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.
Short Term Healthy 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 short term food storage options for families that will usually store from one to twelve months.
In the Fridge, Freezer, & Root Cellar
- Home grown or commercial, organic frozen fruits and veggies – in an emergency, eat these first! They do count in your tally of “food storage” even though they require cool conditions.
- 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.
- 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 conditions.
—>>>Consider the question – Do I Need a Root Cellar? <<<—
- Avocado, olive, or other virgin oils – once open, you have a limited time in which to use them before they start to age and gain an off flavor.
- Home canned vegetables and fruits – you can control quality when you grow it yourself.
- 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 grown (or from a trusted, local grower) dehydrated produce – tomatoes, zukes, pumpkin, onions, and much more can be dehydrated and stored in your pantry for a year, if you’ve done it right.
—>>>Consider these Best Foods to Dehydrate<<<—
Food Storage Miscellany – Tasty & Important!
- 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!
- Condiments and dressings – if these are purchased from the store, follow the expiration date. If these are homemade and home-canned, they will be shelf stable for longer storage, but please see the note below!*
- Flax seeds for adding to just about anything
- Whole grain or vegetable pastas – gluten free or gluten full
- Fair Trade chocolate or other favorite treats – do not skip on these, you will want them!
- A bottled water brand you trust
- Grains like brown rice, oatmeal, rice cereal, and whole grain flours
- 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”!
Think About Jar Size
*Home-canned condiments are shelf stable but there’s a little caveat to consider. Think about how often you use ketchup, for example. When you do use it, how much of it do you typically consume at one time?
Instead of canning ketchup in a quart or even a pint-sized jars, consider half-pint jars instead! That way you can open just enough to use in one sitting. Once an item is opened, the countdown begins as to how quickly it will spoil.
Don’t waste even one drop of your precious home-canned condiments – preserve them in the smallest jars possible!
High Oil=Eat Quickly & Other Notes
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
I know that our food budgets are already strained, but that’s why you begin to build healthy food storage slowly. 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, simply buy two cans instead of one.
Some food is better than no food, however. 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.
For me, buying locally produced foods is waaaaaaaaaay more important than buying foods with the official organic label. If I’m buying local food – veggies, meat, dairy – then I can simply talk to the producer. I can discover through relationship and conversation what their growing practices are, as well as their ethics.
In short, I trust a local farmer more than I value a far-removed label.
To ponder the necessity of the organic label a bit more, consider reading:
—>>>Do I Need to Buy Organic Seed? <<<—
Is Gardening a Money Saver?
Can you save money by keeping a garden and putting up your own food? Yes and no.
If you don’t currently have a garden but you have a great farmer’s market with fabulous bulk deals, then NO, the garden won’t save you money this year. Buy from local growers in bulk and preserve everything you can that’s extra.
Put the garden in, by all means, but work on growing your own food next year!
If, right now, you are buying organic label brands in bulk for food storage for a family as large as mine then, YES, the garden will save you money!
If you grow a garden already and enjoy the process, YES, the garden will save you money. Usually because you’re growing what you’ll actually eat and can reduce food waste.
Also, if you grown your own and end up with extra fruits and veggies beyond what you can eat, you can preserve them and add them to your food storage. This can save you so much money in the long run!
- Here’s a helpful article from Whole New Mom: comparing the cost of dehydrating, freezing and canning.
If 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 need for food storage. 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. I wish I had some freeze dried cheese and eggs.
Healthy meats are very expensive and we just can’t afford much right now. So, I try to incorporate high protein veggies like broccoli, beans, and kale. I’d also love to canned tuna or home-canned meats like venison, chicken, and beef.
Whatever you do, be sure to have variety in your food storage!
Some Really Helpful Tools:
Purchase and learn to use:
- water bath canner
- pressure canner
- cheese press
- 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 that will store from 2 – 25 years:
- Freeze dried produce, meats and dairy
- 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 can last indefinitely.
- Sea salt – you can never have too much salt. I store sea salt for eating and table salt for cleaning.
- 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 if you know how to use and revive sourdough starter.
- 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.
- Dried beans, lentils and pea – all kinds
- Wheat, groats*, rye, barley, quinoa, amaranth
- Larger containers for water storage like 50 gallon drums
* 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.
>>>>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.
A Modern Homestead can help you learn to store flour long term – you can use this information to inform other long term storage decisions.
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 gone by the time the next harvest season rolls around.
For more specifics on the safety, Simply Canning can explain Food Canning and Expiration Dates.
Here are some things to learn to preserve yourself.
The Importance of Rotation
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 keep this stuff organized enough to use it successfully, you absolutely can!
Some Really Helpful Tools:
Purchase and learn to use:
- groat roller
- grain grinder (both electric and manual)
You’ll also need a food storage room that’s cool and dark with good shelving. Under a bed will work, as will a closet, as long as they’re both cool year round. A root cellar will also work, of course. Practical Self Reliance has some root cellar food storage tips even if you don’t have a root cellar.
Each item and situation 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.
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.