With the current economic climate and the recent drought, there is a lot of concern about an impending increase in food prices. As I browse through homesteading blogs and review comments from recent news articles, more and more people that have not been a part of the "prepper movement" in the past are now starting to open their eyes and see a need to increase their food stores. When you first begin to build your pantry, it is helpful to think about the purpose of food storage: The true goal of storing food is to be able to provide enough calories to sustain life.
Everyone has a basal metabolic rate (BMR) which is the number of calories that you burn a day at rest with no digestion occurring. Your BMR is based on your gender, age, weight, and height. A quick online search will yield links to multiple BMR calculators, so that you can figure your individual BMR. For sake of an example, let us assume that you are a 40 year old 175 pound man that is 5 feet 10 inches tall. Your BMR is approximately 1,700 calories per day. Remember, this is how many calories your body burns doing nothing at all, not even eating. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle with little to no exercise, you multiply your BMR by 1.2 to get your daily calorie requirement. In the example above, this would give a calorie requirement of 2,055 calories in the setting of little to no physical activity. If you have a high level of activity with exercise 6-7 days per week, your calorie requirement would jump up to 2950 calories per day (BMR times 1.75).
For those of you who have looked into long-term food storage, you see advertisements all of the time for a "year supply of food." One popular web site offers a premium year supply which contains enough food to supply one person with approximately 1,600 calories per day for a year. As you can see from the above example, this would not be enough food to support the basic metabolic functions of a large percentage of people, much less provide the needed energy for daily activities. In a post-SHTF scenario [without the benefit of power tools, most water pumps, and gas engine vehicles], the general activity level of the populace will most certainly increase, so most people can expect their current calorie requirement to go well above their BMR.
There are other prepackaged supplies of food that supply around 2,000 calories per person per year. One such example at Emergency Essentials provides 2,000 calories per day for 371 days for $2,700, as of today. If you do the math on a package like this, you will figure out that you are getting 275 calories per dollar spent. That sounds pretty good, but how does that compare to other items that you can purchase? And, what if you don't have three grand to drop on food and just want to get started putting food by? How can you see if you are getting your money's worth with regards to total calories purchased?
I have been a prepper since 2006, but honestly, the money spent per calorie of food never crossed my mind until recently when we starting making regular purchases for a local food bank. The first few donations included cans of vegetables, namely corn and green beans. I had purchased a few flats of each of these around Thanksgiving when they were put on sale for $0.50 each. Each can had 3.5 servings of food according to the label, but as you will see, "servings" are not all created equal. Although the serving size of each was the same (one-half cup), a serving of the corn contained 60 calories, whereas a serving of the green beans only had 20 calories. That equates to 210 calories in a can of corn and 70 calories in a can of green beans. So, with the corn, I was able to buy 420 calories/dollar but only got 140 calories/dollar with the green beans. That is a big difference!!
Being cognizant of the number of calories I was getting for the money spent made me reevaluate my food bank purchases. I wanted to be sure I was getting the most for the money that I was donating. Not only did this change the way that I looked at the purchases for the local food bank, but it also changed the way I looked at the purchases for my own pantry with regards to both long-term and short-term storage. I began to think about the #10 cans of food that I have purchased over the years without true regard for the calorie density of their contents. On my shelves, I have cans of freeze dried green beans, spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms. I am happy to have them to provide variety, but in a post-STHF scenario, these cans will be useless in terms of providing energy for me to work around our compound. Before now, seeing these cans on the shelf provided a sense of "food security" because they are indeed food, but what I am really looking for is "calorie security."
That can of freeze dried green beans has 21 one-half cup servings with 30 calories per serving. So, if I ate the whole can, I would only get 630 calories!! That same can of green beans costs $14.95 right now which means I am only getting 42 calories/dollar spent. Consider a #10 can of dehydrated carrots that contains a total of 3,710 calories and costs $11.50. You are getting 323 calories per dollar in that can. It is easy to see which is a better purchase if your goal is to provide calories.
Now, don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with spending the money on products that have fewer calories. I personally love dehydrated mushrooms and use them all of the time when I cook. I will continue to buy them as long as I can although they have basically no calories. Nonetheless, the concept of the total calories you are getting for each dollar you spend is important to consider, especially when the money available for building your food storage is limited.
For those that are just beginning to build their short term (3 month-2 year) food storage, what are some of the more cost effective items to buy in terms of the number of calories you get per dollar spent? Well, if you have ever been on a diet or have read about a diet, this should be pretty easy to think about. Those items that are high in carbohydrates are usually going to have the most calories per unit cost. These would include rice, beans, potatoes, wheat, pasta, corn, etc. These groups of foods are the ones that everyone tries to stay away from when trying to lose weight. Right? Why is that? Well, it is because they are calorie dense, meaning you don't have to eat much volume to get a lot of calories. But since in a post-SHTF scenario most people will not get to continue to be couch potatoes (or desk potatoes) and the level of physical activity will dramatically increase, we will be less worried about eating low-cal. You will need those calorie-dense items (that we all try to avoid currently) in order to sustain a higher level of physical activity.
Conversely, the items that cost more per calorie are usually those things that you are allowed to eat without consequence on a diet. These would include spinach, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Like we saw above, you can eat a whole 14 ounce can of green beans from the grocery store and only get 70 calories. You would have to spend all day eating green beans to get enough calories to live and would have no time left over to work. :)
Okay , so let's get down to the nitty gritty. Let us take a look at specific foods that you may consider for short or long term storage and see how many calories they provide per dollar spent--you can also see how that compares to the 275 calories per dollar that we would get purchasing that prepackaged premium year supply of food. The prices that I am quoting were looked up online at my local warehouse club this morning.
1. Long grain white rice: 50# bag for $16.86. There are 1650 calories per pound which gives 82,500 calories in the bag. So, you get 4893 calories/dollar spent.
2. Potato flakes: 3.2# box for $5.76. There are 65 one-half cup servings with 80 calories each giving 5200 calories in the box. So, you get 903 calories/dollar spent.
3. Dehydrated hash brown potatoes: 2.06# box for $5.98. There are 60 one-third cup servings with 70 calories each giving 4200 calories in the box. So, you get 694 calories/dollar spent.
4. Pinto beans: 25# bag for $20.49. There are 1440 calories per pound of beans, giving 36,000 calories in the bag. So, you get 1757 calories/dollar spent.
5. All purpose flour: 25# bag for $8.00. There are 1600 calories per pound of flour, giving 40,000 calories in the bag. So, you get 5,000 calories/dollar spent.
6. Angel Hair pasta: 6# box (wrapped in 1 pound bundles) for $5.76. 48 two-ounce servings with 210 calories per serving, giving 10,080 calories per box. So, you get 1750 calories/dollar spent.
7. Tang powder: 4.5# container with 88 servings (to make 88 cups) with 90 calories per serving, giving 7920 calories per container. So, you get 1135 calories/dollar spent.
Now, I know that these items don't qualify as long term storage products, in the manufacturer's packaging, but they are ideal staples for a short-term pantry. Also, with a little extra work, all of them except the flour could be placed in long term storage by sealing them in mylar bags inside of buckets. This does add to the cost but it may still be more reasonable than buying the pre-made super pails from an emergency supply store. Example: If you had to pay $11 for storage supplies (bucket, lid, mylar bag, and oxygen absorber) to put away the bag of rice, you would still be getting 2,961 calories per dollar spent on that bucket of rice. A 44-lb pail of white rice from Emergency Essentials is currently selling for $57.95, giving 1,239 calories per dollar spent. This is much more cost effective than the 275 calories per dollar in the year-supply package we discussed earlier, but you can definitely improve your calorie per dollar ratio by packaging the rice yourself.
I consider all purpose flour a great item for a short-term storage pantry since its shelf life is listed as 8 months to 1 year, but whole wheat is certainly preferred for long term storage. The wheat can then be ground into flour when it is needed, but it can also be used without grinding to add some variety to food storage meals. Where I live, wheat is not available for bulk purchase, so I end up buying pre-made super pails of wheat for my long term storage. Currently the 45 pound hard red wheat super pail costs about $47. This contains 385 one-fourth cup servings with 180 calories per serving, giving 69,300 calories per pail. So, you would get 1,474 calories per dollar spent buying that super pail. For those of you who are fortunate to live in areas where you can buy wheat in bulk, I am sure that you could package it yourself and increase the number of calories you are getting for your money, just as we saw with the rice.
Overall, the number of calories you get per dollar spent is much higher with the bulk foods from the warehouse store than in the long term storage year-supply packages. Because of this, I recommend that you first make sure that you purchase some of the more cost-effective items initially to build up a short-term pantry before you start spending lots of money on the items packaged in #10 cans and super pails. You will be able to build up your calorie reserve much faster on a smaller budget starting with your short-term storage.
Short term storage isn't limited to bulk items from the warehouse stores. Don't forget about the goods in your local grocery store. Most canned goods can be kept in the pantry for at least 2 years. Creamy condensed soups usually contain more calories than their ready-to-eat counterparts because you are storing less water in the can. One brand of cream of chicken soup on my pantry shelf has 300 calories per can, which is fantastic. If you can find it on sale over the holidays for $1 per can, you are getting 300 calories per dollar. Starchy vegetables such as beans, corn, and sweet peas are going to have a higher calorie density than green beans, asparagus, and tomatoes--so for cans of similar price, the starchy vegetables will add more calories for your buck. And, remember the ever-favorite ramen noodles. At our local grocer, you can get a 12-pack of ramen for $2.44. Each individual pack contains 380 calories, giving 4560 calories in the box. So, ramen yields 1,869 cal per dollar spent. Pretty impressive! No wonder college students live off of it.
Although I advocate shopping wisely to make sure you are getting plenty of calories for the dollar spent, I do not recommend buying empty calories. Yes, you could purchase 10 buckets of white sugar and have lots of calories, but these calories provide little nutrition, meaning there are no vitamins and minerals, no protein, and no fat. Although you need calories to live, empty calories alone won't keep you healthy. Make sure you are familiar with the USDA recommendations for protein and fat intake. On average, individuals should consume around 50 grams of protein a day, but the amount needed will increase if you are doing heavy physical labor. It is also recommended that you get about 30% of you daily calories from fat. Knowing this, you will need to have variety in your food storage--don't stock up on one item alone just because it provides adequate calories.
When protein is mentioned, people often get discouraged thinking that they need to purchase expensive meats to provide adequate protein. Remember, proteins are found in lots of foods other than meat, including grains, nuts (and nut butters), powdered milk, and beans. Examples: One-fourth of a cup of wheat provides 7 grams of protein, one-third of a cup of rolled oats provides 6 grams of protein, and 3 tablespoons of dry pinto beans provides 8 grams of protein. The high protein content of these high carb items make them even more attractive as core staples in the pantry. They are a relatively inexpensive way to add calories and protein.
I honestly could go on forever discussing different foods to store or not to store, but entire books have been written on that. The concept that I want you to take with you from this discussion is that you need to THINK about the PURPOSE of the food you are buying. Don't base your purchases on the number of servings per container or on someone else's concept of a years-supply of food. Understand how many calories you and your family need to survive and buy food accordingly. Build your short-term and long-term storage up around items that cost less per calorie until you have an adequate supply of calories, and then use your extra money if you would like to add in items that provide different flavors but may not give you much in the way of energy. If you buy wisely, you will be able to meet your requirements by spending less money than you would expect based on browsing emergency storage web sites. Remember, it's not about the food itself, it's about the calories!