There may be a circumstance where you find yourself wanting or needing to stock up on food to last for several days or weeks. Whether it is due to limited access to fresh foods, personal health, environmental issues, or any other reason, having a plan in place when trying to create a food stock can reduce stress when the time comes to use the food. First, you’ll want to consider how many days or weeks you’ll need to stock up for. Next, consider whether you are likely to have access to refrigeration during that time. Finally, think about ways to stock your pantry with non-perishable or longer lasting foods in all of the different food groups so that your meals can be nutritionally complete.
Which foods last the longest?
If you are quarantined or home bound without access to lots of fresh food or delivery services, it’s helpful to have non-perishable food items on-hand. Non-perishable foods are those that last a long time without going bad. All foods have an expiration date or “best by” date printed on them, and the freshest foods, such as raw meat, typically expire the fastest.
While many refrigerated foods are “fresh” and expire quickly, there are some with longer shelf-life (good for a longer time than others) such as hard cheese, yogurt, eggs, tofu, and unopened sauces and condiments such as tomato sauce and salsa. While milk will likely expire within a few days or weeks of purchasing it, you can purchase cartons of “shelf-stable” milk that do not need to be refrigerated until they have been opened.
Canned foods are very shelf stable – they can even be eaten years after purchasing when stored correctly. You can find canned fruits, vegetables, soups, and proteins in the canned aisle of the grocery store, and having some stocked ensures you can still eat important vitamins and minerals if you are homebound. Canned beans, tuna, salmon, and anchovies are great sources of protein that can be added to many dishes. Grocery stores also carry tofu that comes in boxes and are shelf-stable for about one year. When purchasing canned or packaged foods, look for varieties that are low-sodium or do not have salt or sugar added, if possible.
Some produce such as leafy greens have to be refrigerated and will likely go bad within several days, but a lot of produce doesn’t need to be refrigerated and will last longer, such as potatoes, squash, apples, and oranges. You can help produce last longer by storing it correctly. One option is to store fresh root vegetables (such as potatoes, onions, carrots, squash, beets, turnips. and garlic) in a root cellar, basement, or a dark, cool cabinet. Most vegetables prefer a dark, humid, and cool environment, and storing different vegetables away from each other will help ensure they last as long as possible.
When stocking up on foods, the freezer will be your best friend. Have frozen fruits and vegetables on hand in your freezer. Frozen produce is frozen at the peak of freshness and is just as nutritious as fresh versions. You can even freeze fruits and vegetables yourself; consider for example peeling and freezing bananas (before they go bad) in a zip-top baggie for adding to smoothies. You can also make bulk recipes and then freeze them to ensure you have nutritious, home-made meals ready in your freezer. There are many pre-made frozen meals you can buy in the freezer section of the store to ensure you have adequate meals in your home in the case of an emergency; just check the nutrition facts label as some of these meals can be very high in sodium and saturated fat.
You may want to stock up on items such as:
|Fruit||Fresh apples, frozen fruit, canned fruit (in water, juice, or no sugar added), apple sauce cups or pouches, dried fruit, raisins|
|Vegetables||Fresh potatoes, onion, squash, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables (low-sodium or no salt added)|
|Protein||Frozen fish, frozen meat, frozen bean or meat alternative burger patties, canned fish, dry or canned beans/lentils, tofu|
|Grains||Oats, rice, cereal/granola, pasta, frozen bread, flour|
|Dairy||Eggs, yogurt, powdered milk, hard cheese varieties|
|Complete Meals||Frozen meals (look for low-sodium versions), frozen or canned soup, just add water-style soups or camping meals|
|Snack Foods||Nuts, nut butters, trail mix, granola bars, crackers, popcorn|
|Condiments and sauces||Jelly, salsa, spices, tomato sauce, salad dressing, honey, stock cubes, cooking oil|
|Beverages||Water, tea, coffee, fruit juice|
How many meals are in two weeks of food stock?
It may be more than you think! If cooking for one person, that’s 21 meals plus snacks. If cooking for four people, that number becomes 84 meals total plus snacks. Having a few go-to, easy recipes can be extremely helpful. This may include meals such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, eggs, or meals you can reheat in the microwave. When planning, try to have a source of protein, carbohydrate, dairy, and fruits/vegetables at each meal. The chart above can help you plan which foods to purchase.
What meals can I make out of shelf-stable foods?
Try the following recipe ideas to get a variety of nutrients despite having limited access to fresh foods:
- Egg muffins made with frozen vegetables (i.e. mushrooms, spinach, peas, peppers), potatoes, and meat (these can be made and then frozen for eating later)
- Smoothie made with frozen fruit, yogurt, peanut butter with cereal/granola on top
- Toasted bagel (from frozen) with peanut butter, a glass of milk and canned fruit on the side
- Cereal with milk topped with raisins
- Oatmeal cooked with soymilk, peanut butter swirled in with apple sauce on the side
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on bread, a glass of milk and apple on the side
- Tuna melt made with tortilla, cheese, and canned tuna, with fruit on the side
- Canned chili and cooked quinoa topped with shredded cheese
- Pizza made from frozen pizza dough, canned tomato sauce, shredded cheese, and toppings of choice (could be canned or frozen vegetables)
- Stuffed baked potatoes with cheese, beans, and canned vegetables
- Soup made with rice, dried beans, vegetable or chicken broth, and frozen or canned vegetables of choice
- Pasta with tomato sauce, anchovies, and canned peas with a glass of milk on the side
- Apple and peanut butter
- Cheese and crackers
- Chips and salsa
- Yogurt with fruit
- Apple sauce pouch and granola bar
How can I make my food stock cost-effective?
Creating a plan for having two weeks’ worth of a food is a great opportunity to practice cost-effective grocery shopping. First, pick a few ingredients you like, and then think about how you can incorporate those ingredients into multiple meals. This is helpful financially because buying ingredients in bulk tends to be cheaper. For example, you could purchase a bulk amount of dried beans of your favorite variety and use them for multiple recipes throughout the 2 weeks. You could use them to make bean tacos, chili, and a grain bowl with beans within the same week to simplify shopping and keep costs as low as possible. Planning with specific meals and recipes in mind is the best way to ensure one grocery trip will cover all your needs. While at the grocery store, consider purchasing store brands since they tend to be cheaper. If possible, take advantage of deals such as ‘buy one, get one free’, and consider adding only a few items to your food stock each week to prevent having to buy two extra weeks’ worth of food on one grocery trip.
What if I want to create a food stock “in case of emergency”?
Creating a food stock “in case of emergency” requires purchasing foods that will be available to you even in the case you do not have a refrigerator or freezer. This stock should contain many canned and shelf-stable food items you could purchase and then leave in a safe place until you need them. Specific foods that fall into this category include canned or dried beans, canned fish, canned, cups, or pouches of fruits, canned vegetables, and condiments. Canned soups that contain more than one food group (i.e. carbohydrate, protein, and vegetables) are also a great choice. Grains such as rice, pasta, quinoa, and oats will also last in storage for a long period of time. In addition, keeping non-refrigerated bottles or gallon-containers of water stored will ensure you can stay hydrated. Consider keeping a list of your stock of emergency foods along with expiration or “best by” dates in order to use and replace items over time that may be close to reaching their expiration. You can also place the foods that will expire first in front of others so that you know which ones to use first.
Having an emergency food stock is one way to ensure you are prepared for any unknown circumstance where fresh food is not readily available. Hopefully you will never need to use an emergency stock of food, but knowing how to create a two-week stock of food can help ease stress and ensure you have nutritious food to stay healthy in case you do.