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 making homemade yogurt terribly after a couple days.
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?
There are a ton of “preparedness” resources out there, from companies who sell 72-hour survival kits and MREs (“meals ready to eat”, like the military uses) to bloggers who promote a feeling of fear and “the world is ending” mentality.
You can also find many resources right in the middle, calling on not fear but wisdom, and my goal in this post is to help bring the idea of being ready for an emergency and the philosophy of eating real food a little closer together.
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.
We’ll explore some alternative, mostly-real-food options together and see what we can come up with, but first, if you want to get a start on basic readiness, here are the top 5 Eat Well, Spend Less steps:
1. Store Some Water
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, during certain times 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!
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.
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.
Helpful note: Those plastic gallon jugs that you can buy water in for under a buck? Within a year or less, they will begin to slowly leak. It makes a mess. Be ready to swap them out every 6 months or store where a leak won’t, say, drip through your floor and damage ceiling tiles downstairs. (I may know that one from experience…)
If you have well water, you’ll need water for flushing toilets, too, so you might want a few extra gallons on hand.
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 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 sponsors, Honeyville Grain, sells bulk baking supplies.
Learn to use dry beans and incorporate them into your menus once a week, so that 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:
- 5 Ways to Use Lentils from Simple Bites
- 5 Ways to Use Beans from Good Life Eats
- 5 Ways to Use Pasta (link no longer available) from Life Your Way (link no longer available)
- The Beauty of Whole Grains (with recipes) from Food for My Family
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, and keep extra propane on hand for your grill, including the small bottles if you have a travel grill.
But if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t buy flour, here’s what to do.
4. Have some Meat, Fruits, and Veggies on Hand
Another sponsor, LPC Survival, sells freeze-dried meat, fruits and veggies for disaster preparedness. They’re about as “real food” as you and 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 and vegetables 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. 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 “to go” file stored where it’s easy to grab “just in case,” and perhaps even include a CD of favorite family pictures if your computers aren’t backed up offsite. A fire in your home or in the woods down the street could cause a quick evacuation. Keep originals in a fireproof box or off-site in a safety deposit box.
While you’re at it, decide on a contact person if members of your household are separated in the event of an emergency. This person should live a ways away from your house so that there’s no chance they’d be affected by the same potential disaster. Put this person’s number in “to go” file and any cell phones in the house.
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.
How Many People Aren’t At All Prepared?
In Michigan, we have very few natural disasters to worry about, a point for which I’m very thankful. However, in the winter, a big snowstorm can make it nearly impossible to get around. I remember being shocked watching the news coverage of this winter’s biggest blizzard – so many people were rushing the grocery stores to buy milk, bread, and canned goods.
It was expected that one might be snowed in for a day or two, maybe a few more if you had to rely on back roads. Even if I was snowed in for a week, I can’t imagine feeling like I had to rush to the store to buy anything in preparation. I thought, “Who are all these people who don’t even have a few days’ worth of food in their homes?”
My hope is that no KS reader feels that insecure, and we can leave all the store rushing to the other people.
Some Questions to Ponder
Let’s start out by asking some of the hard questions that should convince you that you need to keep looking into this issue:
- How long could your family survive on what you have in your house right now, assuming the only problem was that you couldn’t leave your house?
- How long could you go without electricity?
- What if you had to leave your home quickly and couldn’t go anywhere hospitable?
- If you had no running water, what would you need to do to keep the family healthy?
- Do you have alternative ways to cook if your stove is out of operation and sufficient power supplies for them?
- Do you own a manual can opener?
Levels of Emergency
There are so many disasters for which you might want to be ready. Just a few:
- Loss of job/income
- Natural disasters: flood, hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, tsunami, earthquake, etc. depending on location.
- Economic disasters: gas prices skyrocketing, food prices skyrocketing, infrastructure breakdown for food or fuel delivery, etc.
- Losing electricity, natural gas, or other utilities for a short spell or a few days.
- Illness or injury that would debilitate one or both spouses for a time.
- “One of those days…” when you don’t really want to cook/function.
- Being stuck IN your house.
- Having to be OUT of your house with short notice.
On What do You Rely?
I really want you to brainstorm your own list to this question before reading mine, and feel free to add ideas in the comments.
List all the things that you are used to having access to in your home, the supplies you don’t like to run out of:
- toilet paper
- the ability to wash laundry, flush toilets, do dishes
- soap, shampoo, deodorant
- heat or cooling ability
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.
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, you might read the whole preparedness series which is wrapped up in the Real Food Preparedness Resource Extravaganza. Highlights include:
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure statement here.