How to Build a Food Storage for Emergency Preparedness

Let’s talk about emergency preparedness food storage that you will want to use, no more emergency food supplies that you hope you never have to use.

Are you like most people who hear food or home storage and automatically start thinking of emergency food supplies like buckets of wheat, rice, beans, mylar bags, and number 10 cans of items you hope you never have to use? I want to change that. I want you to start thinking of food storage as the food you are going to eat regardless of a job loss, economic downturn, or natural disaster instead of food storage as an emergency food supply.

persons body standing behind everyday foods like applesauce pouches, spaghetti sauce, seasonings and granola bar

Levels of Food Storage

But first, let me explain the different levels of food storage. Short-term food storage, mid-term food storage, and long-term food storage. 

-Short-term food storage is food that expires in roughly a year or less—foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, etc. 

-Mid-term food storage, which is food that will last about 3-5 years like canned goods.

-Long-term food storage which is food that will last 10 years or more. Like freeze dried foods, honey, salt, etc.

I will talk more about long-term storage in a later post, but for now, I am talking about short-term and mid-term food storage.

Food Storage vs Home Storage

When I hear about food and home storage, I think of the foods and items we consume regularly. Food staples are obvious, they’re the foods we buy at a grocery store. Items like peanut butter, pasta sauce, granola bars, and canned goods. Home staples are things you use rather than eat, such as medications, toilet paper, menstrual supplies, cleaning supplies, first aid, etc.

If there’s something that we consume or use regularly, I consider it food and home storage and I make sure I have plenty stored up. 

Food Storage: A Non-monetary Savings Account

I will forever remember conversations I had with my Grandma that changed how I think about food storage. She told me of multiple times in her life while raising her children that she had to rely on food storage. It wasn’t because of natural disasters, global conflict, or mass chaos. It was always due to an unexpected job loss, illness, or accident. She told me how comforted she was knowing she had food to feed all of her family members because they had enough food stored away. My grandma talked about how they would use their food storage and not have to buy groceries and that way they could use the money in their savings to pay the bills. She never had to choose between paying the bills or feeding her family.

Listening to those stories is when I started viewing food storage as a non-monetary savings account. Because, if you have food saved up for a rainy day, then when you need to use food money for something else you have that flexibility.

Because of these conversations with my Grandma, I truly believe that food storage is the first place to start (water storage included, but we’ll cover that another day) with emergency preparedness. While 72-hour kits, emergency supplies, and everything else emergency preparedness are good to have, the chances of you using those items are less likely than using your food storage. Food storage can be used in many different circumstances not just in case of an emergency.  Have you ever had those times when you realize you either don’t have or have run out of that necessary ingredient for dinner… well food storage comes in handy for that. As well as job loss, illness/injury, and of course in case of emergency. 

Shift Your Mindset

If you are new to food storage or if you have a mindset that you have to have ___ amount of dried beans, rice, or hard wheat per person. I want to challenge that mindset. Instead, I want you to start thinking about storing home and food items you use daily and building up a stockpile of those items. All too often I hear people say that they don’t know where to start when it comes to food storage. Well, you’re in luck! I’m going to tell you exactly where to start and the simplicity of it might shock you…

Start with what you already have and use regularly! “Store what you eat or use, and eat or use what you store.” Do you use toilet paper regularly? Stock an extra pack of toilet paper. Do you use pasta sauce a couple of times a month? Stock an extra jar or two of pasta sauce. Do you use peanut butter, garbage bags, or toothpaste regularly? Make sure you have at least one unopened item stocked up. Then, when you use up that item and have to open the one on the shelf, add another one to your grocery list. It is that simple!

I had a neighbor use a fill-in-the-blank when it comes to what to put in food storage. I modified hers a little bit and came up with this “If I want to eat or use ___ during a ____ then I need to store _____.”

Example: “If I want to eat spaghetti during an unexpected job loss I need to store pasta sauce, noodles, and ground beef.”

Another example: “If I want to wash my hair during the aftermath of a natural disaster then I need to store shampoo and clean water.

Commonly Asked Questions

“What if I eat mostly fresh foods and hardly eat canned or shelf-stable foods?”

This is a valid question, because if you know you won’t eat canned soups or beans then buying and storing them would be a waste, unless, of course, you did end up in a disaster situation. Canned goods will last several years if kept in a storage area that is cool and preferably in a dark place so if you’re going to use them within a couple of years then storing some would be a good idea. However, if you know that you won’t ever use canned or shelf-stable foods unless there is some catastrophic event, then instead of buying and storing items you won’t use I’d suggest doing these two things. 

First: invest in a freezer. With a freezer, you can freeze fresh meat, fruits, veggies, bread, etc, and build up a pretty good stash of close-to-fresh foods. The one downfall to having a freezer is you take a risk of losing your whole freezer stash if there is a long-term power outage.  There are some solutions like buying a generator and/or learning to can, but ultimately you have to accept that you might lose your stash in the event of a long-term power outage. While that thought makes me cringe and die a little inside, I have peace knowing that short of a long-term power outage, I will have plenty of food for a bunch of other situations where power and my freezers are available to me.

Second: freeze-dried food. I wanted to touch on why I think that freeze-dried foods are your best option. Freeze-dried foods can be kept at room temperature and are shelf-stable for 10-25 years. They retain most of their nutritional value and most of the items reconstitute back to their original state. The con is they are quite a bit more expensive. If you’re truly only planning on using your food storage in a worst-case scenario it would be worth the investment to have some freeze-dried foods stored up. Rather than having to throw away or donate food you bought knowing you’d never use it unless it was a worst-case scenario.

“How much food storage do I need?” or “How many pounds of ____ do I need for each person?”

I don’t believe there’s a magic number for how much food storage you need. Every family has different needs. Every person within a family has different needs. A child who is in a growth spurt is going to eat and need a lot more food than a child who just finished a growth spurt. Thinking of food storage in an emergency like the aftermath of a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake there’s going to be a lot of manual labor with clearing downed trees, houses, etc. Someone doing heavy manual labor is going to require more calories and nutrition needs than someone who is just sitting on the couch all day. 

I am going back to the original question. How much food storage do you need? For me, I am trying to get to a year’s worth of short-term food. I truly believe that your food storage should be 90% short-term food storage and 10% long-term food storage. Why a year’s worth? Because I figure if I have a year’s worth of everything we consume regularly then I have a whole year to figure out something else.

Over here at Prepared Like a Mother I’m not trying to survive for a long time. I’m not interested in playing with zombies. I am simply trying to survive and hopefully thrive in the aftermath of an earthquake that is predicted to be catastrophic. I’m trying to survive and thrive if there’s a recession and my husband loses his job.

My whole goal with food storage and emergency preparedness make sure that we can continue with our daily lives despite what is going on in the outside world.

I understand that the thought of going from no food storage to a year’s worth can seem daunting and impossible. Especially right now when inflation is out of control and everything is crazy expensive. So, don’t start with a huge lofty goal of a year’s worth of food. Start small. Little by little it adds up quickly. Start by getting a 3-day supply of food. Having 3 days will give you a little time to figure out what to do next. After you have a 3-day supply then aim for one unopened item of everything you use regularly stored up. Think of it this way. If you are currently working through a bottle of ketchup and you know you have one extra stored away, then if ketchup is the next shortage you know that you at least have one that you can then ration and use until more is bought. Having one extra item stored up, is better than not having anything stored up. Once you have an extra unopened item then try to get 2 or 3 unopened items. You can then add as many items as you want to give you the peace of mind you need.

There’s also the challenge of trying to figure out how much you are going to need to store to get to your goal. For this, I have a trick. When you open something with more than a one-time use (like laundry detergent, toothpaste, peanut butter, and jam) write the date you opened it. When you run out and need a new container or jar take note of how long it took you to get through it. That will give you a good estimate for how much you’ll need to store for however length of time you’re going for.

How Do I Rotate My Food Storage?

The best rotation tip I can share is to keep a Sharpie everywhere you store items, and visibly write the expiration date on everything that comes into your house. If you can visibly see the expiration date then it helps you to know what you need to use up and how soon. People will always tell me that items can go well past the expiration date, and while I agree that most items can exceed their printed expiration date, having a visible date helps you easily see that you’re using the oldest products first, ensuring food safety and that you’re not wasting food.

How Do I Build a Food Storage on a Budget?

piggy bank with coins next to it, cash and hand writing on notepad

This is probably the most frequently asked question especially because food prices are so high and many people are struggling to make ends meet. Here are my best tips.

-Stock up on items when they’re on sale

-Buy in bulk 

-Split the cost with family or friends

-Buy in-season foods and then freeze, can or dehydrate 

How Do I Store Food With Little Space?

Not having a ton of room to store food is a problem a lot of people have which means you need to get creative. Below are some ideas of unconventional places you can store food or home goods. 

-Under beds

-Tops/bottoms of closets

-Buy a decorative storage cabinet to put items in 

-Buy baskets for the tops of your cupboards

Things to note: 

  1. If you live in a small space with little room for storage do the best you can. You probably won’t be able to have a year’s worth of food, and that’s okay. Do what you can with what you’re able to. A week’s supply of food is better than no food supply.
  2. If you’re hiding food in random places and scattered throughout the house it is vital that you keep a record of what you have and where it is. The last thing you want is food going bad because you lost it.
  3. Space is valuable. Only store foods you know you’re going to eat. Don’t waste precious space on food you’d rather only eat if you’re starving.

Alternative Cooking Ideas

dutch oven on rack over open fire

When you are considering food storage you also need to consider how you are going to cook your food in the event of a disaster or power outage. Below are some alternative cooking ideas. 

  • BBQ grill, smoker, or charcoal grills: These are readily available and are used frequently so most people know how to use them.
  • Camp Chef Portable Grill: We use camp stoves all the time while camping. They collapse down making it easy to store and carry. Another perk is camp stoves are capable of cooking a decent amount of food at one time.
  • Butane/Propane Stove: These can come in 1-2 burner options. They use smaller propane bottles than the above Camp Chef Grill.
  • Dutch Oven/Charcoal: Dutch ovens make easy, delicious meals and can use charcoal to cook instead of propane. We also have a charcoal chimney to heat charcoal with.
  • Jet Boil backpacking stove: Folds down and can fit in a backpack. Will easily boil water to add to freeze-dried meals or make small meals.
  • Bushcraft stove: With this, you can use several different kinds of fuel sources like charcoal briquettes, sticks, and smoke pellets. Doesn’t require propane.
  • Solar Ovens: There are a lot of options for solar ovens and I haven’t used one, but I love the idea of being able to use the sun to cook food anytime there’s sun outside.


To be directed to my Amazon store front with more ideas and links for alternative cooking click here. 

How Do I Stock Up on Prescriptions?

Person writing on prescription pad with pills falling out of prescription bottle

**With all things medical make sure you are working with your doctor and pharmacist.**

Prescriptions and medications are harder to stock up on because you have to get approval from your doctor as well as insurance companies. There are a couple of things you can do to help build up your stock. 

-The first thing you can do is get whatever prescriptions you can in a 90-day supply. 

-The second thing you can do to build up your supply is to refill your prescriptions at the earliest possible date. Often you can refill your prescriptions 3-5 days before you run out of your medications. If you pick up the refill at the earliest date you then have 3-5 days of medications to stock, over a couple of months you can build up your supply. 

-Another possibility for stocking up on medications that aren’t life-sustaining is to find over-the-counter or herbal remedies to stock up on. If you are interested in herbal medicine my friend Jen at Serenity Hill Farmstead is a fantastic resource. She is a former paramedic turned herbalist, so she understands the need for both Western and Eastern medicine. 


Instead of having your food storage looking like several types of emergency food, your food storage should look like having extra of the items you use regularly. I want you to pause and think about this, if you are in a situation where you are stressed, overwhelmed and life is chaotic do you want to eat food from an emergency food storage stash or would you rather eat food that brings comfort and some form of normalcy to your life?

Do You Need More Help?

laptop keyboard with tablet below it on a page for food and water storage emergency preparedness workbook

Do you need more help making emergency plans? I can help! Click here for a digital download that will teach you everything you need to build your own food and water storage. 

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Hi I'm JaNae!

I consider myself a practical prepper. I am not about zombies and bunkers. I believe in preparing for personal disasters — job loss, medical problems, financial problems, and natural disasters.



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