Sometimes we may feel pigeonholed or daunted by the storage foods we can afford, or overwhelmed by how we’re going to use those storage foods without the endless repetition taking a toll. Here are some formulas and ideas for turning common storage foods into actual meals, increasing the variety of meals we can make with a few standard ingredients, and some substitutions that can lower our costs or improve the serving size, nutrition, and flavor of our cooking.
I’m not a big baker and I don’t thrill to the stove top – only the dinner table. Given the amount of work a lot of us are going to be doing just hauling water where it’s needed, plus the labor of gardens and any animals, rearing our children, cooking from scratch, cleaning without a dishwasher and washer-dryer, I’m planning to go simple with a lot of my cooking. So even if you’re not a big cook, there are ideas here that can help, ideas that can be made even with off-grid cooking methods.
While I’ll get into some specifics in a minute or two, one thing to consider in our disaster cooking is simple substitutions.
Wheat is commonly pushed for home storage due to the price and condensed calories, and then people feel obligated to buy a grinder, and then they feel like slackers for not practicing their home-ground wheat flour bread options. I do think we should practice what we plan to use, but I don’t think everybody with buckets of wheat actually has to view it as only a future bread dough.
Wheat can be boiled and served with the same seasonings as every side dish, from herbed buttered noodles to fried rice.
Whole wheat berries & fruit in cream
It can also be boiled to be part of or replace oatmeal and cream of wheat (soaking it overnight will make it boil faster in the morning).
If there’s a soup that calls for barley, couscous, or rice, wheat will work there, too, and cooks in about the same amount of time as barley, maybe a hair longer if it’s stored oxygen free and is older than 2-3 years (45-60 minutes usually, without a pre-soak).
Having an alternative use for the first 50-300# (or more) of wheat can buy us a little more time before we get pushed into buying not only a good grain mill, but then all the replacements for it.
Point in fact, most of our grains, from starchy dent corn to barley, wheat to quinoa, and amaranth to rice are fairly interchangeable. They take different times to cook in some cases, they definitely have their own flavors, but there’s little that can’t be made to work for any of them.
Likewise, spaghetti can be very easily used in place of an Oriental noodle, especially whole-grain spaghetti or angel hair pasta. That’s pretty handy, since even the good stuff is pretty cheap, and two pounds of spaghetti stores in about the same space than two packages of ramen.
Those substitutions exist all over.
And once we do get our grain mill, don’t neglect the other things in the pantry.
Old dry beans that don’t want to soften can be turned into flour to replace a quarter or a third of a recipe, either bread or fry batter or even for gravies.
Until recent times, we used flours from barley and maize as often as we did wheat, and a lot of the world still uses them – just as often or as a partial replacement for flavoring. So can boiled or roasted acorns. We can grind dry oats – even rolled oats – to replace part of our flour as well. Doing so can sometimes to often improve the protein components of our foods, decrease the glycemic index, and help us use something that’s not really moving in our pantries.
That inexpensive oatmeal can also be turned into homemade granola bars, muffins, and griddle cakes, decreasing the amount of flour we need to use and providing a fork or finger-food in a world of spoons.
When seeking out recipes specifically for preppers, a fair number use a lot of ingredients or require a fair bit of prep. Call me lazy, but I’m just not there, even in today’s world. Camping and backpacking recipes regularly seem to call for things we might not have on hand anymore, too, and a lot of perishable foods these days.
One, a lot of the no-fire, no-gas cooking methods really lend themselves to such. Two, the less ingredients and effort, the more time reading with kids, playing a game, or sitting with my eyes closed listening. I kind of like those options better.
If you’ve heard of 3-5-7 can soups, you’re familiar with this. It’s basically just a rule of thumb to help check the boxes on the main “eating” components:
- Fast-access energy
- Slow-access energy
The general concept is to pull 1-2 items from each category to make sure the body is getting all the nutrients it needs, which is increased by consuming a rainbow. That said, even I don’t make broth with just one seasoning. Still, the lists from the guidelines can help.
One that I ran across breaks it into “Five F’s”:
- Fat: Oil, margarine, butter, lard, tallow, fatty meat (bacon, salt pork, hocks)
- Flavor Root/Shoot: Garlic, onion, scallion, celery/celeriac, turmeric
- Flavor Leaf: parsley, marjoram, thyme, oregano, basil, nasturtium
- Filler (starches): Potato, pasta, grains & corn, pseudo-grains, cattail root
- Fuel (protein): Legumes (beans, peas, lentils), jerky, meat sticks/sausage, ham, fish, game
The breakdowns are nice as more than a check-box guide to make sure nutritional needs are being met.
Sometimes soup get pigeonholed, which is a shame, because from a creamy red bean and rice soup to veggie to chicken-noodle to some of the Oriental soups and things like borsch and solyanka, we have a ton of options available to us. Even working off of simple, cheap, condensed-calorie prepper staples and garden veggies or wild edibles, we can present a huge variety.
Alternating what we combine and even how we serve it can help avoid appetite fatigue, which is another aspect where limiting ourselves to 1-2 items from each category can help.
How we present soups can make a big difference as well, creating significantly different feels to meals even with the exact same ingredients, or very minor twitches.
That applies whether we use the 5-F method, or one of the other guides.
One of those other common formulas for pioneer soup breaks it into three fuel categories – the primary fats, proteins, starches – and then three filler (belly filling, short on calories) and flavor components:
Veggies – tomatoes, tomato powder, green beans, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, radish and mustard sprouts, cooking/roasting radishes, autumn squash, bell peppers, salsify, turnip, parsnip, beets, etc.
Leafy Greens – spinach, beet tops, lettuce, swiss chard, mizuna, cabbage, endive, turnip tops, dandelion, plantain, nettles, borage, leeks, ramps, radish tops, water or upland cress, mustard greens, mache/corn salad, sweet pea leaves, dock, kale, sprouts
Herbs & Seasonings – tart/sour berries, garden herbs, cress, wild onions, hot radishes, horseradish, onion, garlic, ground or cracked mustard seed, modern-day seasoning blends & stock bones
Part of what makes soup an economy food is that the broth helps us feel full and increases the satisfaction from the meal.
That said, we can break apart our general standard for pioneer or 7-can soup and still get the benefits of economical belly filling balance and variety.
A pasta salad can easily be made from storage foods and fresh garden or foraged goodies, especially if we plan ahead for something like powdered Parmesan cheese that can be a pick-me-up. Three or four roasted autumn veggies on a pile of fresh or wilted leafy greens creates another fork-ready meal.
We can turn our protein component into a creamed soup or just serve a broth beside either of them to get some of the belly filling aspects back, or incorporate dried beans or cut-up dry sausage (or Slim Jims).
Likewise, we can turn simple ash cakes or thinned-down Bisquick into tortillas or crepes, mix up a cabbage slaw, and bust open a can of small shrimp to sear in fajita spices as a pick me up. Just a few shrimp and a couple of tacos can provide the mental boost of a non-spoon meal, even served with a pile of rice on the side and-or a cup of spicy black bean puree soup.
Potato buds that say they’re ready to eat and just need water are telling bald-faced lies. That said, instant mashed potatoes are in a lot of kits and come pretty inexpensively on their own. Even without extra seasonings and evaporated milk for them, instant potatoes have a lot of value, especially in conjunction with our pioneer soups.
One, little says I love you like a wedge of shepherd’s pie. We can use those general basic flavorings to make a brothier version to make it stretch further, or increase the veggies beyond the usual ratios.
We can also indulge in things like a broth-heavy roasted marrow meal or just serve our Bear Creek or homemade beef or veggie soup with a happy mound of potatoes to the side or right in the middle. The seasonings from the soups will (hopefully) help mask the bland flavor, and it creates a different presentation – which is good for the mental aspects of eating, especially if a lot of our diet is rice and beans and boiled wheat.
Two, instant potatoes can be turned into goodies like potato pancakes. Or, we can mix them as directed (even in cold water; they’ll absorb it in a minute) and then bake them off to create a pseudo-dumpling or biscuit with little effort and little clean-up.
Instant potatoes also make a great thickener for our soups. We can use them to create a gravy-like broth or to imitate a creamed soup or chowder. They can also make a nice, easy flavor and calorie base for standard potato chowder without taking as much time as potatoes would to cook and mash.
While things like soup and the common basics for food storage focus around economy, it doesn’t mean we have to break the bank to jazz it up one way or another. We can avoid falling into ruts – now and later – by figuring out new ways to use the items we already have.
We can apply a little creativity and still get meals that offer variety by adding in a few things like a variety of pasta and some feel-good seasonings like powdered parm and fajita spices. Spices and sauces like soy, Dale’s, Old Bay (or the generic) and Adobo powder pack a lot of bang for the buck. We can make use of things like hot radishes, sprouts, microgreens, and wild edibles to season and bulk up our serving sizes.
We can also ease our workloads by harkening back to pottage with soups, casseroles, and one-pot meals.
In some cases, examining where we stand on our preparedness arc and how balanced our preparedness health wheels are invaluable, because it can help us decide if we need something expensive like a good grinder or a wood stove, or if our storage is at a point where a smaller set of fixes makes more sense – at least for now. Being able to buy inexpensive foods like grains, pasta and dry beans, and still create filling, varied, satisfying meals out of them, can help open up the budget for those items.