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Dec 022012

Bulk freeze-dried food for sale at Wal-Mart. Although their prices are prominently displayed, their real values are obscured.

Most preppers keep three sorts of food supplies.

The first type of supply is to keep larger than normal stocks of ordinary food items with typical two or three year expirations.  They simply eat this as they wish, in careful rotation, so that all food is eaten prior to it expiring, and as/when they see specials on these food items, they replenish their supplies at the best prices.

This sort of food supply will be enough to see you through a typical Level 1 scenario of from at least a few days to some weeks in a severe Level 1 event, without access to external supplies of food.

The second type of supply is to consciously buy some food products in bulk – food products which have moderately extended shelf lives (say 3 – 5 or more years) – an obvious example could be rice – and hopefully to use those up, prior to expiry, in the ordinary course of day-to-day living and eating too.

This sort of food supply will come handy if you are moving into a Level 2 type scenario, and hopefully you have many months of these types of bulk foods available to you.

The third type of supply is to buy some stocks of freeze-dried foods, typically with a 25 year shelf life.  These are put into the far corner of your storage area, and as for what happens in 25 years time, few of us have yet to have kept such things for so long that they are now starting to approach the end of their shelf life.

This sort of food supply is your ultimate emergency reserve – for example, if things have degenerated still further into a Level 3 situation, and you’ve had a bad year for your harvest, then you might supplement whatever food you did grow with a top up from your emergency long-term supplies.

It goes without saying that the freeze-dried food is the most expensive, and the bulk food the cheapest.  That’s unsurprising, and unavoidable, and fortunately, you don’t need to tie up a lot of your money in the 25 year freeze-dried foods.  The money you invest in the first and second types of food storage is not money you’ll never see again; indeed, by buying bulk foods and regular foods in larger quantities when on special, your food prices overall will drop appreciably.

But you should buy some long-life freeze-dried foods as well.  How much?  That’s something for a separate discussion, and it really has to be considered as part of what other foods you have available, how much storage space you have, and – of course – how much money you have, too.

This article is here to give you a very useful tip about how to select the freeze-dried foods you choose to buy and store.  The difference in cost as between the best value and the worst value freeze-dried foods is enormous, and the manufacturers don’t make it easy for you to understand and compare values – either within their own product ranges, or as a comparison between Brand X and Brand Y.

You’ll note that most freeze-dried foods are described in three ways – their cost (of course), the net weight of food within the pail or can, and the number of servings that the manufacturer claims the food can be subdivided into.  There is another piece of information, required by US food packaging laws, but it isn’t boldly shown; you have to look carefully for it, and this is a vital piece of information – the number of calories per serving.

What is a Serving

You probably already know, from normal life, normal foods, and normal eating, that the concept of ‘a serving’ is a very abstract and non-standard concept.  Sometimes you’ll find yourself eating multiple servings of something and still feeling hungry – as well as very guilty for your apparent gluttony; other times, you might find that a single serving is plenty.

There is no formal legal definition of what a serving is.  Generally, manufacturers prefer to define their servings as small as possible.  This does two things – it makes the amount of food they are selling you seem to be more than it truly is, and it makes all the ‘bad’ things in the food seem less prominent than they are.  Clearly, if they can split a portion of food into three suggested servings instead of two, then each serving will have 50% less fat and 50% less cholesterol and so on than if the servings were more realistically sized.

So, in evaluating any types of food, ignore the concept of how many servings you are buying for your money.  Read on for the most important measure.

How Much Food is Enough?

The answer to that depends on if you are eating brussels sprouts or chocolate, I guess!  Nutritionists can discuss and debate this topic at great length, but we’ll cut straight to the key points that matter from a point of view of prepping and surviving in adversity.  Warning – some gross over-simplifications follow, but the basic concepts are fair and properly stated.

The amount of food we need each day can be considered in three categories.  The first category is the number of calories it contains.  Our body needs energy to keep operating, and it gets that energy from the food we eat, and the amount of energy any given piece of food contains is represented by the calories it has.  More calories = more energy.

The second category is a need for ‘raw materials’ for our bodies – material to replenish our blood supply, our dead cells, and so on.  This is where a consideration for the presence of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and that sort of thing comes into play.  But these issues, while potentially important longer term, are not so immediately vital in the short-term.  Our body can last longer without a complete supply of raw materials than it can without energy, and furthermore, most of the time if you are eating enough food for energy purposes, and with a reasonable mix of different components in the food, you’ll ‘automatically’ be getting sufficient raw materials as well, without needing to consider the issues in any detail.

The third category is a simple need to fill one’s stomach.  Swallowing a single magic concentrated energy pill once a day might supply us the energy we need, but it would be an enormously unsatisfying way of doing so and would leave us feeling hungry for food, even if we didn’t actually need energy.  It is good to actually have some volume of food pass through our system, and it is what our bodies expect and desire.

There’s a semi-related fourth point as well – the need for variety in foods eaten to avoid appetite fatigue – an unlikely sounding ailment which can actually become fatal (click the link for a relevant article).

So, the key parameter we need to consider when working out how much food we require, each day, is to understand how many calories of energy we will need.  The answer to that question depends on what we are doing each day.

If we’re sitting around at home, doing nothing, we’re not working as much and not using energy.  If we’re spending a hard day working outside, then we’re using a great deal more energy.  If you’re young and growing, you need more energy than if you’re old and with a slower metabolic rate.  If you’re in a warm environment, you need considerably less energy than if you’re somewhere cold (just like your residence, the colder it is outside, the more energy you use to keep the inside warm).

The number of calories you need also depends on your weight – the heavier you are, the more calories you need because there’s simply more of you to keep energized and powered up.  You can browse through the internet and come up with a dozen different suggested numbers, all of which are reasonably similar, but having slightly different assumptions about how active and how heavy you are.  Here’s one such page, and here’s a somewhat more helpful page that helps you to work out your own calculation for the energy you need.

Note also, as explained on the second of these two pages, that 10% (more or less) of the energy you take in from the food you eat gets used up in processing the food you eat.  Only 90% of the energy you eat is actually available for your body to use.

So, pick a number, any number (some say to use 2000 calories for adult women and 2500 for adult men, but increase these numbers if you’re actively doing manual labor) and that tells you about how much energy you need a day.

Equating ‘Servings’ to Daily Food Needs

Now, as you evaluate different freeze-dried food products, ignore the count of the servings they allegedly contain, and ignore also their net dry weight of food.  The only thing that really matters, for our purposes of surviving in adversity, is how many calories they provide.

You will quickly notice a surprising truth.  The number of calories in a ‘serving’ can vary enormously, from as few as 30 and up to as many as 300 or more.  You’d need to eat ten times as many servings of the low caloric food as you would of the high caloric food, but the manufacturers consider both to be ‘a serving’, which provides further proof, if you need it, of the nonsense of considering food in terms of servings.

We’re now so close that we’ve almost revealed the strategy for how to maximize your food storage budget in terms of the freeze-dried food you buy.  You don’t need to know the simple cost of a #10 can of food, and neither do you care what the net weight of food is contained inside it.  Even more, you could care less how many servings it can provide.

The only thing that matters is how many calories you are getting per dollar you spend.  The more calories you get, the better the value.

The difference in calories per dollar is stunningly enormous.  Here’s a table where we went to one well-known supplier of freeze-dried food – Mountain Home – and simply took the first twenty items on their website and calculated out how many calories you were getting per dollar spent on each item.  Then, for no reason other than abstract interest, we also showed the cost in calories per dollar for some generic foodstuffs.

Our point is not to show that freeze-dried foods are more expensive than bulk rice and flour.  We all know that, already, and if we were looking for the cheapest freeze-dried foods, we’d be looking at large pails rather than #10 cans.  Our point is simply to show the huge variation in value, not only by carefully shopping between different manufacturers and package sizes, but also by simply looking at one single manufacturer’s range of #10 can sized bulk foods.

Item Price Servings   cal/serving   $/serving   cal/$
MH Beef Stew $35.49 10 210 $3.55 59
MH Chicken Stew $35.99 10 240 $3.60 67
MH Chicken a la King $35.99 11 280 $5.33 53
MH Chicken Alfredo $34.49 9 250 $3.83 65
MH Chicken Teriyaki $29.99 10 230 $3.00 77
MH Diced Chicken $48.39 14 170 $3.46 49
MH Ground Beef $44.59 18 290 $2.48 117
MH Macaroni & Cheese $28.99 9 310 $3.22 96
MH Beef Stroganoff $28.29 10 260 $2.83 92
MH Diced Beef $54.99 15 130 $3.67 35
MH Creamed Beef $46.19 54 120 $0.86 140
MH Chili Mac with Beef $25.49 10 240 $2.55 94
MH Corn $21.49 22 90 $0.98 92
MH Green Beans $23.69 20 30 $1.18 25
MH Peas $20.99 23 80 $0.91 88
MH White Rice Instant $17.99 24 180 $0.75 240
MH Cottage Cheese $65.39 20 110 $3.27 34
MH Crackers – Pilot Bread $20.29 67 50 $0.30 167
MH Sliced Strawberries $29.99 16 40 $1.87 21
MH Sliced Bananas $25.69 20 70 $1.28 55
Bulk raw rice (per lb) 90c/lb 1616 1796
Bulk raw flour (per lb) 50c/lb 1592 3184
Bulk raw potatoes (per lb) 20c/lb 352 1760
Bulk raw carrots (per lb) 50c/lb 192 384


Freeze-dried foods seem to be all similarly priced in terms of dollars per container of food.  But in terms of the most relevant measure – the number of calories of food value/energy you get per dollar spent, there is a twelve-fold spread between the best and worst values.

For reasons of preventing appetite fatigue, you don’t want to only buy one type of freeze-dried food.  But, in choosing a range of different items, clearly you want to concentrate on the higher value items and avoid the items with very low values.


David Spero[suffusion-the-author display='description']

  6 Responses to “How to Get Ten Times More Value From Your Stored Food”

Comments (6)
  1. I would also say, it would be silly to waste money buying “instant white rice”, when regular dried rice is so much cheaper and also has a very long shelf life (presuming you store it inside a rubbermaid container or some such, so rodents and insects can’t get at it.) Unless one is planning to use the “instant rice” to feed infants or invalids? But the dried meat is a great idea; meat will be a lot scarcer if everyone’s refrigerators and freezers are no longer working. (Anyone have a good recipe for making dried beef/meat at home, and the best way to store it for a reasonably long shelf life?)

    Personally, I think the cheapest & easiest strategy that virtually anyone can do (even people not dedicated to “prepping” per se, but who just want to have a few “emergency supplies” on hand) is to store up a barrel or two of dried beans and rice; and every once in a while, drag out the oldest ones and use them while replacing them with newer bags. If we could convince EVERY family in the US to do so, as a civic duty, it would go a long way towards reducing the panic and chaos every time there is some kind of disaster (such as a hurricane), and reducing the amount of dependency we have on government “rescue” programs and taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on, say, ensuring a supply of fresh water.

  2. Anyone reading this should have already downloaded the LDS Manual for food storage. The new manual for this year changes many of the storage life limits on food items. Properly stored rice, beans, corn and others are now believed to have a 30 yr shelf life.
    Overlook the LDS religous gobbeldygook and download the manual, it is great!

  3. I like the LDS Food Storage Calculator at http://lds.about.com/library/bl/faq/blcalculator.htm . I put it into a spreadsheet and added columns for entering my food-on-hand so I can calculate, roughly, how many months of food I have stored.

    Another good resource is http://athagan.members.atlantic.net/PFSFAQ/PFSFAQ-1.html . Mr Hagan wrote the book The Prudent Pantry. When it came time to update it, he just published online, for free, instead of on paper.

  4. I think it is a mistake to look only at calories per dollar. I agree that the vitamin level analysis should be secondary, but the protein content should not be overlooked. Another key consideration is prep requirements, and whether it is a meal or an ingredient. If you look only at calories per dollar, you will end up with LDS wheat and rice and a protein deficency. That makes a great foundation,(esp with addition of beans) but also requires serious amounts of prep. If you need to travel, you will need quick and easy calories. A meal made from storage and hot water is worth more than raw wheat Also have to consider what you do for sustainable food. If you have cattle or rabbits, calories might be your primary concern, but if you have a fruit orchard or crop farm, protein might be. If you plan to live off your storage, that is different than relying on it for supplementation.

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