Having a well-stocked pantry with a variety of canned foods can serve you well in both everyday life as well as emergency situations.
This article discusses the best canned food and other non-perishable pantry items to stock up on to meet your family’s needs in every circumstance.
The best foods to stock-up on are those that provide well-balanced nutrition, can be used in multiple recipes, and are foods you regularly enjoy. A practical deep pantry typically includes the following canned and shelf-stable dry goods:
- Canned Meats & Fish
- Nuts & Nut Butters
- Fruits & Vegetables
- Broths, Soups & Sauces
- Milk Substitutes
- Seasonings, Condiments & Other Essentials
I will guide you in selecting the best canned foods for your deep pantry, as well as touch on proper storage, food rotation, and optimizing pantry space. You will find some great and practical tips to help you prepare using foods you enjoy eating. Let’s get stocked up!
Canned Food Staples
The following are among the most commonly stored non-perishable foods items. All can be easily found at your local grocery store and can be used in a variety of dishes. If you eat any of these items regularly or frequently use them when cooking, they absolutely should be on your list of items to stock up on.
Protein & Fats
- Canned Meats
- Canned Fish
- Nut Butters
Fruit & Vegetables
- Sweet Peas
- Green Beans
- Diced green chilies
- Diced Tomatoes
- Mandarin Oranges
- Pineapple Chunks
- Baked beans
- Refried beans
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
Broths, Soups & Sauces
- Tomato Sauce
- Cream of Chicken Soup
- Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Powdered or instant dry milk
- Evaporated milk
- Sweet condensed milk
Additional Pantry Basics
There are several other items that are useful to always have on-hand. While stocking up on large quantities of these items is not necessarily recommended, it is a good idea to ensure you always have some within reach.
- Garlic Powder
Stock Up On Foods You Normally Eat
One of the most important things to consider when stocking up on canned food is what food you actually enjoy eating. If you stock up on cans of tuna, sardines and salmon but do not normally eat fish, you are wasting your money.
While it may be tempting to buy a case of canned food at your local wholesale warehouse, 12 cans of green beans may not be the best use of your pantry space. Our cupboards should be reflective of our daily eating habits.
Keep Canned Foods That Can Be Used In Multiple Recipes
Consider Ingredients Of Your Favorite Recipes
Ideally, all non-perishable food you stock up on can be used in multiple recipes. When deciding what foods to stock up on, follow these simple steps:
- Create a list of your family’s favorite recipes
- Identify which recipes can most easily be prepared with non-perishable items
- Keep these recipes earmarked for emergencies or when you are running low on fresh foods
- Use the ingredients of these earmarked recipes to help guide your decision on what foods to stock up on
Consider Substitutes For Perishable Ingredients
Keep in mind perishable recipe ingredients can often be substituted with non-perishable items, such as:
- Milk or Cream – Substitute with canned evaporated milk or powdered dry milk
- Shredded Chicken – Substitute with canned chicken
- Cheese – Substitute with powdered cheese or canned shredded cheese (available freeze-dried)
- Ground Beef – Substitute with canned ground beef (available freeze-dried)
- Onion – Substitute with canned diced onions (available freeze-dried)
Beyond Traditional Canned Food
If your favorite recipes include perishable items that cannot be easily substituted with a traditional canned equivalent, canned freeze-dried foods can be a great addition to your pantry. Incorporating canned freeze-dried foods into your pantry can provide a larger selection of long-shelf life food that is not typically found canned at your local grocery store, including:
- Fruits – berries, bananas, mango, apples
- Vegetables – broccoli, onion, bell peppers, butternut squash
- Starch – potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Meat – sausage, ground beef, chicken, shredded pork
- Dairy – shredded cheese, instant milk, whole egg powder, powdered sour cream, yogurt
For example, Grandma Maggie’s Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce (a staple in our family) requires caramelizing onions and sauteeing sausage, so canned freeze-dried onions and sausage crumbles are a must in our pantry. My Nana’s Chicken Casserole calls for chicken, shredded cheese, and sour cream, all of which have canned freeze-dried forms.
When To Buy Canned Freeze-Dried Food
Traditional canned food is inexpensive, easy to obtain, and can be purchased in smaller sizes. For these reasons, it is not typically recommended to spend money on canned freeze-dried when there is a traditional aluminum canned or packaged equivalent.
However, there are some cases where canned freeze-dried foods may be a great addition to your deep pantry.
Consider canned freeze-dried foods when:
- Larger variety of food is desired
- Extended shelf-life is desired
- Storage space permits
Shelf-life Of Non-Perishable Food
As a general rule-of-thumb, traditional canned food lasts at least two years with no degradation of nutritional value and can be safe to eat well beyond that time if stored below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, canned freeze-dried foods can often last between 25 and 30 years if stored in a similar environment.
Traditional canned foods should be consumed once opened, but may be stored for several days if refrigerated. Canned freeze-dried food, by comparison, can last up to a year after opening without the need for refrigeration. (It should be noted that proper sealing and storage in a low-humidity environment is required to preserve your canned freeze-dried foods.)
The shelf-life of uncooked rice and dried pasta is similar to canned food, typically lasting for up to 2 years. Both rice and pasta are available freeze-dried, although they are pantry staples in most homes, getting used and replenished regularly. Because of this, packaged pasta and rice tends to be the better option for most households.
Storage Of Your Food Stockpile
Consider Location Of Your Stored Food
Before stocking up on canned food, you should consider the storage space you have available. Regardless of whether your food is canned traditionally or freeze-dried, your food should be stored in a cool dry location. That typically means, inside your home, not in your garage or attic.
Choose Can Sizes That Optimize Shelf Height
In order to optimize your food storage, consider the height of your pantry shelves before selecting canned food sizes. You should strive to make the best use of the storage space available. While you may be inclined to reach for the larger sized cans of your staple foods, first consider the height of your pantry or storage shelves.
If you do not have adjustable shelves, select can sizes that best optimize the shelving height. In some cases, that might mean choosing the tallest can for that space. In other cases, it means choosing smaller cans so that their stackable height maximizes the space.
Balance Volume & Variety
Most canned freeze-dried foods (and some traditionally canned food) come in #10 cans (7″ tall, 6.25″ diameter), which are larger than the typical cans from your grocery store. While larger cans may enable you to store a larger volume of food in the same space, there are some caveats.
Larger cans mean fewer total cans, so the shear variety of food you can store might suffer. For example, in the space I store a #10 can of freeze-dried strawberries, I could alternatively store six small 10-12 ounce cans of different foods that provide for more balanced nutrition, say canned chicken, pineapple, mixed vegetables, and beans. If you are space constrained, you will want to take this into consideration. Smaller sized cans may be your best option.
Rotate Through Your Canned Food
When you invest in food that you enjoy on a regular basis, it is best to organize your pantry in such a way that newly purchased food is stored toward the back of the pantry and older cans are moved forward and within easy reach. This helps ensures that you are cycling through your canned food regularly and that food is as fresh as possible.
Canned Food For Emergency Preparedness
If your motivation for stocking up on canned foods is to prepare for an emergency situation, ‘any food to survive’ may be your mindset. But understand that emergency situations are stressful. Eating foods that are not normally a part of your diet can add to that stress. You will find comfort in having access to the foods you are familiar with and eating the foods you typically enjoy, when everything else in your environment is out of whack.
If you have the good fortune to never encounter an emergency before your stored canned foods reach the end of their shelf-life, you will know your money has not been wasted, as you can easily incorporate them into your favorite and typical ‘go-to’ recipes.
- Our cupboards should reflect our daily eating habits
- Consider canned freeze-dried food for greater food variety
- Invest in canned foods that can be used in several of your favorite recipes
- Rotate through your canned foods to ensure your stockpile is always fresh
- Select can sizes that optimize the storage space available inside of your home
- Eat the foods you store… and only store the foods you eat!
There are multiple companies from which to purchase canned freeze-dried foods. Two popular brands are Thrive Life and Augason Farms.
Canned freeze-dried ingredients can be purchased online, directly from these companies, however, places such as Costco and Walmart sometimes offer a small selection of canned freeze-dried foods at promotional prices.
It is recommended that you stock up on food that you typically eat. So, unless ready made meals are part of your normal diet, it is not recommended that they be the focus of your stockpile. If you have already built up a deep pantry that includes a variety of foods you typically enjoy and you still have additional space available, incorporating a small selection of long shelf-life, ready made meals can enhance your emergency preparedness.
Mountain House and Saratoga Farms are two popular brands for freeze-dried, ready made meals. They offer a wide variety of meals and are commonly available through online retailers.