How to build a 3-month pantry

By Pat McLene

How's your pantry?
How’s your pantry?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– “The Second Coming,” W.B. Yeats

Welcome to the next installment of the Practical Prepper. Please note the name of the column, especially the second word: Practical. My goal is to tell you how to prepare for emergencies and disruptions big and small, and how to do with as little output of time and money as possible.

To do this right, we have to look at the world of “Big Prepping” and separate the wheat from the chaff. Last week I responded to a comment suggesting that rice might not store long-term. Hopefully I was able to show that rice is a durable grain that’s well suited to long-term storage.

In today’s installment, I’m going to start covering significant food storage – and I will likely tick off a lot of people off in the process. So fun and games all around.

The hard part of food storage is that, while it will actually save you money in the long run, it does require time and energy on your part in the beginning; and a lot of folks consider time and energy more valuable than money.

(Actually, time, energy and money are all the same thing, but I’ll wax philosophic on that some other time – when I have the energy.)

In my humble opinion, there are three types of food storage:

  • Day-to-day: You’re practicing day-to-day storage when you go shopping for that daily or weekly supply of perishables and pre-made low-shelf-life supplies like fresh veggies and fruits, perishable liquids such as milk, and fresh meats. All of these are usually just refrigerated and consumed as needed. Most won’t last out a week without seriously degrading
  • Pantry: These include stored and un-refrigerated canned goods (vegetables, fruits, some processed meats), dry storage like pasta, flour, boxed specialties such as mac and cheese, cup o’ noodles and the like. Pantry supplies also include canned or jarred sauces, pickles, peanut butter, etc. These items are usually good for months or, depending on the products and packing materials, years. But pantry supplies are usually expected to be used up and replaced regularly.
  • Long-term: Items stored without expectation of use for months or years. I’ll have more on this subject in next week’s column.

Separating these things into categories is a bit simplistic. There’s a lot of crossover between day-to-day items, and pantry items. And in the world we live in, there are folks who don’t even bother with pantry storage, let alone long-term.

But everyone should have a pantry, because pantry storage is the backbone of prepping. A good pantry should be able to feed your family for three months or more.

Thinking about getting prepared? Check out the WND Superstore for all your needs – from informational books, movies to shovels, water purifiers, and food from soup to nuts!

Why three months? Well, just as an example, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the average time between jobs is now roughly six months (and if that doesn’t say something about “things falling apart,” I don’t know what does). So three months’ worth of not worrying about eating seems reasonable to me.

However, putting that pantry together will take some time and energy. Not much, but some. Begin the process by getting your household together some evening (What? You mean all of us? At the same time???) and sitting down to plan out two weeks of meals that everyone will eat and that can be produced by the pantry supply alone. Go crazy, but make sure that your pantry can meet every expectation.

Cereals? Okay. Tuna fish casserole? Well, no accounting for taste, but sure. Lobster with fresh asparagus tips and wine sauce? Sorry, no.

Once you have that two-week menu, figure out the supplies you’ll need to meet that menu and multiply by six (to make your three-month supply). Then go shopping. Hit the box stores, the warehouses, the ad specials and buy those items in bulk. Yes, it will cost you some money. But the per-unit savings difference between one can of chili and a case of the same will be significant.

“Now Pat,” you say, “We don’t want to eat the same thing every two weeks!”

Really? Most people will, and do. It’s been my experience that most folks don’t have two weeks of variety in their food preferences. But don’t worry. Go on eating as before. Pick up that juicy steak and the fresh tomatoes. But make sure you still use the items in your pantry. And at least once a month, replace what you’ve used, place the new product behind the old, and carry on. Rotating items means you use the oldest stock first, and that you maintain that three-month supply (less what you’ve eaten before replenishing sure, but hey, still pretty good).

On some items, especially those on which you can get a better deal in bulk, you might wait until your supply is a bit more exhausted; or better yet, you might get an extra case because it’s obviously popular with your family. Just like the free market, you’ll soon figure out what to buy more of. If it’s not getting eaten, don’t renew it.


(For a really neat website to help you with your planning, rotation schedule and storage needs, check out Preparedness Mama.)

So now comes the part that will tick people off: “Pat! Where am I supposed to keep all this stuff??”

Answer: closets, under beds, in the garage, under a sideboard table with a table cloth, in unused cabinet spaces … in short, wherever you can. Make sure everything is canned, bottled, or otherwise in pest-proof containers. Maybe you can even build a pantry.

But if this seems like too much work, then there’s really nothing I can say. Three months can make the difference in a lot of things, but it’s up to you to determine if it’s worth the time, energy, and money. All I know is that when I look at the news, it appears that things are falling apart. And the center isn’t holding like it used to.

Guy Fleegman Award

Guy Fleegman Dubious Prepper Hack Award

If you remember a couple of weeks ago, I introduced what I called the “Guy Fleegman Dubious Prepper Hack Award.”

This week’s dubious prepper hack award goes to “Anything in an Altoid can.” For those who don’t recognize the name, Altoids are a type of breath mint candy which comes in a nifty closeable tin can. Personally, I love the cinnamon ones. But unfortunately, when you’ve finished the candy, you’re left with a shiny metal can with a movable part (the lid) and therefore is irresistible for use or modification by any guy with a current manhood card.


Fortunately prepper guys are the manliest men of all. But unfortunately that also means that practically every one of them has tried to make the coolest “survival kit in an Altoid can” possible.

Look, people. An Altoid can hold about three cubic inches of stuff. And in many years of survival practice and study, I’ve never found myself in a situation where two fish hooks and a sewing kit would have made the difference between life and death.

One of the silliest Altoid can alterations out there is to punch a hole in the lid, fill the container with oil, stick a cotton ball through the hole and light it, creating the Altoid oil lamp with about the same illumination as a glow-in-dark key fob. The more reputable sites do warn the user to make sure to pour out the oil after use because the lid is not air or oil tight.

I promise we’ll get into really useful emergency kits at a later time. So eat an Altoid and stand by.

Oh … and being a manly prepper myself, here’s my proposed Altoid emergency kit which contains everything you need for self-sufficiency and defense:


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