How to Start Prepping

Have you recently looked around at everything happening in the world and wondered if maybe it was time to start prepping? You know, just in case

If you are anything like me you the actual size of the project scared you. I was petrified at the thought of trying to store everything we may need as a family to survive for at least three months not to mention a year which is my ultimate prepping goal. 

Between the worry and overwhelming magnitude of prepping, an age-old question came to mind. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, obviously. 

So that’s what I did. The very next payday I took the first bite of my proverbial elephant. I bought a few cans of corned meat and lentils for protein, soap and toothpaste because we still need to clean ourselves, rice and pasta for starches to bulk up our meals, canned veggies for extra vitamins, salt, and my allergy meds. It didn’t cost a lot and it was a start. I decided to make a list of all the things that we may need to not only survive but thrive if we were to land in a situation where we couldn’t find these things. 

Food storage supplies

Needless to say, I was extremely proud of the extras I managed to get in month one and continued to get bits and pieces here and there. Over the months my prepping stash grew much faster than I could ever have anticipated. While determining what should go into my prepping stash I reviewed these important categories. 

Sustenance

I knew we would need to have foods that could last quite some time so I didn’t have to rotate our stocks too often. I added to my list cans of tuna in brine, bicarbonate of soda and many other items I knew would come in handy. Veggies take some time to grow and are essential if you want to keep a family healthy. I do not like processed foods but I figured that canned veggies are better than none at all so I kept adding those just like the starches and proteins I bought initially. I also stocked up on some Chakalaka, a traditional spicy fried and cooked vegetable gravy thingy. Absolutely yummy and loaded with calories and veggie vitamins for the days when the food is lacking. 

Sugar, tea and coffee are not negotiable in our house but I’m sure other families can do without it. Water is life and for this reason you need to store some away but take note that it cannot be stored for too long. We can still drink water from our taps so I simply started filling waterproof containers with water and stashing it. It doesn’t cost me much because I use clean cold drink bottles for this. Having a way of purifying dirty water is always a great idea too. I got a water filter and some gas so I can boil it to kill micro creepies that could cause illnesses. Our end plan is to have a borehole drilled but for the interim this will have to do.

Sanitation

Next was hygiene. Soap, toothpaste, toilet paper and bicarbonate of soda will go a long way and a few dish-washing liquid refill packs are sure to come in handy too. Water in this category is a must because if you have no way of cleaning yourself and your surroundings illnesses can be your downfall. Keep in mind that all water you use to clean with can be used to flush toilets or water your garden with after use. Although water contaminated with soap is not the best idea for your plants, it’s still better than no water at all. 

Bleach should also make up part of your stash because of the fact that it can be used to purify water and sterilize just about anything. Now, for releasing your body of waste you are basically set if you have toilet paper and a shovel. You can simply bury your #2 and used toilet paper and use the urine as liquid fertilizer. It can be used as is without dilution and your plants are equipped to use the minerals that your body doesn’t need. 

Clothing

Think about your shoes and clothing too. Ensure that you have enough clean clothing and that they are all in good condition. In a crisis situation there will not be a chance to get new clothes and you will especially need them if you are forced to leave your home and flee into the outdoors. A good pair of boots and jeans can protect you against ticks and snakes while a proper jacket can keep out damp and keep your body temperature up.

Pets

You need to remember your pets during this arduous journey, too. Keep in mind that they will still need you to look after them. Their foods come in pellet and canned form which last very long as it is. All you have to do is ensure that they have enough to carry them through. Rice is also a great way to fill them up and add some calories to a canned meal. Peanut butter is good for them too and once again adds much needed calories. Many preppers will tell you to eat your pets rather than having to prep for them too but I am not that prepper. You took on that responsibility so it should remain that way no matter what happens. They may turn out to be a great early warning system that could save your life. 

Once again, there is no need to go big immediately. Save a few cups of food a month or even a few tins of food. Just keep taking a bite of that elephant every time you can.

Medication

In this part you will need to think about your daily routine. What medicine does your family need daily? What about sickness stock? Flu medication and pain tablets is a must. Be sure to rotate it out, though. You also want to be covered for emergency situations. Make sure that you have suture sets in case of deep wounds and any other pieces of equipment you may need if an emergency should occur. Start with something small like a packet of band-aids and a roll of bandage or the like. You can start as small as you can afford and build on that. 

A good multi vitamin can also help where nourishment fails. Vitamins C and D will go a long way in keeping your family healthy. Activated charcoal is another great item because it can help with the purification of water and it can also help to get rid of diarrhea or certain types of poison in your system. 

My prepping experience

As the months went by I started thinking about other items that will be needed and I added them in too. These included candles, matches, torches, batteries, needles and thread, and even a small luxury here and there (‘cause momma needs her sugar fix, you know). The point is, the earlier you start prepping, the more time you will think about it. The more time you have, the better you can plan and research.

When prepping it’s a good idea to take into account that you may run into a shortage of space. For this reason it will be best to look for things that are high in calories, lightweight and small, particularly if it’s going into your BOB (bug out bag). Simple things like peanut butter or other nut butters are good choices because it is ready to eat, can last for a while, and is quite high in calories and nutrients. There are many similar items you can stock up on so there should be an option to suit all preferences. If, however, you do end up with too little space, remember your vertical space. Shelves higher up on your walls can be exactly what you need to increase your storage space without impacting your floor space.

Four things you’ll want to remember are:
  1. Rotate your stock.
  2. Keep track of the expiration dates.
  3. Buy stuff that you enjoy eating and use regularly.
  4. Get something to spoil the family with every once in a while, even if it is just a toffee or two. In situations where we don’t know what the next day brings, a pick-me-up may be the only thing to keep us sane. 

Building your stock bit by bit gets you to your goal while not breaking the bank. This was my journey and how I got started prepping even though hubby thought I had finally lost the plot. I am just very grateful that he supported me in this regardless of his thoughts. I’ve eaten my elephant bite by bite and I may never be done. But in a way that’s a good thing. It means that no emergencies have happened for me. Yet… 

If you’d like to read more about food storage, check out our article Why You Should Do Food Storage.

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The Importance of Having Food Storage

Feeling unconvinced that you need food storage?

Let’s play out a few scenarios:

It’s the middle of the month, a week before your next payday, and you haven’t been grocery shopping in a week. You decided you could subsist from the food in your house until you get paid again. What you didn’t realize, was that because of all the natural disasters in the beginning of this year, we are now in a food crisis. Big government has stepped in, so food is being rationed, and you’re only allowed to shop once a month. So now you must survive off the food stored in your home until your number is called to be able to go shopping for your family. How long will you be able to last before you are forced to start skipping meals or thinning out the rations? 

Do you consider this an unlikely scenario? Well let’s bring up another:

You move to a new state, and you had a job lined up, but as soon as you get there, things fall through, the company goes under and you no longer have a job. New in town, you begin your search for a job. Though try as you might, no one is calling you for an interview. You keep searching but you’re coming up on a month with no income, you’ve run through your savings after moving expenses and a new place, and you’ve run out of food. What’s a person to do?

In both scenarios, the basic necessities of life are threatened. You can last 3 weeks with no food before you starve, but what a miserable existence! Imagine trying to explain to your children why they can’t eat, even though they are hungry.

Now imagine this third scenario:

Last year, you had a friend introduce you to the concept of having a year supply of food on hand. At first you thought they were a little misguided, but then you took a look at the events of the world and started to change your tune. You realized that we live in a very fragile system, where one catastrophe, even if it’s localized, could have a domino effect with far-reaching consequences

So, your thinking changed, and you began gathering food a little bit at a time. Each time you visited the grocery store, you’d buy double of what you would normally need for the week. After a year, you had quite the store of food, and you found that as you gathered more, you felt greater peace knowing that your family would be secure if anything were to ever happen. 

There had been talk about the truckers going on strike, no one believed that could ever happen, until it did. The grocery stores were bare, there was no gas in the pumps because they weren’t being refilled, so people were having a hard time getting to work. If utility workers can’t get to work, brownouts occur causing hours without electricity.

People are beginning to panic after two weeks, and though you have concerns, your basic needs are met. You can think clearly because your stomach is full, and your family is safe. You decide that you feel comfortable enough to share some of your food with your close neighbor even though they didn’t heed the advice of your mutual friend. And you can do this without putting your family at risk because you gathered more than enough food for your family.

When Crap Hits the Fan, you’ll want food storage.

Unfortunately, many people have the opposite mindset as the people in this scenario. When the topic of a crap-hits-the-fan situation comes up, they’ll say “Well because of my background, I have the skills and the guns to just take the food I need, so I’ll be fine, no need to store food.” But when questioned further, there are many holes in their plan. They think they’ll be able to band together with a few of their like-minded buddies and take over a grocery store and control the food supply. Well, how will they know in time that crap has truly hit the fan and it’s not just a false alarm? What good will it do to take over a grocery store if there’s already been a run on the store and all the food is gone? The fact of the matter is in a true disaster situation your brain goes into fight or flight mode. Things you never thought you were capable of, quickly can become your terrifying reality. That old adage is certainly true: it’s always better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

And that’s where the art of food storage comes into play! 

Option One for Gathering Food Storage

As with anything, it’s important to have specific goals in place, with plans to achieve those goals. If you calculate the amount of food you need for your family for one year, it would probably feel overwhelming trying to gather that all at once. That is one way to accomplish this task, but there are much better ways to go about it. 

First set a goal

The approach that tends to be more manageable, and helps create habits, is to first set out to gather three months worth of the foods that your family eats on a regular basis. These will be shelf-stable items like canned and boxed foods and other dry goods.

Break the goal down

Then you’ll break that goal down into weekly or monthly goals. Determine what meals your family enjoys, and each time you go grocery shopping, get a few extra of each item for your storage.

Create rotation schedule

After a time, you will have your three months of food in place. That’s when you’ll go shopping in your own pantry and cycle through that food. Eat the food with the closest expiration date, and your weekly shopping will be to replace the items in your food storage. It really becomes a lifestyle change, because it’s so much more convenient to run to your pantry for an extra bag of spaghetti, than to have to run to the store!

Move onto long-term storage

After you have your three months in place, you should begin gathering your longer-term storage. Typically, a year is recommended, but if you feel inspired to gather more, by all means! Again, there are a few different approaches with long term storage, but you’ll want to get items that have a longer shelf life. Things like sugar, flour, oats, wheat, rice, and beans are great staples that have a long shelf life depending on how they’re packaged and where they’re stored. There are also freeze-dried foods, which tend to be more expensive, but do well being stored for long periods of time while holding their nutritional value. 

Option Two for Gathering Food Storage

If that option seems too overwhelming still, or you consider it too much of a strain on the budget, here’s another option. To build up a fair amount of food storage to set aside a certain amount of money from each paycheck toward your three month or year supply. It could literally be any amount of money you are able to set aside to invest in your ‘self-sufficiency’ insurance. Even on a very tight budget you could set aside $5 – $10 to purchase a couple of canned meals or a few packages of bottled water. As you begin to see your supply grow, you will become more and more excited and willing to dedicate more time, energy, and money toward this honorable endeavor.

Option Three for Gathering Food Storage

Using resources from your own home can immensely help your ability to self-suffice. If you have a back yard or a front yard or even patio space, you can plant a small garden to help supplement some of the food items you and your family use regularly. Even in a scenario where you may not have said luxury, many shops and stores sell edible plants and herbs that are designed to grow inside your home.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who can claim a little bit of land, plan on designing a garden and consider raising animals as a step to being self-sufficient. Even on a quarter of an acre you can grow much of your family’s food through well planned gardening and keeping a few chickens for eggs. If your space allows, goats make great additions for milk or meat depending on your preference.

After harvest time, hopefully things go well, and you will have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and then you can learn to can as another great resource for storing food. You feel a sense of accomplishment when you can open a jar of peaches in the dead of winter and know that you grew and canned those yourself!

More on Long-Term Food Storage

Let’s delve a little deeper into long term foods, there are many benefits to having food set aside that could sustain you and your family for at least a year. At first, start with the basics, here is a list of basic foods for one year

One adult for one year:
  • TOTAL GRAINS: 300 pounds (Wheat, Flour, Corn Meal, Rice, Pasta, etc.)
  • TOTAL FATS &OILS: 13 pounds (Shortening, Veg. Oil, Peanut Butter, etc.)
  • TOTAL LEGUMES: 60 pounds (Dry Beans, Lima, Soy, Peas, Lentils, etc.)
  • TOTAL SUGARS: 60 pounds (Honey, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Molasses, Jams, etc.)
  • TOTAL DAIRY: 75 pounds (Dry Milk, etc.)
  • COOKING ESSENTIALS: (Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Yeast, Salt, Vinegar)
  • WATER: (at least 1-gallon per person per day)

Now keep in mind, these are the very basics to sustain life. You won’t be gaining weight off this food, but you also won’t starve. To gather a long-term supply, just work it the same way you did with the 3-month supply, a little bit at a time. Set goals. Determine how quickly you’d like to gather this amount of basic foods and then decide if you want to buy a bag here and a box there, or if you want to tackle it by categories. You could decide that this month, you’ll purchase all the legumes, because they’re on sale and then next month you’ll start on the sugars. Just take it piece by piece and make adjustments where you’d like, to fit the needs of your family. 

Speaking of family, smaller children may not need as much food as an adult, and they may need slightly different foods. But, if you’d like to make things simpler, you could just use the same numbers for each family member and that way they will “grow into” their food storage.

Adding variety to your food storage

Once you have these basic foods, you can determine what you’d like to add to incorporate some variety. This would be a good point to add in some freeze dried or dehydrated items. Getting the basics is a good start, but you will learn (hopefully through study and not through personal experience) that food fatigue is a rough psychological effect. This condition can have very real physical consequences, especially amid an already traumatic disaster situation. Food fatigue occurs when your body gets tired of eating the same meal and convinces your brain that you would rather starve than eat rice and beans again. It becomes crucial to be able to mix things up a bit. Being able to add a tablespoon of sugar to your oatmeal or seasoning your beans with salt and pepper can have a huge impact on your health and the quality of your psychological state.

Conclusion

The great thing about food storage, is that it is so versatile. You can read articles like this and glean some good ideas on how you want to start your journey, but then it’s all in your hands. You have the liberty to add in your family’s favorites. You can research and get other ideas and opinions and formulate your own tailored plan for your unique family. Or, you can choose to keep it simple and decide not to reinvent the wheel. Either way, food storage is a necessity because it provides safety and self-reliance. Though it’s not a bad thing to ask for help when you need it, it is a much better feeling to be able to take care of yourself and your family. 

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Briana Patch lived with her husband in Idaho where they started a small farm with milk goats and chickens and practiced self sufficiency. There she learned to can extra produce, care for animals and assist them in birth, became CERT certified, and furthered her interest in self reliance and preparing for emergencies. Now they live in Missouri and she volunteers her time at her church as an Emergency Preparedness Specialist, to help her church family along their path to preparedness.