If You Don’t Know What You Have, You Don’t Know What You Need!

Written by Sarah Duncan

There are a lot of great food storage calculators out there that can tell you how much food you need to support your family through a month, 3 months or a year.  It’s important to use these to figure out what your family’s needs are.

While it’s vital to know how much food you require, just as important is to figure out how to arrive at that amount. Building a well-balanced food pantry is about way more than a few big shopping trips to Costco.

First things first, you need to do a detailed inventory.  If you don’t know what you have, you don’t know what you need.

I made a spreadsheet based on the numbers from the Food Storage Calculator.  I also added fruits and vegetables to the spreadsheet.

I created the following columns:

  • Amount on hand
  • 3 month supply
  • Amount needed for 3 month supply
  • 1 year supply
  • Amount needed for 1 year supply

You could also break the sheet down further by creating columns for different time periods (1 month, 6 month, 9 month, etc.) See Copy of FOOD STOCKPILE

Today I spent a few hours pulling everything out of my various cupboards, shelves and hidey-holes.  I counted, measured and added up the contents of my food storage.  While I was at it, with my hands on every single item, I took a moment to check the expiration dates to rotate in any items that were nearing the deadline.

I had been pretty happy with my food storage situation, admiring my nice little rows of soups and big jars of flour.

But then I plugged the numbers into the spreadsheet I had built…

And I was shocked to find that all that food doesn’t QUITE get me to a 3 month food supply for my family and me!

So, all the canning, the drying, the repackaging and the purchasing didn’t add up to nearly as much as I thought it did.  While I was pretty bummed, I’d certainly rather find that out now instead of later, when I’m depending on that food.

From this analysis, I was happy to discover we have more than enough beans, sweeteners, fats and fruits and vegetables for 3 months.

The downside is that I’m nearly 50 pounds short of grains, 30 pounds short of dry milk and only slightly short of meat.

This can be an overwhelming project, especially when you fall short of the amount of food you thought you had.  But you don’t know what you need unless you perform frequent and accurate inventories of your supplies.

Especially if you are new to prepping, don’t start out trying to load up and get a year’s supply of food.  Go small and work on stocking one month at a time, working from your list so that you don’t replenish grains in an already grain-heavy cupboard. Keep the end result in mind, which is a nutritionally balanced one-year long-term food supply with a reasonable amount of variety.

Break it down and work on acquiring a supply as you can, whether that is a month at a time or even a week at a time.  Every one-day supply of food that you have put away from your family is one day that you know they will not be hungry.

Another benefit to keeping things balanced when purchasing for your pantry is that it is more economical – instead of buying more expensive items (like meat) all at once, you can break those purchases up with less expensive grains to keep you on budget.

When making additions to your long-term food supply, be sure to add them to your inventory spreadsheet and recalculate your needs.  I keep a running list of my needs in my wallet so I can take advantage of great sales without having a pantry that is out of proportion.  I’ve made a list from the flyers and every time I complete another month’s worth of a food category, I’m sure I will feel a little rush of accomplishment!

Remember, you don’t know what you need unless you know what you have!

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published October 2nd, 2012
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4 Responses to If You Don’t Know What You Have, You Don’t Know What You Need!

  1. Sue says:

    Thanks for the shot in the arm!  I was just realizing that I do not know what we have, or how long it will last.  It is time to take inventory.
    I have been trying to figure out what we eat.  Since I love variety, I do not have a regular grocery list.  It is different each week because of the new recipes that I try.  Currently I am working on learning to use dried beans and trying new soup recipes-always from scratch.  When we find something we like, I am double the recipe and can the meal.  Then the ingredients are added to our pantry and food list.
    I have been keeping track of our menus on the calendar.  I figured that I would take our month’s worth of meals and multiply by three.  Then the next month’s, etc.  It is slow, but we are getting there.

    • Hi Sue,

      Getting an inventory together of what you have is going to open your eyes, trust me! You will be able to see exactly what you have, how much of it is there, and what items you need to stock up on. Sarah Duncan did an excellent job with the downloadable chart. I”m sure you could use it as a guide to start your inventory.

      My advice for getting food items is to stock up on the kitchen staples you normally use, purchase any quick fix dinner meals (macaroni and cheese, pastas, etc.) and the most popular canned goods that you use. The menu calendar is a great idea!

      Hope this helps,


  2. Cindy says:

    Hi Tess, thanks so much for all the helpful info. I’m just jumping into all this. What advice can you offer for those who are on special diets? My entire family is on the paleo diet, which means all grains, refined sugars, and beans are out of the question. We do have the occasional dairy product though. I’m wondering if I should stock up on some grains just in case because it’s cheaper, or if I should focus more on freeze-dried meats, fats, fruits, and veggies.

  3. countrygirl says:

    Ah, I’ve done a rough calculations, then I do it again. But really this is something I need to do. I have long term storage in an out building with buckets and number ten cans of freeze dried and dehydrated products. Then inside I have a freezer and cupboards with canned goods. So I try to keep my outside storage as balanced as possible. I’m working on organizing and this will be my ultimate goal. An inventory list with catagories, so I know where to add supplies.

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