Guest post by Debbie Cee
Storing food takes up a huge amount of space. Trying to figure out how to store three months worth of food for six people when just one week’s worth can fill up my car, led me to review my knowledge of nutrition. I broke down my storage needs into the basic food groups, and I’ve been trying to decide the most nutritious, cost effective, and space-efficient way to store each. I found each group has its own strengths, weaknesses and ways to be stored.
Let’s start with vegetables because they took the most thought. A healthy diet has a lot of vegetables in it. How do you store that amount of vegetables? Canned? There is a lot of sodium and waste liquid in a can. Plus, they’re heavy and take up lots of space. Frozen? With my family of six, I’d need an entire freezer for three months worth of
veggies. I can’t count on having power in an emergency. We would eat about three pounds of veggies per day in an emergency setting with the additional huge calorie burning you would expect. On normal days I cook two pounds of vegetables for dinner – and they usually get eaten.
Dehydrated and freeze dried vegetables are the best solution. This is pretty easy to figure out. Every place that sells emergency food has cans of freeze dried vegetables. However, freeze dried is rather expensive, especially to feed six people. I also prefer to practice cooking with my stored foods, and I’m happiest if I use it routinely. This made dehydrated vegetables the best choice for me.
I tried home dehydrating first. I have a four-shelf Excalibur that makes excellent jerky and fruit snacks. Dehydrating a pound bag of frozen carrots, however, took almost a day and took up my whole dehydrator. I got perhaps 1/3 cup of carrots when I was done. Very space efficient! However, multiplying the time it took to see how long a three-month supply would take, and considering the cost of electricity and storage containers, sent me Googling for dehydrated vegetables in a hurry.
There are a few sources for dehydrated vegetables on the internet. The one that fit my needs best is Harmony House Foods. I get nice reusable plastic jars of veggies with a low shipping charge. There are sales a couple times a year, and there are small sizes so I can sample their product. After trying their samples and doing some math to check the cost of buying from them versus drying grocery store vegetables, I bought their pantry stuffer and started cooking with it. This is a collection of 16 quart jars of vegetables. Harmony House allows substitutions for vegetables you do not like, which was nice for me. I have a family member allergic to mushrooms.
Cans of dehydrated veggies are more expensive, although they’re packaged for long-term storage, and the shipping charges and annoyance of the Internet Grocer outweighed any savings from there. Other online stores had only small selections of vegetables. Perhaps another family’s solution would be to buy Harmony House to learn how to cook with dehydrated vegetables on an every day basis and then, possibly, buy cans for long term storage. Another option would be to buy large amounts of dehydrated vegetables and then seal them yourself in cans or buckets with oxygen absorbers.
Every person has to decide the best way to store food for themselves and their family. I have ended up choosing a 3-year cycle of the pantry stuffer from Harmony House. Harmony House claims 12-24 months of storage time for unopened jars, but I have seen and tasted no change at three years. Moisture is sealed out of the jars, and I keep them in a basement that doesn’t get very hot or cold. Commercial dehydrators are also able to get more moisture out of the vegetables then a home dehydrator typically can.
I cook all our meals from scratch, so always having a supply of vegetables on hand is very convenient. I never run out of vegetables anymore and never have to run to the store for a small amount of onion or celery that a recipe calls for. I just grab a jar from the larder. Cooking with dehydrated vegetables is rather easy. It takes just 15 minutes of soaking to rehydrate them. I use a slow cooker frequently and found I could dump the dehydrated veggies and the water in and not worry about it. Soups, too – just dump the veggies in with a bit of extra liquid, and off you go. Using dehydrated vegetables has become normal for me, making them fit the rule of, ‘Eat what you store, and store what you eat’.
I strongly recommend practicing cooking with your stored food. Learning how to cook with dehydrated vegetables for the first time during an emergency would not be pleasant. Experimenting with soups and stews in your warm, well-lit kitchen, however, can be fun.
My day-to-day vegetables are still fresh or frozen. When I run out of a vegetable, or when I am making a soup, stew or slow cooker meal, I now use dehydrated vegetables. You can’t see or taste the difference, and I end up saving a little on my grocery bill. At the same time, I’m taking the important step of rotating my storage food. My goal is to make sure none of the food I buy goes to waste. I usually manage it, too.