chili, then start with freeze-dried chili peppers, onions, and instant beans. Soups, stews, and casseroles are all great recipes for utilizing freeze-dried produce, and it’s just a matter of listing the fruit and veggies you use most often. Then, begin buying those items in small-size containers to get an idea of how to use them in recipes. My preference for freeze-dried food is from Thrive Life for their wide variety and quality.
Click here to get my printable Freeze-Dried Food Primer.
Finally, frozen veggies are a great back-up, although, for long-term storage, you have to watch for freezer-burn and power outages. Still, whenever they’re on sale, I stock up, both to use in recipes AND to put in my dehydrator straight from the bag. There’s no easier way to dehydrate produce than to buy it frozen since it’s already been washed and cut into bite-size pieces. Simple spread the produce on your dehydrator trays and begin drying.
If you can’t decide which types of produce to stock up on, here are a few questions to help you narrow the field:
- Keep track of the produce you already buy and use.
- Identify your favorite recipes and make a list of the produce called for in each.
- Consider stocking up on the most common veggies used in soups and stews, such as onions, corn, carrots, and celery.
- Take note of which veggies and fruit are difficult, impractical, or impossible to grow in your zone. I have stocked up on freeze-dried pineapple, mango, and bananas applying this principle.
- Don’t forget hot and cold cereal mix-ins. Oatmeal isn’t the same without raisins or dried cranberries.
- What fruits and veggies do your kids enjoy as snacks? Sometimes we get so busy stocking up on the basics that we forget how comforting and fun a snack can be.
No prepper foods pantry is complete without cheese
Is life without cheese even worth living? I’m not so sure, but I’m also not thrilled with my options when it comes to long-term storage until I started buying freeze-dried cheese. In addition to freeze-dried, you can buy cheese powder (very handy for mac-n-cheese), canned cheese, and even home-waxed cheese.
Hang in there with me…
A very simple way to have cheese set aside for food storage is by freezing it. Freezing softer cheese, such as cheddar and mozzarella, effectively stores for a few months, if properly wrapped, but the texture, once thawed, will probably not be the same as fresh. Parmesan, Romano, and other hard cheeses fare better in the freezer. Powdered Parmesan in the famous green can probably last right through Armageddon, but it’s not my favorite form of the cheese, although it would do in a pinch.
Cheese powder is one way to have a cheddar-flavored powder for things like popcorn, baked potatoes, and pasta dishes. It may not be something you use every day, but if you really want the taste of cheese, this can go a long way, and it’s not very expensive.
Freeze-dried cheese is a wonderful form of cheese to store, although it is more pricey. However, in defense of that, you typically would use small or moderate amounts at a time — say, sprinkling some on top of a casserole. That would help even a few cans last for several months. Freeze-dried cheese is rehydrated in water and then used as regular cheese, although it will clump together. Still, it melts exactly the same as fresh cheese, which would be a treat in a quesadilla or a few cheese enchiladas. Thrive Life has this cheese in cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, and Monterey jack.
Another form of store-able cheese is canned cheese. This cheese resembles more of a “cheese product”, like Velveeta. The brand I see most often is Bega. As far as Velveeta is concerned, it has a shelf life of at least 6 months. I recommend buying the smallest size of Velveeta as possible since it does need to be refrigerated once it’s open, and you’re more likely to use a small package within a short amount of time and have less to store til later. This would be important in a power outage where refrigeration isn’t possible.
A final way to store real cheese for long periods of time is to wax it yourself. From my book, Survival Mom: How to prepare your family for everyday disasters and worst-case scenarios:
The truly adventurous Survival Mom—or really, any cheese-head— should try waxing cheese. It’s a whole lot easier than waxing your mustache or brows, and it doesn’t take much practice to become a pro at it. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Official cheese wax, no substitutions allowed. Cheese wax is pliable when it’s cooled down and is designed to adhere to the cheese. Darker colors are better since they will protect the cheese from light, one of the enemies of food. Here’s an example of cheese wax.
- Official cheese wax—no substitutions allowed. Cheese wax is pliable when it’s cooled down and is designed to adhere to the cheese. Darker colors are better since they will protect the cheese
from light, one of the enemies of food. Here’s an example of cheese wax.
- Cheese. Hard, dry cheeses, such as Colby, Swiss, and Parmesan, work best. If you like cheddar, begin with mild cheddar, since it will sharpen as it ages. Use paper towels to thoroughly dry the exterior of the cheese before applying the wax and allow the cheese to dry for a few hours prior to waxing. Cut the blocks of cheese into a size that will be used within a couple of days once the wax is removed.
- Food-handling gloves. You don’t want to transmit skin oil from your hands to the cheese. I buy these gloves in packs of 500, and they last forever!
- Wax paper to provide a nonstick surface for your wax-covered cheese as it cools.
- A double boiler. Be sure to use a pan for melting the wax that will become your official Cheese-Wax Melting Pan because you’ll never get all the wax out of the pan. An inexpensive pan from a garage
sale should work well for this purpose.
- A food thermometer.
- A natural boar-bristle brush.
Melt the wax in the double boiler to 160°F or until melted; do not overheat it. Dip the block of cheese halfway into the wax. Allow the wax to cool down a bit before dipping the remaining half of the cheese into the wax. Repeat this dipping process at least two more times. Make sure every little groove and dimple is filled in with wax by using the natural bristle brush to add yet another final coat of wax.
If you wish to label the cheese, and you should slap the label on the waxed cheese before the final coat. Store the cheese in a cool, dark place—but not inside a closed container, as cheese needs circulating air. Be sure to check the cheese periodically; look for cracks or signs of mold. If you see mold, cut it away and rewax the affected area of the cheese.
Include butter on your fresh-foods list
It’s been years and years since I’ve used margarine. I have about thirty pounds of real butter out in my freezer, and that’s the way I like it. Frozen butter stores very well for months, and when I find it at or near the two-dollar mark per pound, I stock up.
Butter can be home “canned”, but it’s not an actual canning method but more a matter of melting butter and pouring it into canning jars and sealing it up. It’s not recommended by official food-safety sources, but you can find instructions on YouTube if you want to give it a try. Fans say you can store butter at room temperature for years with this method.
Powdered butter from Thrive Life is another option, and it’s a versatile one. You can rehydrate the powder, sprinkle it directly over hot foods, and add it to recipes. Add water to the butter powder, whip for 8-10 minutes with an electric mixer, add a teaspoon of oil, beat another minute or so, and you’ll have something that resembles real butter/margarine. This tutorial gives you even more instructions and uses for powdered butter.
Finally, canned butter is shelf-stable and tastes and melts just like the real thing. It’s excellent! The brand I’m most familiar with is Red Feather. When I discovered Red Feather butter and saw how fresh it tastes and how nicely it melts in a skillet, I was sold! It’s a bit of a splurge, so personally, I would plan on saving it only for when my freezer-butter stash is used up and even then, only when I really want something fried in butter, like a quesadilla.
Your prepper food pantry
Weeks into the pandemic of 2020, you’ve no doubt run out of some of the fresh foods listed here. In preparation for a longer-term emergency and to be ready next time around, consider all the options you have for the fresh foods you use most often and begin stocking up now before the next rush of panicked people.