Let’s be clear up front. By no means am I suggesting that calories aren’t important or that we shouldn’t be aware of the number of calories in foods that we purchase for long-term storage. It would instantly discredit me as a “late prepper” if I would say such a thing.
What I’m suggesting, which goes against what the vast majority of preppers teach, is that determining how much food we have should not be a calculation of calories divided by 2,000. Since the recommended caloric consumption of an adult is around 2,000, most preppers look at that to determine how many days, weeks, months, or even years of food they have. I look at it differently. I count meals.
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One of our goals as we prepare for a potential cataclysmic downturn in the United States is to have enough food, water, and supplies to prevent dependency on government. If things continue to get worse and food shortages become so bad that we can’t just run to the grocery store to feed our families, then we’ll have two choices. We can either feed ourselves with the supplies we have or we can get in government-generated breadlines to accept whatever they want to give us. I don’t want to stand in any lines and I don’t want anything given to me by government because it always comes with a catch.
Counting meals is slightly different from counting calories because it means planning for a life of semi-normalcy. If and when the crap hits the fan, I do not want to be eating beans and rice every meal every day just because that’s the only thing left once my pantry and refrigerator are empty. I want to make sure I have a strong variety of foods for an extended period of time. I want balance. That means I count meals.
For my family, we’ve determined that a proper “meal” is at least one breakfast item, one or more lunch items, and a proper three-item dinner. So, a breakfast meal can be a bowl of oatmeal with some freeze dried fruits, for example. Lunch could be a can of chicken noodle soup and some pilot bread. Dinner would be one grain, one vegetable, and one protein.
Counting breakfast meals is easy since it’s not going to need the same variety as the other two meals. Many Americans today eat the same thing for breakfast pretty much every day, so it’s not a huge change if breakfast is always oatmeal and fruits. That makes it easy to determine how many breakfast meals we have. But for those who want a nice variety, I recommend our sponsor’s breakfast kit with pancakes, oatmeal, and scrambled eggs among other items.
Lunch is similar, but with more variety. We have determined that three cans of soup and four pieces of pilot bread can feed us a proper lunch. Of course, lunch is often interchangeable with dinner but with slightly smaller portion sizes. Again, I’m going off the standard American eating model. In other cultures, breakfast or lunch are often larger than dinner.
With dinner comes a bit more need for counting and calculations. I like to test everything rather than go off the recommended portion sizes on the packages. For example, a bag of rice says a portion size is 1/4 cup dry. We’ve found that for a proper, filling but not wasteful dinner, we need 1.25 cups of rice, or five servings, to feed our family of four.
The vegetable portion of our dinner is a little less flexible. One can of green beans isn’t quite enough but two cans is far too much, so we count a can of green beans as a single vegetable portion for our meals. As for the protein, we know that we won’t be as flexible because of how quickly meat can go bad after its package is open, so we count it by weight. For example, a small can of corned beef is enough for two meals, likely a dinner followed by tomorrow’s lunch. But one of the larger cans of beef can actually last for five full meals, which means we will have five meals in a row with that beef so we don’t waste it to spoilage.
The exception in all of these is when we have meals with multiple components in one container. For example, our sponsor’s Traveler’s Stew is legitimately good and cost-effective for long-term storage of about 20 meals. It already has the grains and the vegetables, but one should add meat to the meal for additional calories and protein.
By looking at our food supplies as meals, we’re able to balance it out properly. I made the semi-mistake of stocking up on beans and rice early. I say “semi” mistake because it’s actually a good practice to have plenty available, but don’t let that be the only food you stockpile. It’s tempting because it’s inexpensive and makes for a nearly complete meal, but we don’t just want to survive. We want our family to live properly even after the crap hits the fan.
After stocking up on rice and beans, it became necessary to balance it out by adding meats and vegetables. For dinner and often lunch, we want full meals. That means having the right components to fulfill our needs. We can’t just count calories or there will be an imbalance. Variety is good for sanity and sanity is necessary for survival.
Once I had an understanding of how much proper portions were to feed my family, I started a simple spreadsheet so I could track how many complete meals I had. I didn’t get too detailed. I wanted to know how many breakfasts and lunches I had, plus how many servings of each of the three dinner components I had. By doing it like this, I quickly determined that I didn’t have nearly enough lunches or dinner vegetables. If I didn’t do this, during a long term food supply challenge we would have eventually seen our meals become less complete. Counting meals allowed me to stock up a balanced array of foods and made it easier to grow my supplies accordingly.
One quick note: Don’t let the quest for balance become a reason to not grab great deals. Just because I had plenty of rice on hand didn’t mean I was willing to pass up on a $10 bag with 25 lbs. of rice. I hopped on that and bought four. It created an imbalance, but it was a smart move nonetheless. Now when I see a good deal on vegetables or meat, I won’t have to balance it out with more grains.
I know I can feed my family for a couple of hundred days. When I have extra funds, I add to this number by buying properly. I know what I need to buy based on counting meals, not calories. And I assure you we’ll be more fulfilled this way than if we purchased 1.8 million calories worth of random, unmatched foods.