I believe the the ultimate source of cheap survival food is what you can grow and store for yourself, (I wrote about that in food storage and survival) but it’s hard to grow a 100% year-round complete diet. So I add to my pantry with some cheap store-bought supplies that I actually use and cook with (even in normal times).
And what I’m talking about here is store-bought regular groceries, not the specialty long-term packed emergency survival food kits. I think this approach works well for a medium-term approach to cheap survival food. To go beyond that will require some adjustments e.g. bulk buying and purpose-bought long term storage food e.g. like purchased in #10 cans or bulk food buckets.
Emergency food kits should certainly be part of your preps and planning (you might find a few buckets stashed away in an unused bedroom closet in my farmhouse), but the focus of this article is cheap survival food you might find at Costco, or Walmart, or your local Independent Grocer store.
Rule 1: Cheap Survival Food Becomes Expensive if You Never Eat it
The food I buy for storage purposes is the same food I buy for everyday eating. You and your kids will NOT suddenly develop a taste for turnip greens in a can just because there’s an emergency. Buy what you eat anyway.
This makes rotating your supply easier too. Stock everything in FIFO order i.e. new stock is stored behind/under old stock. Buying food you don’t like results in FISH – First In, Still Here.
Rule 2: Buy Food You Can Make Into Dishes
You need some recipes to make use of your stores. Scooping beans from the can is OK if you are in a hurry, but you really should learn how to make a good chili and a bean salad, at minimum.
And baked beans with real maple syrup are awesome! Every bit of the recipe can be pulled from your stores or your garden. Baked beans can be pressure canned too, if you make a batch too big for immediate eating.
All the dry beans naturally have long storage lives. Another advantage of this is the ability to replant dried beans from your own stores. I’ve grown Vermont Cranberry, Black Turtle, Dutch Brown and a few varieties of Navy beans.
Here’s how to start.
Cheap Survival Food – The 3-Month List
If you want to sock away a LOT of calories for relatively little money, start with this basic list. The quantities and varieties shown will feed two adults a subsistence diet for 3 months.
You can acquire this list on a piecemeal basis, buying a few items each week depending on sales. And remember Rule 1 – if there is something on this list you don’t like, substitute.
- Dry beans and peas – Buy a dozen 2-lb 900g bags of assorted kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, spilt peas, lentils.
- White rice – buy half a dozen 5-lb. 2.2 kg bags
- Flour – buy 8 5-lb. 2.2 kg bags of white all-purpose flour
- Pasta – buy half a dozen 2-lb. 900g bags assorted macaroni, fettuccini, spaghetti, or your other favorite pasta
- Rolled oats– buy a dozen 2-lb 900g packs (for breakfasts and quick easy cookies)
- Instant potatoes – buy 8-10 lbs 4-5kg. Instant potatoes are versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes including a quick potato soup
- Dry milk powder – buy 20-25 lbs 10-12 kg; usually available in 1-2 lb bags or jars
In the short-term, these consumables will store just fine in the original packaging. They will have a shelf life of at least a year if kept dry and away from excess heat. Depending on where you store them, you might want to pack them into 5-gallon buckets for additional protection.
If you want to start on a longer-term supply, you could also vacuum-pack these items in 1-2 lb bags. For beans, peas, and pasta, take them out of the original packaging and vacuum pack in a size that you will use up in a month or two.
For more fine-grained food stuffs like flour, rice, instant potatoes or dry milk, leave then in the original bags. Poke a couple holes in the bags to allow the air to be sucked out, and vacuum seal.
- Canned tuna and/or salmon – buy 15 cans assorted, according to your preference
- Canned meats – buy 3 dozen cans 10-12 oz. 300-350 g assorted chicken, beef, ham, corned beef (one of my favorites), spam, sausage
- Canned vegetables – buy 25 cans assorted beans, corn, peas
- Canned fruit – buy 25 cans assorted
- Canned soups – buy 25 cans assorted
- Jams – buy 4 jars of your favourites
- Tomato sauce – buy 25 jars assorted styles and flavours. Glass jars have a longer shelf life than cans for acidy products like tomatoes. And the jars are reusable.
- Canned beans – buy 20 cans assorted kidney, black, navy, or ‘chili style’ for the quick fix.
- Nut butter – buy a 4 1-lb jars of your favourites e.g. peanut, almond
Cooking supplies and condiments
- Sugar – buy half dozen 2-lb 900g bags
- Salt – buy 2 2-lb 900g boxes
- Pepper – buy 1-2 2-lb 900g-1300g whole peppercorns. I like the 5-variery packs. You will need a grinder
- Baking powder – buy 1 lb 450g
- Baking soda – buy 2 lbs 900g
- Yeast – buy 1 lb 450g in jars or packs
- Cocoa powder – buy 2 lbs 900g
- Olive oil – buy 3-4 1 quart 1 litre jars
- Honey – buy half a dozen 2-lb 900g jars
- Maple syrup – buy 2-3 1 quart 1 litre jugs
- Molasses – buy 1 quart 1 litre
- Vinegar – buy half a dozen 1-gallon 4-litre jugs. We use it for cleaning and disinfecting as well as cooking and canning.
- Vanilla extract – buy 2 4-oz. 120 ml bottles. The real stuff (pure vanilla extract in alcohol) is expensive, but will keep in the cupboard for years.
Storing your Cheap Survival Food
I’ve got 4 areas for storage goodies in the house. My three freezers are in an unheated outbuilding, so if we lose power during the winter I have a few days to handle the problem. I’ve got a neat little Honda generator for backup too, but that’s a topic for another article.
My kitchen used to have a doorway to what was the dining room in the original farmhouse, and is now my office. I put shelves in the doorway and added a barn-style door for aesthetics. The shelves are sturdy and used mostly for canned goods.
I also have a traditional upright pantry cabinet in the kitchen. Basically any underutilized corner, closet or nook can be adapted for medium-term food storage, Add some shelves or a cheap cabinet or two if you are worried about appearance. The two storage areas in my kitchen have doors, because that’s where my woodstove lives, and the doors help keep out excess heat in the winter.
I’ve adapted the two closets in the uninhabited bedrooms in the farmhouse for storage as well. The kiddies have long since grown up and moved out, leaving me a LOT of extra space.
Just as well they are gone, Joshua as a 6-foot-3 teenager could have gone through my 3-month cheap survival food supply in about a week!
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