Knowing What Food To Buy

I was quite overwhelmed when I first began trying to store a large supply of food.  Some of the things that were most difficult for me to figure out initially in my food stocking was what to buy, how much of it, and how long it would last?

Enough For One Year?

If I wanted to get things that would last a while, did that limit me to MREs (Meals Ready to Eat- originally military rations)?  Would we spend those possible days of uncertainty sitting around eating freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream” and longing for “real food”?  That didn’t sound very appealing or conjure up comforting images.

If not that, then was it oatmeal every morning and red beans & rice two other meals a day?  Maybe “mix it up a little bit” with some bean sprouts?  Woohoo!

I could not see how I was going to get a picky toddler to thrive on that diet.

More looking online.  More thinking.  More evaluating what was readily available.

Eventually, I realized there seemed to be two lines of thinking on the topic.  One was to buy one of those “year supply of food for 4 people” kind of thing, stash it away in a closet somewhere, and check it off.  The other was to “buy what you eat and eat what you buy.”

Though option 1 was appealing in some ways (especially the “check it off the list” way), it had serious drawbacks in my mind.  To begin with, what if a significant portion of it turned out to be “beefaroni” that no one liked?  How about food allergies?  Would all our dietary needs really be met?  Would there be any familiar “comfort foods” to make life seem normal?  And the costs can be pretty steep, especially to shell out all at once.

The second option seemed more sensible for us, so the next step was to figure out what things we already ate that were good candidates.

A Few Months At A Time

We have a large family and we are quite busy with schooling, farming, and outside interests.  One of the ways I have found to simplify my life is to plan meals far in advance.  This helps me to shop, thaw meat in a time, and use the crockpot on days we will be out until dinnertime.  Looking at our calendar also allows me to see what we eat and how often.

If, in a 3 month period of time, we eat rice 10 times, I can approximate how much rice I will need.  If an average serving of rice is about a cup and we will need about 6 servings to feed the various appetites around our table, I know I will need approximately 60 cups of rice in that 3 month period.  A 50 lb bag of rice contains 250 servings.  Now I know that one bag will last about 12 months.  Buying 1 bag, at our present usage, will give me about a year’s worth of rice.  Last I checked at the big box store, a 50 lb bag of rice was steadily going up, but still quite cheap at around $18.

Few people want a bag that large in their pantry, me included.  I typically break the large bag into smaller ones under 10 lbs and reseal them.  (I do this in mylar and then pack the bags into 5 gallon buckets for longer term storage.  More about that at a future time).

How about spaghetti?  Both noodles and sauce last a pretty good while, especially if the noodles are sealed in something to keep air and insects out.  If we enjoy having spaghetti (or some variation of noodles and sauce like linguini in Alfredo sauce) about twice a month, I can figure up how much to buy in advance.  It takes about one regular size box of noodles and a large jar of sauce (plus meat usually) to feed our family per meal.  So, for 3 months I will need six boxes and six jars.  And so on.

Using this method, you can add to your food storage a little at a time as things go on sale.  You may not plan meals that far in advance, but you can accomplish much the same thing just by writing on your calendar each day what you do eat and then look back to count up how often you ate each meal.  As an alternate, you could save grocery receipts and tally things that way.

Online Help

In addition, there are some calculators online to help you figure out how much of various staples you may need to store for a family the size of yours.  I found them somewhat helpful but a little “one size fits all” in their approach.  For example, one LDS (Latter Day Saints) site suggested we should keep a significant amount of corn syrup and the sole thing I use it for is making pecan pies.  Mormons must eat a lot of gelatin too because it has a prominent place on some inventories.

In future postings, I will address how to add variety to your diet and making sure your nutritional needs are met.

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24 Comments on “Knowing What Food To Buy”

  1. Marcy Says:

    Ah, Laura, what timing – this is where I was at yesterday! Thanks for the suggestions – looking forward to your post on long term storage – another thing I was contemplating yesterday.


    • Laura Says:


      So glad this topic came at the right time for you! Once school things are finished, we need to plan a time to get together and let the kids visit while we catch up.

      One thing I want to mention (and expand on at a future time) is the different types of rice. While I generally try to stay with “whole grain” everything, there can be some variations of what I would store for long term use vs. buy for present consumption.

      Brown rice (the healthier whole grain rice) does not have the shelf-life of white rice. For that reason, what I put away in mylar bags is white, but I will be careful to compensate for the lost vitamins and bran with other foods when I prepare it.

      Another important thing to note is that you should not drain or rinse white rice. That would further deplete it of nutrients. It should be allowed to stand until the water is absorbed or be used in a way that otherwise retains them (ex.- soup).

      This is prompting me to get writing more on rice!


  2. DenverPrepper Says:

    My wife found a great time saver. Go to and get a discount account, then use the food storage calculator to estimate what foods you need for your family based on caloric intake, age, etc. Once that’s done and you deleted the stuff you already have the company sends you some of the items on your list each month up to your budgeted amount. They call it “THE Q” , it’s great! All you need is 15 min. to set it up and now our food storage is on auto pilot! Each month we get a delivery right to our home.


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  6. gogirlinvest Says:

    I appreciate the foresight of your simple planning method here. We too have a goal of buying ahead and getting out of frequent trips to the store for our family of 5. Thanks for the inspiration.



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