Real Food Stockpile: Fruits and Vegetables

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Luckily, most kids like raisins.

When you’re talking long-term food storage or preparedness, chances are you might end up with some foods and/or forms of food preparation that are a little foreign to your family.

When it comes to fruits, it’s just fun.

small power bars - more (10)

In the style of yesterday’s meat, protein and fat long-term storage post, I’ll tell you a little about what we do around here, naturally, that would help us be prepared in an emergency. It’s the things I do because I want to eat real food, frugally, not because I’m trying to be prepared. I imagine that the result of this series for me will mostly be to make sure I’m overstocked on some of these items instead of just stocked. A baby step. I like those. Winking smile

Also, as with all these real food preparedness posts, I invite you to participate by leaving ideas in the comments. I will update the post with new thoughts so that it is the most comprehensive resource it can be.

How to Store Fruits for Long-Term Preparedness

Assuming you’ve eaten all the frozen blueberries in your freezer in the first few days of a problem, you can rely on:

  • canned fruit
  • home-canned fruit
  • dried fruit – purchased or home dehydrated
  • freeze-dried fruit
  • UPDATE: growing your own tree! (see comments)

Don’t forget to check out the preservation and storage techniques post with all the pros and cons of the various methods.

dehydrating fruit

We do keep dehydrated fruit around as a means of preserving the summer produce, particularly strawberries and apples, both of which I also make into fruit rolls. Being seasonal, however, if we ran into an emergency right about now, we’d be right about out. As a preparedness effort, I should probably dry out a bunch of bananas regularly and try to keep them on hand.

The issue with dried fruit, either home-dried or purchased, is that it doesn’t last forever. You can only keep on hand what you’ll actually continue to go through naturally in a year’s time or so. The trick is keeping more on hand than you need – we can eat a lot of raisins, dates, and dried pineapple, but it’s all too easy to run out. (Don’t know what to do with dates? Try the dried fruit and nut bars – 14 variations! – in Healthy Snacks to Go.)

UPDATE: Cool link from a reader to Alton Brown on dehydrating.

Any sort of canned fruit, simply because it’s cooked, has fewer nutrients than fresh, frozen, dehydrated or freeze-dried fruit. I’m just about to the point where I might not buy any more canned fruit, even though it would last a really long time. Whenever I have it on hand “just in case” I don’t have any other choices for fruit, it ends up getting past its expiration date.

I’m thinking pretty strongly about stocking up on some freeze-dried fruits. Advantages include:

  • lightweight and compact for storage, travel
  • lasts 25 years without opening it! (UPDATE: see comments for some experience that says “not that long.”)
  • seriously tasty, especially as finger foods for toddlers
  • UPDATE: Reader says that Brigham Young study shows that dehydrated foods, kept in glass (not bags), in a dark place keep for 30 years.

Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

The only downfall is that it feels expensive. It’s probably not any worse than dried fruit from the store, but that’s pretty expensive, too.

The fact that I could stock up one time and not have to worry about using the food for 25 years is pretty awesome!

How to Store Vegetables for Long-Term Preparedness

dehydrated tomato rolls

Veggies are tougher. I’ve never munched on dried pepper. If the beauty of dried and canned fruit is that you don’t have to cook it to eat it, the downfall of dried vegetables is that you really do need to rehydrate and cook them. That takes both water and a heat source.

We dehydrate vegetables, mostly tomatoes and peppers, not because we like them, but purely to make use of inexpensive summer produce after I run out of room in the freezer for peppers and the energy for canning tomatoes. (The photo above is a tomato “roll” with pureed tomatoes, but I’m terrible at actually using it up. They don’t rehydrate as well as I’d like into tomato “sauce” or “paste.”)

Other veggies that are great for the dehydrator include zucchini, onions, garlic, herbs, and celery…who can add to this list? You CAN dehydrate just about anything, but what will you actually use as you go in your day-to-day cooking? As for onions and garlic, unless I grew my own and had to dehydrate or lose them, I wouldn’t bother since it’s so easy to purchase minced onion and garlic. UPDATE: reader dries out greens to add to sauces, smoothies. Awesome!

However, storage-wise, particularly if you have a limited amount of storage space, dehydrated foods are a great choice because they get so darn small when you take all the water out! (Adrienne will tell you more about that.)

I don’t can vegetables at all (other than tomatoes) because I don’t have a pressure canner, but I also don’t know that I would because of the nutrient loss, nor do I buy them canned, because I don’t like the added sodium, the high heat required (we’re a “lightly steam” or “saute” family), or the ideas of the cans themselves.

If I had canned vegetables on hand, I wouldn’t use them. If I become convinced that canned foods ARE a necessary part of preparing for emergencies, then I’d have to buy some (on sale) and mark in my calendar when to donate them to a food pantry so that they’re before their expiration date, then restock my own. That’s more work than I have time or space for right now.

Here are the top veggies I’d recommend keeping on hand:

  • canned tomatoes and paste, sauce, etc. (important to consider BPA in the can linings, so certainly can your own if you are able, or buy tomatoes in glass jars. The problem of course with home-canned seasonal tomatoes is that you’d be just about out during a spring or summer emergency.)
  • dried vegetables, whatever makes sense in your situation (i.e., do you have a garden, local produce to purchase, what does your family eat? It’s not really worth home dehydrating store-bought vegetables, since they’re already some distance from the field.)
  • freeze-dried vegetables (as with fruits, it’s time for me to try some freeze-dried vegetables, because I want to keep them around for 25 years!) UPDATE: see comments for a side-by-side comparison of freeze-dried vs. dehydrated. Excellent info!
  • root vegetables, stored whole (I try to keep lots of onions and potatoes on hand but still run low at times. Laurie of Common Sense Homesteading does a fabulous job keeping a garden for 3 seasons and storing whole vegetables. Learn about storage crops from her!)

The resource I have in my home that will teach me how to use the foods IF I want to dig deeper into home dehydration is called Making the Best of Basics. It’s written by James Talmage Stevens, who has been doing the prepping thing for decades and appreciates the value of cooking from scratch. I’ll actually be on his radio show this Monday, May 23rd, from 9-10:30 EST; you can find more information and listen (or download after the fact) with the big red button here.

For more How-to information on canning and dehydrating, check out the extensive links at this post.

Nutritional Information on Freeze-Dried Foods

I talked with Tracy, who sells Shelf Reliance products, and she sent on some nutritional factoids about freeze-dried foods to satiate my curiosity. I’m pretty happy with what I learned:

The biggest misconception is freeze dried is the same as dehydrated, which is not the case at all. Dehydrating requires a heating process that removes nutrients, and then sugar or other preservatives are added to prolong the shelf life. Freeze drying involves removing 98% of the water and oxygen from foods to preserve them. With the freeze dried products from Thrive the shelf life is 20 – 25 years unopened and 1 -2 years after opened.

If you look at the ingredients on the side of the cans of our fruits and vegetables, you will see the only ingredient is the product itself. So no sugar or other harmful chemicals.

There are lots of places to purchase freeze-dried foods, including Emergency Essentials, Honeyville Grain and even Amazon.

It’s not sourced, but also in Tracy’s information was this about canned foods, which lines up with everything I’ve ever read about the nutritional value of canned goods:

The heating process during canning destroys from one-third to one-half of vitamins A and C, riboflavin, and thiamin. For every year the food is stored, canned foods lose an additional 5 to 20% of these vitamins.

The bottom line in my opinion is that fruits and vegetables are much easier to store and use than meats and proteins, but both are an important part of a healthy diet.

Remember to eat what you store, and store what you use. What fruits and vegetables (and in what forms) does your family eat anyway? That’s what you want to stock up on.

What fruits and veggies do you find most helpful to buy/prepare in bulk, both for frugality’s sake and preparedness? (And of course, what did I miss here?)

Disclosure: I am affiliated with Making the Best of Basics and will earn commission from sales of those books, but I wouldn’t recommend anything I don’t use in my home. Also, if you shop at Amazon or Honeyville starting here, I get a small kickback. I do affiliate for Emergency Essentials, but I am not associated with the other companies I mentioned for freeze-dried fruits. See my full disclosure statement here.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

32 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    I really need to use my dehydrator more. I also want to look into a root cellar. Since our basement is heated, we would need to wall off a section and vent to the outside. There are lots of other methods that could work too, I just haven’t gotten around to implementing any of them. For now, in the winter, we just put our root vegetables in the garage.

    • says

      Great idea using your garage! I’d love to have an option like that. For now, I cram our freezer full of sasonal produce, and I’ve found that strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers seem to be the most helpful and most used items.

  2. shannon says

    I love this series! We were talking to my husbands 96 year old grandfather the other day and he was telling us about how he used to dehydrate fruit in the sun.

  3. Jennifer says

    I recently invested in some dwarf (2-3 feet) citrus trees – the kind that you grow in a pot. I move them outdoors when it’s warm, bring them in the fall, and get fruit year-round. I LOVE having fresh lemons on hand, and my kids love the tiny oranges. I purchased mine from Michgan Bulb, but I’m sure they’re available elsewhere. A great vitamin C source in an emergency.

  4. says

    Love this series, Katie!

    You mentioned raisins and it reminded me that I was surprised to learn from a dentist that raisins are actually quite terrible for the teeth! He said that they are worse than candy for creating cavities. I’m thinking that dates and other (super-sugary) dried fruits probably fall into the same category. Of course, for the current series you’re doing, (coming up with food to keep bodies going when there’s nothing else to eat), worrying about these niggly things doesn’t take top billing.

    That’s great info about the nutritional values of Freeze Dried food. That’s something I’ve always wondered about.

    • shenna says

      The problem with raisins is that they don’t dissolve – like candy. And since children often eat them as a snack, they aren’t as likely to brush their teeth right after and the raisins bits stay on their teeth for a long time. Raisins are good for you but children need to learn to brush properly and parents need to remember that after eating raisins (and other sticky foods that won’t dissolve) – they really need to brush their teeth.

      • Katie says

        Thank you for this! I’ve always been sad when I hear about raisins and teeth – best at breakfast in oatmeal, maybe, w/ teeth brushing right afterward. 😉 Katie

  5. says

    Here in the humid south, sun drying is out because the food would mold long before it dried. But I have my dehydrator running nearly 24/7 right now and just got my Mom one for Mother’s Day!

  6. Angelia says

    You can powder your dried tomatoes in a blender/food processor:) Powdering is also good for spinach.

    • Katie says

      I did try that, but maybe my blender was too weak. The particles were just too big and would float, not come together into a “sauce” or “paste” when I tried to rehydrate. ??? Maybe I over-dry them, or they’re too thick?
      Thanks anyway! :) Katie

  7. Gwen says

    We had a food storage class a few years ago where we did a comparison of freeze-dried and dehydrated vegetables–particularly broccoli and spinach. Surprisingly, the dehydrated vegetables won across the board, according to taste, cost and storage space.

    Dehydrated vegetables need to be blanched just like frozen ones. So now all I do is buy frozen broccoli and spinach (the best I can find) and just pour it right out of the freezer bag (still frozen) and onto the drying sheet and then dehydrate until done! It works great, it’s much cheaper than freeze-dried and it also takes less space to store. Freeze-dried foods actually consume the same amount of space as the original food, so keep that in mind when you’re buying it–it won’t get any “bigger” when it’s cooked.

  8. says

    Is my understanding correct, that BPA is only in the white-lined cans, not the plain metal (inside) ones? Unfortunately, it seems like most organics are in the white cans (why IS that?) But, for plain old canned beans and canned tomatoes and such, I’ve found that often the generics are not white-lined, so while not ideal foods necessarily, if you’re buying canned anyway, that at least avoids the BPA right?

    • Katie says

      I think you are correct – but tomatoes are always in white-lined cans because of the acidity, as are fruits, and I think beans too. ? Regular veggies probably aren’t – good point!
      Thanks, Katie

  9. Jessica Deratany says

    Just a comment about the freeze dried fruits, you have to consider they stay good for 25 years and with inflation likely when you open them you will save money anyways!

  10. says

    I like to dehydrate greens after I’ve run out of space for them in the freezer; they’re actually lower on my list for the freezer. Then I crush the greens and add them to sauces, ricotta cheese, and anything else I can sneak them into.

    I’d like to do more with the fruit drying. I’ve tried fruit leather and wasn’t successful. Maybe I need to try again. :-)

    • Katie says

      What a good idea with the greens! And how funny, b/c fruit leather is the one thing I did first and have never had trouble with. We love it! Thank you for the idea! :) Katie

  11. Alyssa says

    I love freeze-dried foods…saves us a lot of waste that we usually have with fresh…however, the length of time that the unopened cans will last or retain the optimal nutritional value depends on the”ideal” storage temp…68-70 degrees is the highest you can go and fit into the ‘ideal’ conditions…for about every 6 degrees lower you can get the temp, you extend the life of the product. And there is a difference between really good and life sustaining…I think Emergency Essentials has a page with this info on it… :) Really enjoying these posts!

  12. shenna says

    I’m going to share a word of caution about investing in large amounts of freeze dried foods. I’m ‘mature’ enough to have been on the far end of the 20-25 year shelf life for freeze dried foods….several different types of food and several different brands. I remember as a young kid my parent’s enthusiasm about easily storing all this wonderful food. They had tasting parties, etc and it DID taste and look wonderful. BUT – years later, when my siblings had all moved away and my parents didn’t want or need to store all that any longer – they gave it to me. I opened some of the cans to see if they were worth the space to store. Things like baking powder were a little ‘flat’ but still useful. Freeze dried bananas were fine. Any other fruit – had turned black and looked like tar! I tried rinsing it, boiling it, all kinds of methods to reconstitute or revive it. NO WAY! It wasn’t even useful for the compost. The peas, corn, carrots – were all the same. Those hadn’t turned to ‘black tar’ – but they would NOT reconstitute. They stayed hard as rocks after soaking, simmering, boiling, leaving overnight to soak, etc. I totally LOVE some freeze dried fruits – like strawberries – to use NOW….but I caution anyone that chooses to rely on this method for preparing ahead for the long term. You need to Rotate food to keep the food value ‘up’. And the only things that really last for 20-25 years – or forever…..are things like wheat, honey, etc. Freeze drying does NOT work to keep food edible or nutritious for Forever.

    • Katie says

      Thank you! I wonder how long between “yum” and “tar”? Your first person experience is invaluable… I’m editing the post now! :) Katie

      • JudyH says

        I wonder if there is a difference between how things were freeze dried 20 years ago compared to now and if that makes a difference in how long foods will actually last.

  13. shenna says

    Katie – wish I could tell you when ‘yum’ ceased and became ‘tar’. But we didn’t open cans periodically to test them out. They were just in a well insulated storage area for emergency. But at the 18-22 year mark – definitely lots of YUCK!!

  14. Amy Carter says

    I recently gave a class on dehydrating foods to my church ladies group. In doing my research I read that Brigham Young University did research/tests and found that dehydrated foods can last up to 30 years if kept in cool dark places and they recommended not storing them in zip top bags but jars or tupperware etc. Sorry I don’t remember the link.

  15. shenna says

    I think what needs to be considered is this: when is ‘UP to 30 years’? hmmmmmm And I definitely am a fan of BYU – attended there myself. But I know what I personally experienced. All of the products my family had were still sealed in the cans from the company. They had always been in a cool, dark place. And SOME of it was awful. I truly believe that the best way to store food is: store what you eat, eat what you store. Rotate!!

    • Katie says

      Yep! I don’t think I’d keep dehydrated food that long… I would be too nervous that it would fail when I needed it.

  16. Michelle says

    Is there such a thing as freeze-dried ORGANIC food storage? I mean, if it has to be kept in rotation in order to keep it fresh and all, that means that we need to eat it regularly AND in a case of emergency. I think I would rather not prepare for an emergency if it means adding nutrient-poor canned and freeze-dried items like white flour and pesticide-laden freeze-dried strawberries. Especially because in my house we deal with allergies. I think it would almost be better that we do a 3-4 day FAST than eat that stuff! But, if there was a truly clean food-storage system, I would be interested in the investment.

  17. shenna says

    I don’t know anything about the freeze drying process from years ago – or currently. But I know when I was a kid my parents were told their food storage would last 30 years. It didn’t. If the process has changed recently – how do people really KNOW that the products will ALL last for 20-25 years – or whatever they’re saying. I don’t believe that any of these companies are trying to be fraudulent. They truly believe for some reason – hopefully scientific based testing – that this food will last for a LONG time. BUT – my own experience has been that it didn’t happen for us. If I was truly hungry and needing to rely on that food to eat and then went to my food storage and opened up can after can of a useless mess – that would be so upsetting….especially if I had hungry children still at home to feed. As it was – when we discovered the results – it was disappointing and too bad….but we weren’t going to be going without anything. It was just going to be a little practice….

  18. says

    Don’t overlook SPROUTS! I have a stock of mung beans just for sprouting, which is basically growing your own veggies. You can also sprout almost any bean (not kidney beans though) and wheat berries, too. I think having seeds and beans are an important part of preparedness.

    I don’t have a pressure canner either. I buy marinara made with natural ingredients (no HFCS, soybean oil, etc.) in lieu of canned tomatoes which I stopped purchasing last year. However, I do think that in an emergency, some food principles can be relaxed if necessary- it’s better to eat veggies from a can than to NOT eat veggies at all during an emergency!

    And don’t forget that in a true emergency, you’ll need more nutrition and more calories generally. If there is a natural disaster, chances are there might not be electricity (you’ll have to heat and cool yourself, which burns calories) and lots more manual work. Factor that in and overplan!

    I do believe that Azure Standard sells organic dried fruit.

  19. Teri says

    I just wanted to add that I have been canning/drying/freezing fruits and vegetables for 40+ years. My dehydrated veggies have lasted 3-5 years in glass jars with dried winter squash lasting 6 years-storing in a ziploc bag inside a plastic bucket. We have always stored all our food storage in a cool, dry, dark room in the basement. While some nutrients are lost when processing, at least I know we have food on our shelves and the fruit/juice will provide our family with meals we are accustomed to. Rotation is the key to food storage whether it is bottled at home, bought at the store or dryed/freeze dried. Thank you, Shenna, for all the information! Our food storage is used in every meal, every day. And, thanks, Katie for all the good information. Also, I just wanted to say that I dehydrated portebello mushrooms last summer (we got a whole box for $5, fresh) and they are wonderful added to soups and stews in the slow cooker. I’m glad someone said to dry greens, think I will do some soon. Oh, and my mom eats the tomatoes I dehydrate like candy! :) I also make my own hash browns and cubed potatoes to freeze and freeze extra garden veggies for use all winter. :) And I really like the cream of chicken soup recipe from Tammy’s recipes. It freezes well and I know what we are eating. :)

    • says

      Hey, I’ve dried mushrooms, too, and added them to soups. I usually do it when I find big bags of reduced mushrooms at my local produce stand.

      Your comment about tomatoes reminded me that last year when I had way too many cherry tomatoes to share or use up, I dried them in my dehydrator and added them to pasta salads. Cutting the cherry tomatoes in half helped them dry faster.

  20. says

    The thought of ever running out of home canned tomatoes seems a bit foreign to me. I’m almost 25 (born in 1986) and a year or so ago, I made tomato soup with two quarts: one was two years younger than me and the other was from the summer right before I started elementary school (1991)! Mighty tasty, too. And we do use a fair number of those cans each winter, though they’re usually rotated a bit better than that.

    But then again, my grandmother never felt good about her pantry unless she had put up at least 300 quarts of green beans over the summer. So maybe we’re a bit strange when it comes to canning…

  21. casey says

    I stock canned and dried food every spring to be prepared for hurricane season. Other than during Hurrican Ike in 2008, I rarely eat it. What I ususally do is at the end of hurricane season is donate whatever is left that I won’t eat to a local food pantry. That way nothing is wasted. It probably costs me more money since i have to ‘restock’ every spring, but I hate wasting food and jsut through out about 20 cans of tuna that expired in 2011 that I found hiding in the back of a closet.

  22. casey says

    You can also use a grill or BBQ pit as a ‘heat source’ for cooking foods when the power is out. I lost power for 18 days following Hurricane Ike and I have an electric stove so it was not usuable. I have some heavy duty pots that along with bottled water allowed me to ‘cook’ on the grill.

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