This page is dedicated to the purely responsible thing for any citizen to do- prepare.
As I have said before, I am not talking about building a bunker or setting up traps in your yard to harm intruders- though if you are into that, I am not opposed to you doing your thing. This is also not akin to reality TV shows like “Extreme Prepper” (note the word “extreme”). Responsible preparation does not have to become your life, nor take over your weekend. I will share my approach to prepping and why I advocate it for everyone, regardless of your living arrangements, the size of your home, economic status, or if your family thinks you are crazy.
Let’s start with the basics of survival:
- Water: Absolutely the number one, most critical item for survival. You can survive for a week without food. You have only a couple of days without water.
- Food: Because you do want to survive more than a week.
- Shelter: Sleeping outside sucks.
As I assume you are reading this blog from the comfort of somewhere, we will assume shelter is covered, at least for now. Let’s start on responsible prepping for food and water.
I know that there are a number of obstacles people have to prepping: a.) I don’t have the space, b.) I don’t have the time and c.) if something happens, I can just run to the store. This isn’t the Middle Ages.
…and then there is reality. Shoppers faced rows of barren shelves during the recent blizzard that disabled parts of the Southern and Eastern U.S. Of course you can run to the store- just like everyone else. Hopefully, you get there in time to purchase what your family needs. Hopefully, such an emergency won’t happen when it is financially inconvenient (or even impossible) for you. It amazes me that in 2016 this many people are not prepared to ride out a weather emergency for a couple of days. Snow plows were out almost immediately and, in most areas, life resumed to a relative normal by Monday. If a grocery store can be emptied out for a relatively normal weather event, what could possibly happen if something really major happened?
Let’s look at this in a sane, responsible way.
- You need water. You think you have enough water stored. You don’t. You need water to drink, cook with, make coffee with (yes, even if there was a zombie apocalypse I am making coffee. Are we barbarians?), brush your teeth with, give to the pets to drink (don’t forget about the pets!). You need water and you need to start storing it now. Right now. If you have to stop reading this blog to run out and get water, I will forgive you. Just come back when you are done. 🙂
There is an easy way to stockpile water. Don’t wait until the last minute. We amassed a responsible storage of water (enough for a month; working to a three month supply) for a family of four with four dogs and three cats. All I did was purchase a gallon of purified water (I prefer spring water) with every shopping trip. A gallon runs you $1 or less. When on sale for even less than that, I would buy as many as I could. The gallons went right from my car to our dedicated storage space. I rotate the stock (yes, water expires. It’s not the water so much as the container the water is in, so rotate your stock and use from your stockpile once in a while). When a case of bottled water was on sale, I would pick up an extra. In the storage area it went.
Remember this- the best time to start working on emergency supplies is when there is no emergency at all.
Using this method, you can easily fit water prepping into your budget and lifestyle. Everyone goes to the store. Everyone can afford at least one gallon of water per week.
If you are limited on storage space, here are some things I have seen others try:
- Store gallon jugs under beds.
- Put shoes in one of those over-the-door holders and use the freed-up floor space to store cases of bottled water.
- Store water in their garage
- “Spread” storage space; bottled water on the floor of the kitchen pantry, gallons in a closet, etc.
If you follow this method of slowly building your water stores, I promise you will be amazed at how much you accumulate and how much better you will feel knowing that you have enough to make it through an emergency.
2. Food, food, glorious food. I am in awe of the “extreme preppers” because of how much food they store. Some have years of food stored. While impressive, that seems like a logistical nightmare to me. I do, however, strongly feel that food storage is necessary. You will start to see a trend in my posts when it comes to food, particularly when gardening season is in full swing. I believe that we absolutely have the capability to control the food we eat, the amount that we eat and how much is available to us regardless of our age or economic status. We will get into that more on another post. For now, though, let’s talk about emergency stores of food.
- Canned food is what I refer to as “short term storage” and I don’t tend to purchase a lot of canned goods for my emergency stockpile. For one thing, I generally have enough cans of beans, soups, chili, and whatever to last for a few days or more if I really needed to, so I don’t tend to purchase extra…with one exception. I do have a small stockpile of canned meats- chicken and beef. Like the water storage plan, I purchased these on sale or when it made sense (i.e. Costco had a sale on canned Buffalo chicken. I thought- why not? I added it to my stockpile and even used one can to make a Buffalo Chicken Pizza for the family dinner one night, just to try it out. Tasty!). Meat is expensive on a normal day, so I would imagine in an emergency situation when you are faced with no meat at all (which is, frankly, an option) or with whatever is left on the shelf, it makes sense to at least have something you can make in a casserole, soup, or whatever suits your fancy.
- I also have my own stores of “canned food”, but those “cans” are Mason jars. 🙂 I discovered canning a couple of years ago and haven’t looked back. Food preservation is a lost art and a critical skill for generations before our own. The homesteading and self-sufficiency movement have brought back canning with a vengeance! Here is the thing- you can get Mason jars everywhere- even at the Goodwill. Lids and rings are readily available and rather inexpensive. If you think canning your own food is hard, you are wrong, but you do have to do it correctly. I will post more on that later. I have found a great way to “budget can”. Almost every grocery store has a section of bruised or “older” produce that is greatly reduced for “quick sale”. These deals are typically great- I bought three pounds of jalapeños for 0.99 once!- but you do need to use the produce almost immediately. Or dooooo you? 😉
Those jalapeños I bought? I washed them all when I got home. I picked out the ones that were not to my liking (a handful or so) due to their condition. Then I sliced the remainder up and canned some (for Superbowl nachos and general fun stuff with jalapeños) and froze others (I froze halves to use for jalapeño poppers and diced some to be used in the hubby’s famous chili). I am getting a lot of play out of those 0.99 peppers.
I also seize opportunities in this area as well. One day, we came across an unexpected sale on organic tomatoes at a supermarket (we honesty stopped to get a birthday card and left with six pounds of tomatoes)- at 0.39/lb we had to take advantage of it. We spent the afternoon canning them all. It was not how we planned to spend the afternoon, but I had canned, organic tomatoes for soups, sauces and chili for months at a total cost of $2.48, including tax. Small price to pay for good, healthy food at your disposal.
Home canning is great, because you can control the ingredients and the amount of salt you add. Canned organic produce is expensive; when you purchase organic produce on sale and can it yourself, it is infinitely less expensive. If organic produce seems out of reach for your budget, then purchase non-organic produce. Canning your own is still better than the store stuff. Our grandparents survived all year on the produce from their garden that way. We can too!
- Frozen foods are another great emergency option, though you have to be careful here. Obviously, if the emergency situation results in a loss of power for more than a short period of time, you do not want to have your entire emergency supply rendered useless. Again, though, this is an area where sanity rules. You can (and should!) buy in bulk whenever possible. If you live in an apartment, it’s harder to buy and store a side of beef- I get that- but you can store a few extra bags of veggies, for example, or even fruit. If you have young ones at home, you can make and store frozen fruit yogurt pops- something they will love, is nutritious, and doesn’t take up too much space in your freezer. The containers used to make those pops are inexpensive and make six at a time. If you are single, you can make meals for the week in advance and freeze those for yourself. Older kids in the family? Make and freeze soups, chilis and sauces to make weekday mealtime easier and have extra on hand just-in-case. You get the general drift- you can and should buy bulk and freeze extras (veggies, left over lasagna, even homemade pizza). Just have a plan to use that food first, even if the electricity seems like it is stable at first. Electricity is one of the first things interrupted in many weather events, regardless of season.
- Dried food: Not to be confused with freeze-dried food, which we will address in a minute, dried food is a true enabler. I would argue that dried food awakens your inner chef. I both purchase and dry my own food. The key to storing dried food properly for long term storage is in the container. You can dry can goods in a mason jar (easy as pie. Take rice, for example, out of the bag and pour into the appropriately sized Mason jar, one that allows you to get the product near the very top of the jar with a little bit of clearance. Lid and ring that jar. Place all the jars you are using on a cookie sheet and place in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees for an hour. I will have another post soon demonstrating with step-by-step instructions) and it will last for YEARS. Here is what I have stored in this way:
- Rice, brown and white
- Beans: kidney, black, navy, and a 12-bean mix for soup
- Tomato powder (see below)
I also have pre-packaged dry foods a-plenty. When building my emergency stockpile, I wanted to have both sanity and variety. I didn’t know what emergency I could possibly face, or if I would ever face one at all. So I needed flexibility on both counts. It made no sense to store foods we would not be enthused to eat, even in an emergency. It also made no sense to store foods that were single-purpose. So I bought pre-packaged foods like dry soups (can be used for the intended purpose and to mix into casseroles and other dishes), dried veggies (as ingredients with nutritious value) and the like. No emergency? No problem. The worst that could happen is we don’t go grocery shopping for a while.
If you are on a limited budget and/or space, I urge you to invest in a dehydrator. There are units as inexpensive as $40 or so, like the one I use. I can dry up to four racks at a time in my kitchen while life goes on. I love methods that let me prepare for the future while working on today. A dehydrator allows you to make some truly wonderful items (jerky!!! fruit rollups!!) that are, conveniently enough, good for your food stockpile. It also works to preserve food, thus saving you money. For example, I love berries. LOVE THEM. But I cannot sit down and eat a full quart of strawberries in one sitting. Berries have a short shelf life overall, so I simply eat what I want when fresh, then dry the rest. I have a quart-sized container of dried blackberries, strawberries (I slice before drying) and raspberries that I use in oatmeals, cereals, etc. I even use them to make homemade granola bars!
Tomato powder? Hidden gem. Tomato powder acts as a thickener, so it’s great to use in lieu of tomato paste, for example. You can also use this almost like a tomato spice- whenever you feel something needs a touch of tomato flavor, just throw some in. And in an emergency? Add powdered milk (I so have some of that in my stockpile as well) and some boiling water and season to taste. Soup!
I am a gardening fiend, because I believe growing your own food is essential. I use tomatoes all the time in season, then can, freeze and dry some as well. I slice up tomatoes, dry them up handily in my dehydrator, then use my Ninja grinder attachment to make them into a powder. You could go old-school with a mortar and pestle as well.
Once you have a sane amount of dried foods, you do start to wonder what you can make with all that goodness. That is essential, because I think it awakens the self-sufficient DNA in all of us. You look at that jar of peaches you canned a few months back and the oatmeal grains, flour and sugar you have on hand and think- pie! Or you look at those dehydrated potato slices in a mason jar that you made and think- au gratin potatoes with dinner! It’s great to practice options. I, for one, do not want to figure out how to make food with these ingredients once an emergency happens. I want to know well in advance. I want to know how to substitute ingredients in a recipe with what I have on hand and how to make the best of it. Again, the best time to prepare for an emergency is when there is no emergency.
- Freeze-Dried Foods: For the uber prep, you should have some of these on-hand. Again, sanity rules here. The easiest way to start on freeze-dried food is simply purchasing bags of camping foods. There is a nice variety and all you do is add boiling water for the most part. Fairly simple and lasts anywhere from 10-30 years. If you are low on available space, this may afford you some peace of mind- you can even store these bags in a container under your bed.
Eventually, though, you may want to take a different approach to freeze-dried food, at least if you are like me. I started with the camping food route and eventually moved to freeze-dried ingredients. The camping food is certainly convenient, but rather expensive. I wanted something more flexible and more frugal. My online searches allowed me to find plenty of options for freeze-dried ingredients- even cheese!- that I could purchase and store for a decade or more, knowing that I could whip up something out of all that with only boiling water.
My current stockpile contains freeze-dried peppers, eggs (yes!), onions, potatoes, mixed veggies, ground beef (tacos, chili), apples, berries, and many more. Like my water, I bought a little at a time and took advantage of sales when I saw them.
For those that look at the prices of freeze-dried foods, it can be a bit shocking. It’s not cheap. However, you should look at this a couple of ways: a.) you are making an investment in you and your family having a critical survival item that will last up to 30 years, and b.) food prices are always subject to inflation. So, in a way, you are hedging the price of this food in 20-30 years by buying it now. What is the worst that can happen? You eat it.
Like everything else I recommended, start small. I used to have a shelf in my pantry and now have a dedicated space in the basement as well as stores in the kitchen and spare closets. We could survive nicely for a month or more without going to the store and without feeling desperate- an important thing to remember in any emergency situation. We didn’t get into this position overnight. It took a realistic plan and a sane execution of that plan. You can do it, too!
Last night, we roasted a chicken for dinner. I bought that whole chicken on sale three months ago and spent two days thawing it in the fridge. I think I paid $4.99 or so for that organic chicken (I bought several at that price, but this was my last one). We flavored it with sage I grew over the summer and dried in my dehydrator. We served it with green beans I grew as well that I had in the freezer. We made the stuffing from leftover bread made in a Dutch oven (a favorite and I will share with step-by-steps in another post later). The whole dinner, all in, cost us maybe $7.50. We fed four people on that dinner. It was healthy. It was delicious. It was inexpensive. It was because we prepped. No emergency needed to enjoy. 🙂
And yes- the remains of the chicken will join onions (from my stockpile, saved in pantyhose and hung up in a spare closet. Not kidding.), carrots (organic; freezer) and celery (the one thing I need to get from the store) to make stock. An unspoken rule of responsible prepping? Waste nothing. 🙂
Happy responsible prepping!