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Friday, July 10, 2020

What's in My Emergency Pantry?

For me, an emergency pantry is not about a dooms-day scenario or apocalyptic end times.

An emergency pantry is . . .
An emergency pantry is . . .
prioritized savings
An emergency pantry is . . .
Plan B

Winter of 2008-2009 and winter of 2019 showed the PNW that mild winters are not guaranteed, here. Some years, the roads are unsafe for several weeks for my little car. Do I want to be one of the folks whose preparation for a storm begins the evening before it hits? Or do I want to be one of the folks who is comfy in my pjs watching for those first snowflakes? Beyond snowstorms, an emergency necessitating an already full pantry can come in the form of a layoff, accelerated food inflation, or as we've found this year, less-safe conditions for shopping in stores.

My pantry "savings account"
Financial experts tell us to pay ourselves first, that is, put money into savings before anything else. This is a way to prioritize how our income is spent and reduces the chance that we find ourselves without an umbrella on that proverbial rainy day. A full emergency pantry is another way to prioritize savings. It means that at some point along the line, I have chosen to stock my emergency pantry instead of buying that fun pair of sandals for the summer, or eating out at a favorite restaurant, or taking a long, holiday weekend at the beach. I have actively chosen eating over non-essential spending.

Plan A is for us to maintain a good income, a solid savings strategy, and good health, so that we can continue to cover the basics and have some of the fun stuff, too. Plan A is obviously the best-case scenario of life. But when stock markets fall, employment falls apart, widespread viruses hit, or road conditions prevent deliveries or shopping, Plan B, the emergency pantry, will keep us fed for weeks or even months.

One of the issues with emergencies is they usually happen unexpectedly. Keeping a large stock of fresh foods on hand at all times would mean that my household might have a lot of spoilage. So, shelf-stable foods like canned goods and dry foods work best for an emergency pantry. Keep that in mind as you read the following list of foods that may not be part of a typical, weekly grocery list.

So, what's in my emergency pantry?
I tried to cover the basic food groups in quantities enough to outlast several months without stepping into a store or placing an order.
My emergency pantry is filled with grains, dried beans, canned chicken and tuna, powdered milk, seasonings, pasta, small amounts of flour packed in plastic packaging, ditto on the sugar, peanut butter, raisins, applesauce, canned carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, instant mashed potatoes, solid vegetable shortening, vegetable oil, dried cheese, soup base, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, canned pineapple, canned green beans, and lots more. 

Here's a run-down of what I've got in dry storage:

(Where applicable, best place for price that I've found is in parentheses.)

  • powdered cow's milk, enough for 3 to 4 months
  • powdered soy milk, the year's supply as it's less expensive than liquid
  • powdered coffee creamer, about 1/2 pound
  • cheddar cheese powder, about 1 pound
  • Parmesan cheese, 1 large container per month (Walmart, GV in-store)
meat and vegetarian protein
  • canned tuna, a couple dozen cans (Great Value, Walmart in-store or online)
  • canned chicken, a couple dozen cans (Walmart, Swanson)
  • dried beans, several varieties, about 30 lbs -- 2 lbs per week's use (Walmart in-store and online, restaurant supply)
  • TVP (, 25-lb case, gluten-free)
  • peanut butter, 1 large jar per month (Walmart GV, in-store)
  • canned and bagged nuts
fruits and vegetables
  • jarred applesauce (Fred Meyer and Walmart, store brand, 1 or 2 jars per month)
  • canned pineapple (Walmart, GV, in-store)
  • large canisters of raisins (Great Value, online)
  • canned cranberry sauce (Walmart)
  • canned pumpkin (Walmart end of last season, GV)
  • canned yams (Walmart)
  • canned tomatoes and tomato paste (restaurant supply in #10 cans)
  • canned green beans (Winco and Fred Meyer -- last fall's sales)
  • canned corn (Winco and Fred Meyer -- last fall's sales)
  • canned spinach (Great Value, in-store)
  • canned carrots (Great Value, in-store)
  • still looking for good deals on canned peas and canned peaches
  • dried herbs, garlic powder, onion powder (garden on first 1, Walmart on last 2)
grains and starches
  • instant mashed potatoes (Great Value, Walmart, in-store)
  • whole wheat and white flour (restaurant supply and Walmart)
  • cornmeal
  • brown rice (restaurant supply, 50-lb bag)
  • white rice (Great Value, online, 20-lb bags)
  • barley
  • rolled and steel cut oats (restaurant supply, 25-lb bag)
  • popcorn (restaurant supply, 12.5 lb bag)
  • pasta, I bought 3 pounds for every month (Walmart and Dollar Tree -- 3-lb box GV macaroni about 60 cents/lb, in-store Walmart, 4-lb box spaghetti GV, Walmart, online in two-pack, 64 cents/lb)
fats and oils
  • gallon jugs of vegetable oil, 1 gallon for 2 months (Walmart, in-store and online)
  • solid vegetable shortening (Great Value, in-store and online)
  • granulated sugar (Although I buy 50-lb sacks of sugar at the restaurant supply, I also keep two 4-lb bags of sugar over-wrapped in a plastic ziploc. This is "just-in-case" sugar.)
  • molasses (for making brown sugar, pancake syrup, or in cakes and cookies)
  • vinegar (for making baking powder substitute or salad dressings or marinades -- I bought an extra gallon for emergency pantry)
  • baking soda, a few pounds (for making baking powder substitute, use in cleaning, or in baking, as is)
  • cocoa powder (Walmart, in-store, GV or Hershey's)
  • chocolate chips (making candy, melting for s'mores patties, baking cookies -- Walmart, in-store)
  • extracts
  • salt
  • beef and chicken soup base
  • spices -- large containers from restaurant supply
  • corn starch
  • future vegetables in the form of seeds
  • coffee/tea
  • canned olives
  • mayonnaise, a couple of jars (need to get a jar or two of mustard, still)
  • still looking for yeast in my area

Almost all of the above is in addition to my regular pantry. I keep the bulk of this on a set of shelves behind a door in my office.  Many folks keep their emergency supplies in a basement on shelves or in a garage on shelves in well-sealed storage totes. But for those who lack a basement or completely rodent-free garage (this is us), I can testify that shelves in a closet (or in the open) in a spare bedroom, office, or den also works. 

Although the purpose of this pantry is for emergencies, it is a working pantry. That is, I am currently using items from it; however, I replenish what is used on a monthly basis, rotating the stock so I'm always using the oldest items first. In this way, we have ample emergency supplies, but risk nothing to overextending the expiration dates.

For my own emergency pantry, I selected items that would be normal or normal-substitutes for my own family. An example of a normal item-substitute is the instant potato flakes. My family prefers whole potatoes. But whole potatoes are subject to spoilage. It's not really practical to store 40 to 50 pounds of whole potatoes in my office. I'm also not the biggest canned spinach fan. But canned spinach is shelf-stable -- doesn't take up valuable freezer space. I can make-do in recipes with the canned stuff, should an emergency strike. Ditto with carrots and using the canned for the emergency pantry instead of fresh carrots. 

What's not in this pantry is snack foods. Items like crackers and chips would be raided from the emergency pantry long before any actual emergency hit. So, I stuck to inexpensive basic foods that need some sort of preparation. There's little chance my family will gorge on pasta; but if they did, the cost of pasta was so low, it would be okay.

To determine how much of each food item was needed, I simply multiplied the amounts that I know we normally use in a month by the months that I expect my pantry to sustain us in an emergency. I spent about 2 months procuring everything for my emergency pantry. 

I compared prices between Walmart online, Walmart in-store (using the free pick-up service), Target delivery, Fred Meyer (using pick-up), and Cash & Carry (our restaurant supply store). There were limits on many items, so the purchases were spread over a few visits/orders. While most of the time, buying foods in-store was less expensive than ordering online, there were a few exceptions and I noted those. Often times, the online deals were due to buying multiple quantities. But at least in one instance, the online product was simply cheaper than the in-store version.

With what I bought in addition to what I already hand on hand, my family of 4 adults could live for several months (6 or more), without any further shopping.

About cost . . . I used our vacation money for 2020 to pay for all of the above. However, this is simply pre-paid food. With a few exceptions (powdered milk, for example), I paid close to what I would normally when shopping on a monthly basis. An example, the canned spinach was 48 cents for a 13.5 oz can, or 57 cents/lb. I normally buy frozen spinach for about 80 cents/lb in 3-lb blocks at the restaurant supply. With the canned carrots, also 48 cents each, my normal good price on fresh carrots is about 45 cents/lb. So, for some foods, I came out a little ahead and others a little behind my normal spend for the item. As a result, I feel okay about the cost to stock this emergency pantry. No one likes to spend a huge chunk of money on basic items. But for peace of mind as we possibly approach a second wave of this virus, which in turn could result in employment instability (this has been a worry for our family, living on one income), this was a good move for my family.

I consider my freezer to be an extension of our emergency pantry. Many foods are either more economical, save time, or retain a higher level of nutrients when in frozen form. I'll write up what I bought for our freezer this next week. 

When I began writing this post, I wasn't sure if I would publish it. However, as Kathryn (in the comments a couple of days ago) requested more information about stocking an emergency pantry, I went ahead and finished this up to post. Kathryn, I hope this post answers your questions. You've seen how I prepare meals for my family. I mostly use basic ingredients, cooking from scratch, and try to vary the resulting food. Especially for an emergency pantry (which would only need to be the sole source of food for a limited time), this seems to be the most cost-effective way to provide meals, even if there would be some redundancy.


  1. We do not have an emergency pantry like you do. However, we have an emergency supply of food that would last for several days with the rest of our emergency supplies that we might need if we had to evacuate or shelter in place. We also have enough supplies, including food, set aside in case we have to quarantine for a couple of weeks. I'm sure we could last for a few weeks easily with the regular food we had on hand, but nowhere near the amount or careful planning you have done. But you are an exceptional person that in way and give insights to others on how many things, especially planning, can be done.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      You have a plan that works for you, and that's what matters.

      My circumstances may differ greatly from a lot of folks. I also think there is an element of risk tolerance that comes into play in the decision to put together an emergency pantry or not. If a person knows their own risk tolerance, they can plan as much or as little as is comfortable.

      Have a great weekend, Live and Learn.

  2. This is very helpful Lili, thank you! Since I live in the PNW I shop the stores you mentioned here. I'm guessing that you stock up first aid, household, and personal care items the same way, figure out how much you use on an average month and multiply it out. Do you know how to use the powdered cheese from Winco? Is it the same stuff as what is in mac and cheese packets? I have some but I couldn't find the instructions on how to use it. Thanks for the great info, Kathryn

    1. Hi Kathryn,
      I try to stock the non-food essentials in the same way, although it's easy to get behind on some items. But I almost always have a few month's supply of bathroom tissue and cleaning ingredients on hand.

      If the powdered cheese is like what I have, here are the instructions from the website where I bought mine ( on how to use to make a cheese sauce for veggies or pasta:

      "Cheddar Cheese Sauce Mix

      Ingredients: 1/4 cup of butter or margarine, 1/4 cup of milk, 2 tbsp of Cheddar Cheese Powder.

      Cooking Instructions: Mix all ingredients together. Heat to 180F in a saucepan and hold the mixture on the heat for 5 minutes."

      That said, I make a cheese sauce with the powder differently. I start a cheese sauce with this powder by making a thin white sauce, then add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cheese powder and finish with extra cheese (whatever is cheapest for me, usually mozzarella) to give it that stringiness.The sauce is less orangey and looks and tastes more like a scratch cheese sauce. I also like to add a pinch of mustard powder to my cheese sauces.

      If you can look up the ingredients for Winco's bulk cheese powder, you can compare them to the powder from the site where I bought mine. Here's's ingredient list:
      Granular Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cuture, Salt, Enzymes), Whey, Sunflower Oil, Whey Protein Concentrate, Lactose, Maltodextrin, Salt, Blue Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Sodium Phosphate, Contains Less then 2% of Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Yellow #5, Yellow #6. Packaged in the same facility as peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and milk products."

      My guess is the cheese powder from Winco is like the stuff in boxed mac and cheese. Good luck!

      Have a great weekend, Kathryn.

  3. Wow. That's amazing. I keep a pantry in our basement, as well as freezer food, but like L&L, it's not as comprehensive as yours! If we had to, we could get by on our storage for at least a month, although the meals might be kinda weird at times. I'm not a huge meal planner and like to keep food stocked so I can cook a variety of meals without having to run to the store. I'm trying to be mindful of what we need to stay stocked up on in the event of another pandemic wave.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Like I said to L & L, you've found what works for you, and that is what matters. My situation and tolerance for risk may be vastly different from many folks.

      I prefer to just keep a well-stocked kitchen then plan from what I have, too. I think meal-planning that way (using the "pantry principle") saves money in the long run.

      Have a wonderful Sunday, Kris.

  4. Heat plays a big role in our productions, so we try to batch cook on weekends as we’re off work. It still presents challenges. Our larder is nowhere near as stocked as yours. Been battling whitefly in the garden. Not our worst but also certainly not our best year. Would surely help if our neighbor who seldom mows and never weeds would clean his yard up. It’s a happy habitat for pests. I was bit by a snake in clearing his overgrowth. Luckily, wasn’t venomous or I may be dead, as the bite was in a crucial area.

    1. Hi Vanessa,
      Oh, Vanessa, how horrible! You're the first person I've ever known who was bitten by a snake. How scary! That is really frustrating about your neighbor. You must have developed a great deal of patience.

      Our garden is always a challenge for me. I have such high hopes each year, then things just turn out mediocre. But mediocre still provides food for us, so I am grateful for that.

      I hope you have a great day, Vanessa, and that the snake bite has now healed.

    2. Vanessa, we have had problems with neighbors not taking care of their lawns, too. It's super frustrating. It looks unsightly and increases the bugs. At least I've never had to deal with a snake biting me--yikes! Hang in there. Maybe we can exchange yard war stories sometime. :)

  5. I'm glad you published the post! I find so much value in your posts.

    I always have a stocked pantry but for entirely different reasons than you state but it has turned into the exact reasons. Let me explain. When the kids were young, we lived in the country where grocery stores were not close by so cooking frugal meals meant needing to have things on hand and that's where my stocked pantry arose. Three little ones under with only a 4 year age gap total, country living and rough winters made for needing a healthy pantry. Then it turned into "I'm glad we have a well stocked pantry" for working outside the home full time so the kids could make lunches while I was gone. Now, we live in the "city" and the kids are able to fend for themselves but I still work outside the home full time and don't want to shop weekly.That's the reason for a well stocked pantry and it has become a stay-at-home pandemic for which I am happy to have my stock. I was intending to "loosen" and use pantry items but I feel like we might need to keep stock around for a long time in the future. We are lowering the level of the deep freezer because I can hardly close the lid but not to use it all up.

    I ventured out to the Amish store to replenish spices so now my spice cabinet is full. That is helpful when cooking something I don't normally use--spices. It sure helps make it taste good.


    1. Hi Alice,
      It's funny how things turn out like that. You do something for one reason, then you later find that you've needed it for entirely different reasons. I always kept a well-stocked pantry to save money -- buy to fill my pantry, then plan meals from what I had. But then this winter, spring, and now summer, it turned into a necessity to keep a lot on hand so I wouldn't risk exposure or spread to the virus. I'm actually kind of enjoying not going to the store so often. I haven't been shopping in the month of July yet and here we are almost mid-month.

      Restocking your spice cabinet must have felt productive. I agree, spices can turn dull meals into something really tasty.

      Have a great day, Alice.

  6. That last sentence isn't what I meant. I use spices to make a food item I don't normally use taste good. I use spices all the time! I grow herbs and dry them myself too! I love many spices in all my meals. Some of my favorites right now is homegrown dried basil, store bought smoked salt, my own seasoning mix for chicken and a homemade ranch dry mix for everything but making ranch dressing.


    1. I think I got what you meant. Wording can be tricky, right?

  7. Phew... I have read all your posts (we have had miserable weather for few weeks). So many times I have wanted to comment on something only to realize it's not very good idea to comment on a post that has been written five years ago :-D
    But really, I have enjoyed your blog a lot!
    I don't keep very well organized pantry, but I do keep a lot of basic food items. I can't eat onions (not even chives; allergy) or chicken/turkey (intolerance), so I make almost everything I eat from scratch. I have one stock cube I can use (it has neither poultry nor onions...) I mean not one brand, but one product I can use! We live in the countryside, so I can forage a lot during summer/autunm. I dehydrate a lot of things to use as a tea, I pick berries (lingonberries, blueberries, raspberries, rowan berries) and most of all, I pick mushrooms!
    We use our own forest to get firewood that we use to heat our house during cold seasons (that is 3 seasons out of 4), and walk my dog every day of the year in those woods around us.
    Covid-19 hasn't really affected us as much as maybe other people, because I have worked at home twice a week already - well, school at home for three children was a bit of a shock first. But we don't have hobbies outside out home, we don't eat out, we do our shopping once or twice a week at most.
    I'n guestimating we can live out of our supplies for three months, we would run out of toilet paper (bath tissue) and milk in two weeks, and last few weeks we would probably eat bulgur, potatoes and beans with muschrooms and wild pesto, but we wouldn't be in danger of starving to death.

    1. Hi Ulvmor,
      Aww, thank you. I'm glad that what I've posted appeals to you.

      I totally understand on allergies and intolerances being problematic with commercial foods. Yours sound especially difficult with anything processed meat-related.

      Wow -- it sounds like you have extensive knowledge on foraging. That's amazing! I had to look up Rowan berries. If I saw them in-person, I would have no idea they were edible! What do you do with them?

      Meals of bulgur, potatoes, beans, and mushrooms and/or pesto actually sound delicious to me! I'll be right over for lunch. I know what you mean. We ran out of fresh produce in late April and meals perhaps didn't look as appealing as usual.

      Thanks for commenting. Have a great day!

    2. Rowan berries are more like extra, I make jelly and cordial/juice, when there's abundance of rowan berries. If there's only few, I leave them all to birds to feed during winter. When I was younger, I made rowan wine, but now I'm boring middle ager and won't drink wine, just liqour (1 part berries 1 part sugar and 1 part vodka).
      Most foraged berries are used in cordials and smoothies, we are not heavy users of jams and jellies.
      Nearly forgot! I pick young rowan leaves in spring to dehydrate for tea. They have nice hint of almonds.

    3. Thank you for the information on Rowan berries, Ulvmor! They sound interesting.

  8. Hi Lili,

    Glad to see your posts again. We tried to stock up a year's supply of basic staples but since I'm not a good planner, I find that to be more ideal than practical. We now shop at least once or twice a month. Fortunately, stores have senior hours, an hour earlier than opening time. Some stores open 24 hours, so we plan to shop in the wee hours. Because we have a mask mandate in our state, and nearly everyone obliges, I find shopping not as risky as I imagined. The key for me is crowded, confined space, so I opt to shop in only large stores when it is not crowded.

    I have always been a bargain shopper, but these days I am not adhering to price points so much. Prices have been rising in many food categories. There was z short period when dairy was very cheap, like butter and cheese, but prices have gone back up. In terms of overall food budget, we are not spending more. We continue to ration our consumption, and continue to lose weight. We are trying our best to lower our comorbidity risk and do all the things to get healthier. That's the silver lining in this pandemic so far, but I do think we're still in the first inning and so it is wise of you to have a Plan B. Lately, I've been very worried, and my hope and expectations have gotten lower. All I hope is we survive the disaster from this pandemic, nothing else is important. Not money or acquisitions. This virus will cause losses for everyone. A few weeks ago, our Lt Gov warned about a new level of hurt when people will go hungry and lose the roof over their heads if this virus continues. Let's hope we can do better.

    1. Hi Laura,
      That is a wonderful silver lining, to be improving your health. I think we'll all learn ways to reduce our risks of other contagious illnesses and infections, and that is a good thing.

      I was able to pick up both cheese and butter last month at very low cost. Eggs have been reasonable, here, too. Meat is expensive. I bought several packs of bacon in May and by June the price had nearly doubled. I'm still using grocery pick-up service for most of my shopping. And I'm only shopping once every 3 weeks or so. Obviously, I'm not back to my normal routines.

      have a great day, Laura.

  9. Hi Lili,
    I remember seeing a vacuum sealed "brick" of yeast at Winco in the baking isle in the last couple weeks. I can't remember the price but it was much cheaper per use than the little jars.-Kathryn

    1. Thank you for this, Kathryn. I haven't been in Winco since February. Maybe I'll have to get down there soon.

      Enjoy the lovely afternoon and evening!

  10. Lynn from NC Outer BanksJuly 16, 2020 at 6:43 AM

    Hi Lili. This was very interesting to read. I had made a not-quite-so-opportune-decision when I had decided to eat down my pantry in January. I was stuffed to the gills in my freezer and pantry (my son, home at Christmas accused me of "hoarding"). After making a dent in over the Christmas holidays with my family here, I decided to do my usual pantry challenge in January. With only 2 of us at home, it takes quite a while to use up a lot of food. It was so successful, I continued on into February, and then March. Well, good for the budget and for moving the foodstuffs, but not so good when mid-March hit.

    But, despite having eaten down the freezer and pantry for 10 weeks, I still had food for us to eat. We didn't have the variety to which we were accustomed, but did still have proteins. So I made it until April 1 before venturing to the store. At that time, like for others, options were quite, quite limited. And since I live in an area that is a bit more remote (the NC Outer Banks) our options were even more sparse for a very long time. It has of course gotten better, and some of the "specials" have finally returned, but a hard stretch there. Thankfully, I also had well stocked supplies of toilet paper and cleaning supplies. I reminded my doubting son of this as the scarcities spread!

    We had also decided to forgo a garden, but we quickly changed our minds there. I planted 7 year old lettuce seeds in my flower garden, not really expecting them to germinate and it looked like I had about a 99% rate! I've been able to give lettuce to all my friends, family and the food bank. Our tomatoes produced early so we had fresh lettuce and tomatoes at the same time! So that was a good recalculation. We are continuing to enjoy our fresh tomatoes and gifting them to others.

    I have been able to restock my supplies slowly. I have spent more since April, but since my purchases the first 3 months were so minimal, it has all worked out within our budget. Our shopping options are far less than others, so I'm glad I've been able to "hold the line" a bit.

    I will look forward to reading your post on your freezer stores, as I enjoy all of your thoughts. I need to inventory mine so I'm sure exactly what is in there now. So glad you are back to posting on whatever schedule works best for you. Thanks for all you do and the wisdom you impart. Have a great weekend. Lynn

    1. Hi Lynn,
      You know, I think a lot of us did the very same (tried to eat-down the pantry and freezer) in January and February. It makes sense, as grocery deals are few and far between after Christmas until about Easter. This year was an anomaly. No one could have guessed this would happen. So, you're not alone.

      That is so wonderful about your lettuce and tomatoes from the garden. And doubly great that you can share with others. That sort of kindness will go a long way toward buoying others up during a difficult period.

      Thank you. I hope you enjoy your weekend, as well, Lynn!


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