Six Figures Under: What We Learned from Our Quarantine Food Storage Challenge

Stephanie at Six Figures Under has an article about What We Learned from Our Quarantine Food Storage Challenge during the first few months of the pandemic.

After three months of eating from our pantry, freezer, and long-term food storage, our Quarantine Food Storage Challenge is coming to an end.  Today I’m sharing some of what we learned. Hopefully something will be helpful to you as you plan to be more prepared with your own food.

First we’ll cover the three reasons we decided to end our open-ended challenge now. Then I’ll go over lessons we learned and what we plan to do about it!

For those of you who look forward to these updates, this won’t be the end of talking about food storage!  In the coming weeks, I will take the focus off MY food storage and start talking about YOUR food storage (how to get started, what to store, how much to store, how to keep track, how to use it).

As I’ve started reading through hundreds of responses in the 2020 Six Figures Under Reader Survey, I see that many of you are interested in building up your own food storage and would like some guidance.  (If you haven’t shared your thoughts, I would really love if you would take a couple of minutes to complete the survey).

Why we are ending our food storage challenge

When we started our challenge, we weren’t sure how long it would last.  I know some of you will be surprised or disappointed that we’re concluding it now, and I want to explain why we are deciding to go back to grocery shopping.  Essentially it’s because we accomplished what we set out to do. Let me break that down into specifics.

The primary reason we started the challenge was to keep ourselves and others safe by not going to the grocery store during the pandemic.  At the outset of this, there wasn’t a full understanding of how this novel coronavirus was transmitted.  Now that we have a better understanding, we feel like occasional trips to the grocery store are generally safe. Thankfully the outbreak in our area hasn’t been too terrible.

The secondary reason for undertaking a food storage challenge was to give our food storage a test drive.  While we have stored food for years, we really didn’t have a grasp of how much we would really need and what things we would wish we had more of.  We’ve figured a lot of those details out as we have monitored what we have used during the last three months challenge of not grocery shopping.  Now we have a better idea of what and how much we should store for our family.

The third reason for ending our food storage challenge now, rather than continuing the challenge indefinitely, is so we can make the effort to restock and update our food storage.  The future is uncertain in many ways, including potential continued disruptions in the food supply chain, so while we have the ability to stock up, we want to do so. You will see us implementing changes to our food storage in the near future.

What we learned from eating from our food storage challenge

How much food storage our family needs

As I’ve learned about food storage from a “scholarly” perspective, I learned how many pounds of this or that that you need per person for a certain length of time, but I had no idea how that would play out in real life. The suggested amount of 150 lb of wheat per person age 8+ (and half that for kids under 8) for a year supply doesn’t come with a menu or even a recipe book.

I had no idea if this was a low ball or high ball estimate.  I wasn’t sure if that was a “keep us alive” amount or a “life as usual” amount.  That’s about 12.5 lb per person per month.

Our family has 5 people age 8+ and 2 people under age 8 (I’m not including the baby in this count).  With that estimate, we would use 75 lb of wheat in a month.

I would have to say that estimate is nearly spot on.  We ate about 80 lb of wheat per month during our challenge.  Essentially that was just used for bread, pancakes, waffles, and other baked goods.

I’m still working on recording everything in our spreadsheet so we can calculate our own family’s consumption rate and create a customized food storage plan just for us.

What surprised us

If you followed along with our weekly updates during the challenge, you may remember that in the beginning I was having a little panic attack about some essentials that I thought we were low on like yeast, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, salt, and oil.

In the beginning we had no idea how long the quarantine/lockdown phase would last and what shortages there would be.  We didn’t know how long we would choose to continue our challenge or if at some point it would no longer be our choice.  Either way, I wanted to be prepared, so I purchased some of these staples online.

As it turned out, I haven’t opened the 5 lb bag of yeast.  We have used only about a pound and a half of yeast in the past 3 months.  That is partly due to reducing the yeast in all of our recipes by half (with no problems).

We also haven’t had to open the 5 lb bags of baking soda or baking powder!

Of the 4 gallons of oil that I bought at the beginning of the challenge (knowing that they were essential for all of the baking I would be doing), I still have 3 left.

What we NEED to stock more of

We are probably good on wheat, powdered milk, beans, applesauce, etc, but there are some areas where our food storage is lacking. We’ll use a one-year supply as a measuring stick because that’s how many food storage recommendations are made. Feel free to divide by four if you want to build up to a 3-month supply or divide by two for a 6-month supply.

Salt– Salt is such a simple ingredient, but it’s essential!  It’s literally the cheapest food storage item out there.  And we didn’t have enough stored.  In fact, we were nearly out!  Right at the beginning of the challenge, I bought a few packages of salt from Walmart. Otherwise we would have been completely out!  That’s embarrassing!  For a year supply, it’s recommended that you store 8 lbs per person (that’s 4 regular salt containers per person).

Oil– We used just under 1 gallon of oil per month.  That means we would need roughly 12 gallons for a year supply.  This is one of those things you don’t just buy and tuck away for a disaster. It’s important to rotate through your stored oil or it will eventually go rancid.

Sugar– It’s recommended to store 60 pounds of sugar (in some form) per person for a year’s supply.  We don’t have anywhere near that, so this is definitely an area for us to work on going forward.

Oats– Oats are a major staple for us, but we haven’t stocked up for a while so we were low when the challenge started.  My MIL gave us a 25 lb bag of oats that she had, which is what we’re currently eating.

Rice– We didn’t run out of rice, but we are low and don’t have anywhere near what we would need for a year supply.

Pasta– We generally eat a lot of pasta. It’s fast, easy, and everyone likes it. We had quite a bit on hand at the beginning of our challenge, but we would have run out during the second month if we weren’t being careful with it. Of course, with an abundance of wheat and eggs, we could decide to make our own pasta, but while that would be delicious, it would no longer be fast and easy.

Peanut butter- We typically buy peanut butter for about two months at a time, but we definitely need to store more.  Peanut butter an jelly sandwiches are a staple in this house!  As long as we rotate through what we have, there won’t be a problem with spoilage or waste.

Jam/Jelly– As an important ingredient in PBJs, we need to store more jam!  In the past when we’ve had easy access to free blackberries, we’ve made loads of our own jam.  It’s been a while since we’ve made jam in large quantities, so we’ve been buying it.  We have both blackberries and raspberries growing on our property now, so hopefully we can get back into making our own jam.

Cocoa Powder– We have around 10 lb, but we need more for a long-term supply. And yes, cocoa powder is an essential storage ingredient for us!

What we WANT to stock more of

Some of the things we want to stock more of in our food storage are:

Cheese– Over the next few months, we’re planning to store more cheese.  We’ll keep a reserve in the freezer and rotate through it.  By no means will it be a year supply, but if we need to live strictly off our food storage again we can ration it.  During this challenge we stretched about 5 lb of cheese to last for two and a half months, which, for a family with cheese habits like us, is impressive.

Butter– Butter is our fat of choice when it comes to baking and cooking, but throughout this challenge we had to rely on alternatives like canola oil and shortening because we only had 5 lbs of butter in the freezer at the outset of this challenge.  We actually still have a pound of butter left because we were being careful to ration it. Like cheese, I plan to store more in the freezer.

Raisins– We eat a lot of oatmeal, cream of wheat, and other hot breakfast cereals and raisins are a favorite add-in.  We should definitely store more of them!

Chocolate Chips– For baking and for mom snacks when there isn’t anything else sweet around.

Salsa– We are fortunate to have hens that keep us well stocked up in eggs (at least in the warm months).  We love having salsa to make fried eggs more exciting.

This obviously doesn’t include the normal everyday staples that we’ll be buying when we go back to the store next week like milk, sour cream, tortillas, chicken, ground beef, or pork (if it’s available and not crazy expensive), lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, strawberries, apples, bananas, and other fresh produce.

Other things we learned during the food storage challenge

Understanding  the practical implications of eating from our food storage has been very valuable and will help so much as we go forward.  But a clearer picture of how long our food storage will actually last isn’t the only good thing that came from this challenge.  Here are a few other things we learned (or re-learned).

Eat all leftovers so nothing is wasted

We’ve always been pretty good about eating leftovers and not letting them go to waste, but during this challenge we were especially conscious of not wasting food.  Our food supply felt more finite that it normally does since we weren’t shopping to replenish it.  That made us more aware of not wasting any food.

Don’t overeat just because something tastes good

Another way to waste food is to overeat.  We don’t usually think of overeating as wasting food, but that’s really what it is. Mike and I were careful to stop eating when we were full instead of continuing to eat just because something was tasty.

Try new things

We took advantage of the extra time during quarantine to experiment and try making and eating new things. A lot of you thought it was funny that I had bever made split pea soup before.  Well now we’ve had it several times and really like it!  We’ve made tortillas from scratch.  We learned a few ways to make cheese.  And now that the older kids can make bread by themselves, we’ve been enjoying delicious homemade bread even though I haven’t made any for the last month!

Whew!  That was a lot!  Thanks for sticking with me!

Like I said, next week I will take the focus off MY food storage and start talking about YOUR food storage.  I’m excited to help you get started on or improve your food storage situation.  Let me know if there’s anything specific you want me to make sure to cover!