Eat Well, Spend Less: 5 Basic Steps to Emergency Preparedness

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Unless your home is completely fireproof, will never flood, and you can be assured that the economy will be perfectly able to support you every day for the rest of your life, you might want to be ready for something weird to happen. It’s a surprise when it does – that’s why it’s called an emergency.

Those of us who know how to make things from scratch, buy in bulk to save money, and have the ability to preserve the harvest might not be thinking of emergency preparedness, but we’re leaps and bounds ahead of the average American already.

That average American only has 3 days or less worth of food on hand at any given time.

It would be a cinch for me not to visit a grocery store for even a few weeks without starving, although we might miss our homemade yogurt terribly after a couple days.


This month’s Eat Well, Spend Less series is focusing on preparedness. How will you, as someone who wants to save money and still eat real food, fare in an emergency, whether natural disaster, personal injury, or loss of income?

Many disaster preparedness resources rely heavily on highly processed, not-so-healthy foods that are closer to the space program than something you’d regularly see on your table. Since one key to actually being ready when the time comes is “store what you eat, eat what you store,” those packaged dinners won’t be a good option as rotating them to keep the food freshest is neither desirable nor frugal.

If you want to get a start on basic readiness, here are the top 5 Eat Well, Spend Less steps:

1. Store Some Water

water in cup

Always store empty canning jars filled with water instead of empty. You can boil it for doing dishes and washing people if you have it available. Of course, this time of year, your canning jars are probably full of good food to eat, but then you are ready for some of the other steps at least! photo source

In order to make the water potable (safe to drink), since bacteria can always thrive in moist locations, you’ll need some additional help. See How to Store Water Without Chemicals for more detailed information. If you don’t want to learn how to do all that, just buy a few jugs of water and make a note to yourself in the calendar to swap them with new ones every six months.

You’ll want to start with the purest water possible when you store your own, and you can test the quality of your water and find the filter that’s right for you at Radiant Life. They also have some nifty single person filters that work without electricity.

2. Have Easy to Eat Foods Around

A stocked pantry is a great thing, but if you have no way to cook your dry beans and rice, you’re still hungry. Think of a list of foods from multiple food groups that can be eaten without cooking, whether needed for an evacuation plan or if you have an electric stove that could easily be out of commission simply when the power goes out. For example:

  • dried fruits
  • nuts and nut butters
  • canned tuna or salmon
  • canned soup or meat (home-canned preferable to avoid MSGs and other preservatives)
  • canned or frozen legumes (beans)
  • frozen peas

3. Stock up on Grains, Legumes, and Dry Goods

black bean soup (3)

Black Bean Soup from The Everything Beans Book; great with dry beans and dehydrated red peppers and often on hand in my freezer for easy leftovers.

Part of knowing how to Eat Well & Spend Less is certainly using real ingredients and buying in bulk, so likely you can check this item off your list quickly.

Compared to folks who just buy bread, buying (or grinding) flour means that your food storage will last longer than average Joe American. One of our September sponsors, Honeyville Grain, sells bulk baking supplies.

Shopping the stock up sales probably means that you have plenty of just about everything on hand, from pasta to dry beans, salt to vinegar and oil.

Learn to use dry beans and incorporate them into your menus once a week, so soup 125that you can “store what you use, and USE what you store.” It’s important that your family is used to beans if you suddenly need them often. Check out The Everything Beans Book for 30 recipes to keep your palates happy. If you’re curious, it’s recommended that each person have about 5 pounds of beans per month for emergency storage, and about the same for rice.

Pat yourself on the back if your pantry or basement food storage has plenty to get your family through a few days (or more) of being disconnected from the grocery store. You’re probably well prepared for a  financial emergency like layoff or injury.

Now for some new recipes to make sure you know how to use all those dry goods regularly:

Don’t forget that to make these recipes you’ll need both water and a power source. How to Keep Cooking in an Emergency shares some possibilities.

4. Have some Meat, Fruits and Veggies on Hand

apple slices

Another September sponsor, LPC Survival, sells freeze-dried meat, fruits and veggies for disaster preparedness. They’re about as “real food” as you an get without doing it yourself.

Decide to stock enough vegetables for a few days: dehydrated, freeze-dried, canned. Add some dried fruit to the mix. (There are pros and cons to each method of preserving; choose the one that you’d eat anyway so you can keep your stock fresh.) You can certainly can your own fruits and vegetables, rely on dried fruit, and even dehydrate your own fruit for storage. Read  Real Food Stockpile: Fruits and Vegetables for more.

Watch sales at the store for canned tuna and salmon. Grab a few (or more) cans when it’s a good price. If you just won’t do cans (I don’t think BPA is a problem unless the cans are lined with white, which fish usually isn’t), buy or make some dehydrated meat to keep on hand. See Real Food Stockpile: Meats, Proteins & Fats for more info.

The trick here? Don’t store too much or it might go bad on you before you need it. Head over to read Tammy’s tips on how she and her family create and use long-term food storage. (coming soon) Jessica is also sharing her wisdom on how to eat from the pantry/freezer/garden, handy for practicing your culinary creativity without a run to the store, and Alyssa explains her philosophy of her pantry as an emergency fund.

5. Gather Important Documents

This step has nothing to do with eating or spending, but much to do with sanity and commerce survival.

It’s advisable as part of emergency preparedness to make copies of the most important documents you have: birth records, marriage license, house title, insurance and credit card information, etc. Put everything together in a folder that’s easy to grab, and perhaps even include a CD of favorite family pictures if your computers aren’t backed up offsite.

Are You Doing it Already?

My hope is that a frugal, real food crowd already has food storage and knows how to use it. If you take nothing from this post, please accept encouragement that you are prepared for many emergencies simply by the way you shop and live.

Fast Evacuations

There may be times when you don’t get to stay with your pantry in your home, but you have to Get Out of Dodge quickly, as the preparedness crowd terms evacuation.

We’re just over halfway through our 20 weeks to creating a 72-hour survival kit (or “Bug Out Bag”), posted one step at a time each Monday morning on Facebook. If you’d like to see the full list, here’s the Bug Out Bag checklist from yesterday.

More Real Food Tips

If you’re not sure how fresh, local foods, “real food” can ever be part of a “bug out bag” for long-term storage, I explored the issue back in May. You might read the whole preparedness series which is wrapped up in the Real Food Preparedness Resource Extravaganza. Highlights include:

What’s your “prepare or not prepare” philosophy? Does the real food life make it any easier?

Disclosure: Honeyville, LPC, and Radiant Life are all receiving a complimentary mention as sponsors of KS. They are all companies I respect with quality products that I’m happy to connect my readers with.

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.

11 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    My pantry is pretty well stocked — rice, barley, millet, oatmeal, dry beans, peanut butter, frozen strawberries, frozen sweet corn, frozen zucchini and I’ve got 45 lbs of apples coming (applesauce), 40 lbs of nectarines and 40 lbs of pears (canning). So as long as I’ve got my pantry, I think we’d do pretty well. I should get all documents and such together and store some water. My problem is re-stocking before we’re “almost” out. At least we’re not usually out of everything all at once!

  2. says

    Thanks to Shelf Reliance, we are up to just about 3 months of food in our food storage. I was a “head in the sand” person for a long time about all of this preparedness stuff, but I have to say, I feel so much better knowing that I will be able to feed my family (well) for quite some time if I have to. I encourage people to be sure that they know how to cook with their food storage items, especially if they are storing items that might be unfamiliar such as freeze dried meats and egg powder. That’s why I write my blog – so, if the time ever comes, people know what to do with what they have!

  3. cherie says

    I have a significant amount of food in the house all the time, but I do consider ’emergency’ food in two ways.

    1. Food should there be an interruption in access to food for some reason [I live on Long Island – no isolated, but extra transportation factors etc] I certainly have plenty of food as well as some ’emergency’ provisions to tide us over, canned milk powder, powdered eggs etc.

    2. For ‘bug out’ situations I have a completely different agenda! There are certain convenience foods that have worked their way into our mostly homemade world – different bars and protein powder, for example. We also have a lot of nuts on hand at all times [much of this is for my husband who eats too little and works and works out too much ;)] Anyway I keep a much larger amount of these things ‘on hand’ as my evacuation supply – I know it will get rotated without any trouble and it’s easily packable and portable should we need to do so.

  4. Joy says

    Thanks for doing this series. Most people are so unprepared when it comes to emergencies. I myself need to work on it! I also think its especially helpful in this economy where we really don’t have financial security. Thanks for the accountability!

  5. says

    We’ve got enough food for about 3 months, give or take and, except for the fresh milk wouldn’t miss much.
    During Dave’s Moms’ last years, we got a house generator so we’d never go without heat, hot water, lights.
    Also, we try to keep our vehicles at least half filled with gasoline at all times and keep some extra in cans in the outbuildlings.
    Great post, useful information.

  6. says

    Great list! This might be the wrong post to ask this question (maybe I should go back to the lunches w/ food allergies post?), but a GF mom (I have a daughter who is newly GF) told me that canned beans are better than dry beans for gluten allergies? Supposedly beans and wheat and other grains could be processed in the same facility?

    She cited this article:

    My only concern is BPA. Canned beans are definitely easier to prepare (or less time consuming). My family cannot really fit the costs of BPA-free canned beans into our budget. It’s not known if our daughter has celiac–just that she’s sensitive to gluten. So….just didn’t know what you thought or if you had heard of this since I know your family has some gluten sensitivities, too. Thanks! :)

    • Katie says

      Erin, Hmmmm, that’s a new one for me. Wouldn’t the canned beans have to start out as dry sometime? I think the safest thing to do is to call the dry bean brand of your choice and ask. Then you know for sure! :) Katie

  7. says

    Love that you are writing about this!! I have always read that when storing water store tap water as it already has chlorine in it and will be safe to drink 6 months from now. Having said that, that is what we do and then we filter it with our Berkey when we need to drink it. Also having a propane stove on hand (about $25) can come in handy when the power goes out. We ‘stock’ extra propane (about 3) 25lb. tanks) for our grill and so there is always extra for the stove if need be.

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