No matter your situation, you gotta eat.
So this is about the food you eat, long-term storage and FIFO.
As an exception to my “don’t buy anything before you have a plan,” this one is simple. For foodstuffs like canned and dry goods with long shelf-lives, when you go to the store and buy six cans of whatever for your next two weeks, buy eight instead. Don’t buy something you don’t normally eat, just get a little more of what you were already going to buy. Over time this will fill your pantry and is the best thing you can do while you’re figuring everything else out.
I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but unless you already have a functioning farm, the first thing that you will lose in a grid-down situation is taste. Not your ability to taste, but rather tasty food. You don’t need taste to survive, just calories. If you’re looking to be able to whip up a “Baby Beet and Flank Steak Salad Dijon” six weeks into a grid-down catastrophe, You’re either Mark Zuckerberg or very delusional.
FIFO: The first thing you need to know is the FIFO or “First In, First Out” method of food stocking. Every food you buy needs to follow this method of rotation. As you buy more than you consume, your supply levels will build up and you will need to make sure that you’re eating the oldest of that stock. The easiest way to do this is to have a rolling chute to hold the cans. You put the new cans in the top and pull the oldest cans out of the bottom. If you buy a case of something and just stick it in the corner and never look at it for a couple of years, it might get compromised when you go to dig it out. That’s a bad time to find out you’ve wasted that resource. If you’re handy working with wood, there are all kinds of plans and "How-To" articles on YouTube and through your favorite search engine. Or just get a couple of these from Amazon.
Your most important thing to have is water. You can go weeks without food, but only 2-4 days without water. You’ll also need water to rehydrate and cook your “25-year” freeze-dried emergency food. In a pinch, you can use the water in your canned goods, but don’t depend on it. Diversify your water supply by having a stock of bottled water when there is no water at all, a filtration system, either brand name or a DIY version when water is suspect. Don’t forget portable filters when you’re away from your supplies.
CANNED GOODS: These are foods that have been sealed in a metal can, then cooked to kill all bacteria inside the can. These are good almost indefinitely. The “Use By/Sell By/Expiration” date is how long the manufacturer guarantees a fresh and palatable taste. Non-compromised cans (still sealed) are eatable even years past their expiration date. It might taste horrible, but the important part is it won’t make you sick and it will have nutritional value.
FOREVER FOODS: We don’t need to store foods for “forever” because we’ll be eating what we normally eat and rotating it anyway. But there is some bulk stuff that we can set up for long-term storage (3-5 years). Here’s a list of foods that, when stored properly, have a very long shelf life. STORE THEM IN GLASS BOTTLES OR JARS. Keeping them in plastic containers will cause them to spoil as they interact and absorb some of the plastic. Also, the plastic bottles are being made thinner and thinner to save weight and money and thusly more prone to being compromised. If you’re buying BIG bulk dry-good items (50lbs+ worth), you’ll want to store them in Mylar bags inside of 5-gallon buckets, adding Oxygen absorbers and then vacuum-sealing the bags will hold them. For regular glass jars, a small Oxygen absorber (and a DIY silicone packet) would also be recommended.
- Bouillon cubes (no MSG)
- Corn starch
- Corn syrup
- Dried beans
- Dry milk (nitrogen packed cans)
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Hard liquor
- Honey, raw and unfiltered
- Maple syrup (the real stuff, not the HFCS)
- Peanut Butter
- Popcorn (loose kernels, not microwave bags)
- Soy sauce
- Tea (whole leaf/big chunks)
- Vanilla/ vanilla extract
- Whole Black Pepper (unground)
EMERGENCY FOOD: Once the stocked foods are running low, then would be the time to start using the long-term freeze-dried food, or things like hardtack.
Actually, you should be using hardtack from the beginning. You break up 2-3 pieces, then soften them in water or grease a couple of hours before a meal, and mix it in to enhance the calories, nutrition and expand the total amount of food for either a more nutritious meal or to be able to feed more people.
A food that I don’t hear a lot of prepping channels and websites talking about is bean sprouts. There are over 40 varieties of bean sprouts. A #10 can of bean sprout seeds properly stored will last for years. It will take a couple of days to get them from seed to an eatable state. A rotating system where you can have a daily supply is not hard or complex. A couple tablespoons of seeds will provide a days’ worth of sprouts for a person. This would be a healthy and tasty supplement to your food stocks. You could live off of it if you have nothing else, but sprouts will not provide the protein and calories needed for long-term survival.
GROW YOUR OWN: If this is a “grid down” kind of thing and rescue is not coming, hopefully you have the land, skills and tools to grow your own vegetables. Practice now with a small garden that can be scaled up if the need arises. Having 2-3 jobs and commuting will not let you have more than that. That being said, it’s easier to scale up than start from scratch. Get/build the equipment necessary to store your fresh food through the winter.