Bulk Food Storage Tips and Ideas
So today is a small grocery shopping day and I organized my pantry, then got to thinking about food storage, rotation and various other related things.
The above picture is what I think of as my “back pantry.” It holds primarily bulk goods and extras — flour, sugar, cornmeal, oats, cocoa, pasta, beans, etc.
At the moment it has several small jars of peanut butter because Safeway had them on sale for $0.99 a jar a few weeks ago so I stocked up
The shelves in this cabinet are quite deep and the top one is tall as well. You can’t see it in the picture but I have big #10 cans stacked two tall and boxes on top of those. My boxes hold paper goods like Kleenex or paper towels, and one of my boxes currently has a bunch of yellow onions in it.
I also have spare coffee and tea up there among other things.
The middle shelf is primarily sugar with a bit of Gatorade and some extra home canned beans, meat and stew. That area looks sparse at the moment because I’m running low and it’s time to do more canning
The bottom shelf has rice, wheat, flour, cornmeal and other misc staples. Plus my extra peanut butter, oranges and cocoa for now.
This picture shows my day-to-day pantry in the kitchen. It’s running really low compared to normal because it only has maybe five days worth of food in it. The bottom shelf is primarily staples like flour, sugar, pasta, baking items and spices. The middle shelf is our lunch and dinner area. It has meat, beans, soup, stew, etc. The top shelf is reserved for snacks and drinks most of the time.
About once a week I move things from the back pantry to the daily one. I grab a bottle of sugar to refill my gallon pickle jar that I keep in the kitchen; move jars of meat, beans or soup from the back to the front; move tea bags from the box in the back to my tin that I keep in the kitchen and so on.
Moving items from one pantry to another each week serves two purposes:
1. I replenish the daily food supply in the kitchen.
2. I see what I’m getting low on and need to add to the shopping list.
I have extra stuff stashed away in a few other places too. I primarily store bulk food goods in gallon pickle jars, five gallon buckets and two liter soda bottles.
I personally love glass containers and I use one quart mason jars to store dried onions, powdered milk and similar things in the kitchen pantry for day-to-day use. I also have a nice growing collection of one gallon glass pickle jars that my father-in-law picks up for free. We just started picking up five gallon buckets for about $2 each at Walmart and they included the snap on lids at no extra charge.
I got to thinking about this today because I realized this morning that our home is roughly 200 square feet… yet we are able to stock a heck of a lot of food anyway. Granted we have several acres of land so the option of putting food elsewhere is there, but most of the stuff is in the camper house because I have cool, dark places that work well for food storage.
I see young couples and people who are new to food storage asking almost the exact same question when they first get started… where in the world will I put it all?! In reality though, food doesn’t take up nearly as much space as it might sound like.
A five gallon pickle jar holds 3-4 pounds of pasta; 5 pounds of sugar, flour, cornmeal, fruit drink powder, cocoa powder and other fine ground staples; and roughly 6-7 pounds of pinto beans.
Two liter soda bottles are handy storage containers too, plus if you have anyone in your house who drinks a lot of soda or fruit drink, you can get these completely free.
I get 25 lbs of sugar into about 5-6 soda bottles. I tamp them down tight to get as much oxygen out of them as I can. Fruit drink mix is about the same consistency so it works the same, 25 lbs into 5 or 6 soda bottles. Twenty-five pounds of larger grains like whole wheat berries and rice take closer to eight soda bottles.
It’s been a couple of months since I put things up in bottles, but I believe cornmeal works about to a similar ratio. Flour does too but it’s much more difficult to get into the tiny necks of a soda bottle, so I stopped trying and started putting it in five gallon buckets too.
So this gives you an idea of how much space you need for storing basic amounts, but another common question is “how much food should I store?” The answer to this one really varies from one household to another based on how many people live there, how old each person is, and what each person’s activity and health levels are.
In our house, feeding two healthy adults who are moderately active…
Just under five pounds of flour each week gives us:
- Two loaves of bread or 12 medium bread rolls
- PLUS about a dozen tortillas
- PLUS roughly 4 dozen cookies or a couple of batches of brownies or cakes
Yes we can go through all that in about 5-7 days
We also get roughly four meals out of every one pound of dry beans, and three to four meals from every one pound of macaroni or pasta.
Five pounds of dry pinto beans turns into about 30 pint jars of beans when I pressure can them. Since we only use one jar at a time that’s 30 meals for us. We mix the beans with meat, pasta, tomatoes and so on to compliment the meal. I’ve gotten in the habit of canning them with onions, cumin and red pepper to create chili beans so we have some decent flavor from them instead of plain old bland beans. Rarely do we have beans as the primary protein in any meal though.
Rice is a very common staple that everybody swears you should keep on hand. Like beans, a little bit of rice goes a really long way and it’s super cheap. I can barely tolerate it though. A small amount makes me feel very bloated and uncomfortable so I simply don’t use it much. I keep some on hand for use in soups or if I run into a pinch but otherwise it’s usually strictly emergency supply only.
The other basics we use in varying degrees. Sometimes I’ll get on a granola bar kick and go through five pounds of oats and three pounds of honey in a week for example, then I’ll go two months without using oats at all. I like to make oat bread and muffins ocassionally but my husband isn’t fond of either so that’s not a regularly cooked item in the house.
25 pounds of regular oats took up six full one gallon pickle jars. They don’t tamp down real well but you can crush them in a bit. Next time I stock up though, the oats are going into a five gallon bucket.
I hardly ever used an entire bottle of cumin within two years before I started canning pinto beans… now I go through a jar every two to three months.
Sometimes I only use five or ten pounds of cornmeal in an entire year and other times I use that in just three months.
I try to vary our foods as much as I can, and I try to experiment with new ways to use all the basics.
This is one of the most important reasons to use the food that you choose to store. If you use it regularly, you quickly start getting a feel for how much you’ll use in a given amount of time. I was ripping through yeast packets like there was no tomorrow until I figured out how to use saved dough and longer rise times. I wouldn’t have figured this out without experimenting and using the supplies though.
Every family has it’s differences and this will show in the types of food you choose to store. If you start using it however, you’ll quickly learn what you like and don’t like, and get a better idea of how much you should start putting by.