Long term and short term healthy food storage ideas for store bought and home canned foods. Includes hacks for gardening and special diets. Build up a healthy food storage with this in depth DIY article.
What is Healthy Food Storage?
There are really two kinds of food storage – long term and short term. We’re going to talk a little about both today, thinking about what we might choose to put in our food storage in order to keep it as healthy as our every day menus. Let’s look at each method individually, though, because there are some significant differences between long and short term.
To follow this discussion more in-depth, we recommend our title, The Do It Yourself Homestead, from which this text is taken. There is a lot more information throughout the book on building healthy food stores than just what’s presented here. Email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com if you’d like a free sample from that book.
Short Term Food Storage
I’m going to list things here that my family of seven enjoy having; if you’re single and have a higher income stream, then you can get even fancier. Here are some healthy (remembering its a relative word) short term food storage options for families (usually from one to twelve months):
- Home grown or commercial, organic frozen fruits and veggies – in an emergency, eat these first – but they count!
- Homemade butter from fresh milk – store in your freezer or fridge for the longest shelf life because raw butter will continue to culture. For longevity, try making clarified butter – some Indian families keep a small pot of ghee on their shelf for several months.
- Avocado, olive or other virgin oils
- Frozen or dehydrated eggs – be sure to keep these cool.
- Bulk blocks of quality cheese – these can be cut up and waxed for longer term storage. Cheese also continues to culture; so the longer you store it, the sharper it will get.
- Fresh apples, winter squash, garlic, potatoes and more – all of which can be stored in a cool, dark place for months, depending on condtions.
- Home canned vegetables and fruits – you can control quality when you grow it yourself.
- Home grown (or from a trusted, local grower) dehydrated produce – tomatoes, zukes, pumpkin, onions, even asparagus and much more can be dehydrated and stored in your pantry for at least a year, if you’ve done it right.
- Organic brands of canned vegetables and fruits
- Homegrown or organically purchased herbs – medicine and food!
- Homemade breads and dough in the freezer
- Homemade crackers, granola and fruit leather – storing in glass is healthier but make sure to earthquake-proof your food storage areas.
- Organic mac and cheese and other packaged foods you trust
- Home canned bone broth
- Organic canned soups and broths
- Organic peanut or other nut butters
- Home canned fruit juices – its nice to have something sweet and cozy to drink. Plus, you can combine them with water kefir to make homemade, healthy “soda pop”!
- Home canned ketchup and BBQ sauce – tomato based canned goods tend to have a shorter shelf life. At our house, they go first because they taste divine!
- Organic condiments and dressings
- Flax seeds* for adding to just about anything
- Organic whole grain pastas – gluten free or gluten full
- Organic chocolate or other favorite treats – do not skip on these, you will want them!
- A bottled water brand you trust
- Organic grains like brown rice*, oatmeal, rice cereal and whole grain flours
* Flax seed and brown rice can go rancid due to the high volume of (healthy!) oils contained in both so they’re recommended for shorter term storage.
Don’t discount the food in your freezer, fridge and root cellar! These items are great for a short term storage plan because their shelf life is shorter – you HAVE to eat them first!
Oatmeal, flours and cereals are all made from grains that have been cracked, rolled or ground up; in this state, they lose their nutritional value rapidly and they spoil quicker.
Budget Friendly Healthy Food Storage
Start by building a week’s supply of supplemental foods, then a month’s and then three month’s worth. After that, going up to a year’s worth of longer term storage items won’t seem so scary.
Is Organic Necessary?
Organic brands are usually more expensive so if that label is important to you, make sure you build up your stores slowly so as not to break the bank. When you go to the store, buy two cans instead of one.
Some food is better than no food so if the organic brands are simply outside your budget but you still want to pick the healthiest option, choose the green beans instead of the Gatorade.
Is Gardening a Money Saver?
Can you save money by keeping a garden and putting up your own food?
If, right now, you are buying organic label brands in bulk for food storage for a family as large as mine then, YES!
If you grow a garden, you usually end up with extra fruits and veggies, beyond what you can eat. Instead of wasting these foods, learn to preserve them and eat them later. This can save you so much money in the long run!
- A useful website for learning about practical dehydrating is Dehydrating Made Easy – this site is authored by Shelle Wells, the author of Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook. I love her down to earth advice and instruction!
- Here’s a helpful article from Whole New Mom: comparing the cost of dehydrating, freezing and canning.
If its just you and you’re working outside of your home and off site of your garden for your day job, you might be in a position to simply buy all the organic options. You might not have enough time to grow your own for the year.
The point is get something stored and to make sure its as healthy an option as possible. You do what fits your circumstances best.
What About Special Diets?
If you really need gluten free but can only afford the rice pasta as opposed to the quinoa pasta, pick the rice. Or skip the pasta altogether and buy beans because they’re wholesome and cheaper*. I give you permission to not be a millionaire and still try to feed your family a whole foods diet, even with food storage.
Please be particularly careful with how you plan your emergency stores if you follow a GAPS or Paleo diet – or any of the others that require strict prohibition of specific foods. I know firsthand that this can be hard but if you make a plan now, you won’t have occasion to be sorry in the event of an emergency or financial set back when you’re eating your stores.
We take special care to pray over every meal and ask for harmful elements to be removed and for those remaining to be healing to our bodies. Its hilarious to hear my kids ask for the food to taste good, too, so we can eat it – am I that bad a cook? Whatever higher power you believe in, petition him/her to help out here – you’re doing your best!
*If you’re planning on storing a lot of beans, make sure you’re getting your system used to eating them now. You can’t just all of a sudden start eating beans three times a day and not suffer a coup in your gut.
Variety in Food Storage
We’ve been financially challenged these past few months and I’ve learned what I really miss when I run out of it in the kitchen. Short term food storage is a perfect way to build up a supply of the things you use ALL THE TIME and would really miss if you couldn’t access them.
Top of my list right now – cultured dairy and eggs! I didn’t realize how often I utilize these items to replace quality meat protein in our meals.
During the summer we don’t eat much meat but even with winter coming on, organic meats are very expensive and we just can’t afford much right now. I love beans and so does my family but after awhile, you’re kind of over it – ya know?
For more healthy, daily meal ideas for families on a budget, visit The Grocery Bootcamp from Tiffany at Don’t Waste the Crumbs.
For more great kitchen tips - especially getting yourself on a BUDGET for HEALTHY foods, please check out The Grocery Budget Bootcamp from Tiffany at Don't Waste the Crumbs. I'm going through it right now and LOVING it - and I consider myself pretty frugal. The course is self-paced and online, which is a great time saver! To learn more, click below:
Whatever you do, be sure to have variety in your food storage.
Manna was a blessing to the ancient Israelites when they were starving but they soon grew bored with it. (Of course, then the Lord sent them quail and they were still whining. I’d like to think I’m way less picky than that but I’m not so sure, if I’m being honest with myself.)
Some really helpful tools:
To have and learn to use – water bath canner, pressure canner, dehydrator, cheese press and steam juicer. Yep, each one requires you gain a new skill and that can be hard or require a financial investment. But you can do hard things.
Longer Term Food Storage
Here are some healthy, long term food storage options for families (from 2 – 25 years):
- Organic freeze dried produce, meats and dairy – I need to find some organic, freeze dried sour cream!
- Coconut oil – is my favorite long term, healthy food storage fat. I buy in bulk and use within one year but I’ve read that it can last several years.
- Raw honey – both food and medicine, just like coconut oil. It might crystallize while it sits (you can reheat it and its fine) but it could last a good, long time. Well, not at my house where its devoured.
- Sea Salt – I’ve got to get on this one right now!
- Dried Natural Leaven or natural yeast or just sourdough, if you prefer. Once dried, this stuff will simply last forever. You do NOT need to store commercial yeast – learn how to use natural yeast!
- Sugars – organic cane, raw sugar crystals, coconut sugar, succanat, Rapadura, grade A maple syrup – even if you don’t think you use much sugar anymore, you can still trade these items.
- Larger containers for water storage like 50 gallon drums
- Organic dried beans, lentils and pea – all kinds
- Organic wheat, groats*, rye, barley, quinoa, amaranth
* Groats are the whole form of oatmeal. To make oatmeal, you’ll need a groat roller.
Special Note on Grains
I included several grains in that list but how long each will last varies quite a bit. Hard, white wheat can last for about 25 years, while quinoa can last about 3 years. Don’t discount lesser know grains like quinoa, though!
Quinoa is a great substitute for rice, if your tummy just can’t handle the latter. (A little quirk about quinoa – make sure you soak and then rinse several times before you cook it up or you’ll gag on all the natural saponins on the grain. Yuck!) I soak, sprout, rinse and dehydrate my quinoa to then grind up and use as flour in cookies, pancakes and breads.
>>>>—Click to learn how to process quinoa and our Quinoa Sugar Cookie Recipe—<<<<
When determining how long a food will last for longer term storage, you really have to consider how its being stored. An item in a Ziploc bag just won’t retain its nutritional or taste value as long as something stored in a mylar, vacuum sealed bag.
Home Preserves in Healthy Food Storage
The items I grow and preserve myself I don’t worry over as much because I’m pretty sure we’ll consume them inside a year. I still have pickles and jams from a few years ago that I need to watch for expiration date. However, all the sauces, broths, meats, fruits and veggies that I’ve put up myself are usually goners by the time the next harvest season rolls around.
Here are some things to learn to preserve yourself.
The Importance of Rotation
So, really, when I look at this list I realize that most of what I personally store would be considered shorter term so that I can rotate them easily. Also because I have a large garden and preserve a lot of my own food.
If you don’t have the opportunity to grow your own and/or preserve your own, the practice of food storage rotation is still an important one to employ. Utilize your farmer’s market and/or local farms for preserving fresh produce when its available.
My long term food storage is the easy part – big bags and buckets that live in my food storage room and only get disturbed when my smaller containers upstairs run dry. Believe me, if I can do this stuff, you absolutely can!
Some really helpful tools:
have and learn to use – groat roller, grain grinder (both electric and manual) and a food storage room that’s cool and dark with good shelving. Yep, each one requires you gain a new skill and make a financial investment and that can be hard. But you can do hard things.
For a great addendum to your studies, visit this post by Preparedness Mama – The 10 Laws of Food Storage. These are tried and true! Please pay special attention to number 8 – its the one I really need to work on!
To keep your pantry tidy and organized, please read this article from the Rootsy Network on Organizing the Home Pantry. Yeah, need that one!
For more ideas on how to get your family more prepared for anything, please visit our post on Emergency Essentials: Preparedness for Families.
So, did I miss anything you think is vital? Leave me a comment below and if I think everyone should know about it, I’ll feature you in the readers section of our newsletter.
Cover graphic gratefully attributed to this Wikimedia Commons user.