If you’re like me, trying to get from my weekly shopping list to planning 3 months of meals is overwhelming! It can be hard to keep it fresh and organized. But it doesn’t have to be impossible! In this article we have broken down the why, how, what, when, and everything in between.
Building a 3 month food supply can be accomplished in a few simple steps. First, make a list of everything your family eats over a 2-3 week period. Then multiply that out to cover 3 months and make a list. Once you have your general list, add as many things as your budget allows to your grocery cart each week. Organize your 3 month supply in bins or with labels so you know what’s there, what needs to be rotated, and how to use it!
Depending on your budget and your storage space, building a 3-month supply can be accomplished all in one trip or spread out over many weeks and months. You do not have to blow your budget or add on an extra pantry just to get it all done. Developing a consistent habit of updating and restocking your 3-month supply will serve you well in the long run.
Benefits of Having a Food Supply
A 3-month food supply can make all the difference when emergencies happen. Sudden illnesses, lost jobs, pandemics, and many other scenarios can leave you without the ability or funds to get to the store to feed your family. But, if you are already prepared with a 3 month supply, you won’t need to worry about finding food in the short term. You can be confident and relaxed during emergency situations knowing your family has food on the table.
A food supply can also help out in non-emergency situations to help make your life easier. Your 3 month supply can be used regularly for nights when you need a quick meal, if extra people show up for dinner, or if you need to drop off a meal to a friend. Having a 3 month plan and supply should be as flexible as you and your family are to best fit your needs. This food storage calculator gives you a great idea on not just what food to store but how much of it also.
Step One: Keep Track of What You Eat
The simplest way to figure out a 3-month meal plan for your family is to just start taking notes. Track what your family eats in a week by writing down all the individual foods as well as favorite meals you keep coming back to. Track your food for 2 or 3 weeks to get a realistic average and write it all down. The more specific you can be, the better, so make sure to include everything eaten as well as the amount!
Make sure to do this for multiple weeks so that you can account for all the things you don’t purchase weekly, but are important. These extra things could be baking items such as baking soda and salt. Or condiments that your kids can’t live without such as ketchup or ranch. Add these extra items to your overall list. It is going to be a large list, so don’t get overwhelmed.
Keep in mind that your 3 month food supply will mostly consist of frozen or non-perishable, pantry items. You will have to add the fresh things as you go, but still write them down so you can keep a good log.
Here is an example list to get you going.
|DAY ONE||6 eggs |
½ c cheese
3 cups milk
|½ loaf bread|
|2 chicken breasts|
2 cups rice
½ bottle teriyaki sauce
1 can pineapple
1 bag popcorn
Step Two: Make A Meal Plan Out of it
Now that you have a good feel for what your family eats and how much, you can make a 3 month meal plan. Grab a piece of paper, or if you are a more visual person, print off blank calendar pages for 3 months for your master list.
Look through your list for the repeating, tried and true meals that your family likes and you know they will eat. This is not the time to get fancy or try too many new recipes. Your supply should be your backup food that you know your family will eat and you know how to make. They should also be meals that can be mostly found in your pantry or freezer, as fresh items will be harder to store and you cannot guarantee you can get them last minute. Meals that have pasta, rice, beans, dried potatoes, or canned soups work really well.
Write your chosen meals on your calendar. If you eat them every week, write it down once per week. If not, spread them out. Fill out your calendar with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and even snacks. List out all the main ingredients as well so that you have a complete list and guide for your storage.
Remember you are not stuck to this meal plan, think of it more as a backup plan in case you need to rely on it every night.
Your calendar could look something like this:
Taco Soup w/ Tortilla Chips
|Egg & Cheese Burritos|
Spaghetti w/ Marinara
Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Teriyaki Chicken and rice
|Waffles and syrup |
Chicken nuggets and grapes
|Egg & Cheese Burritos|
Chicken Nuggets & Carrots
Spaghetti w/ Alfredo
Taco Soup w/ Tortilla Chips
Step Three: Organize Your List
The key to a successful 3 month food supply is keeping it all organized. There are two great ways to keep it organized that you will want to decide now and stay consistent.
Option One: Organize By Ingredients
The first option is to organize your supply by ingredients. This is helpful if you are confident at putting the meals together and are planning on buying items one by one as they go on sale or your budget allows.
An efficient way to start organizing this is to start with your two lists, your master meal plan / calendar and the other is a new one for the ingredients. Starting with the first meal, write all of the main ingredients on the new list. Continue doing this for each meal making tallies next to repeating ingredients and adding new ones to the bottoms of the list. After a while your lists should looks something similar to this:
|Taco Soup ( 4 times)||Black Beans||IIII|
|Spaghetti w/ Marinara (3 times)||Diced Tomatoes||IIIIIIII|
|Lasagna ( 3 times)||Corn||IIII|
And you’re done! You now have your working shopping list to go off of when you start buying the items. This method is best followed up by the card method for organizing it all found below!
Option Two: Organize It By Meal or Category
If you are more of a visual person or are planning on purchasing things by meals instead of individually, then organize your list by each meal. Make a tally for each time you have the meal repeated through the 3 months, and then plan to purchase everything for an entire meal at a time.
Your list could look more or less like this:
|Spaghetti w/ Marinara ( 6 X ) |
1 pkg Spaghetti Noodles1 jar Marinara1 can green beans10 Freezer Rolls
|Lasagna (4 X) 12 Lasagna noodles 1 jar marinara12 oz ricotta (in freezer) 1 cup frozen spinach10 freezer rolls|
Step Four: Start Gathering Ingredients
First, decide on how much of your budget, time, and storage space you can dedicate to building your 3 month supply. There is no perfect number, so create a system that works for you and your budget to start building your supply.
Depending on how you organized your list, add a few things or an entire meal to your grocery bill each week and check them off of your large list. Or if you are on a tighter budget, set aside $5 – $10 per week to build your supply and get as much as you can within that budget.
Whatever you do, make sure you keep track of it by highlighting it on the calendar or making a note of it when you purchase items. Also be sure to put them away at home so it doesn’t get used up before you know it!
Step Five: Organize Your Supply!
You will never know what you have if it is all disorganized. You will want to make sure you know what meals you are ready for, how many meals you have, and if there is any fresh stuff that needs to go along with it.
Some ideas for keeping it organized are:
The Card System
This system is very straightforward and easy to implement into any size of pantry or storage space. It also works very well if you purchase your supply item by item.
What you will need :
- Index Cards
- Larger Envelope or Index Card Box
To start, cut all the index cards into either 2 or 3 sections. You will need one card for every individual item in your storage, so you want to make sure they aren’t too big.
Next, go through your 3 month list of food and tally up similar items. For example, make a total count of how many jars of spaghetti sauce or cans of black beans you need.
Then, once you have your totals, separate out the same number of cards for each item and write it on each card. For example, if your family needs 12 jars of spaghetti sauce for your 3 month supply, you would grab 12 cards and write ‘spaghetti sauce’ on the top of each one.
Once you have your cards written, grab the envelopes and head to the pantry. Fold the flap of the envelope backward and tape it to your shelf in front of each item (you can share envelopes to avoid overcrowding). Fill the envelopes with all the labeled cards and viola!
All you have to do now is every time you grab something from your pantry, grab the card that goes with it. Place these cards in a larger envelope or index box in the kitchen. Then when you go to make your shopping list each week, look through the box and add a few of the cards to your list. Replace the cards to the pantry when you buy a new item and replace it.
This system works really well if you need a quick system as you don’t have to keep rewriting lists and checking your supply. If the card box in your kitchen is empty, then you know you have everything you need for meals for 3 months.
*Disclaimer* This method falls apart very quickly if the whole family is not on board. Anyone who grabs anything out of the pantry or storage, must also grab the card and follow the system. From personal experience I have found that teenagers struggle with this. So make sure that you remind everyone often and do a quick inventory every so often to make sure you are keeping up with it.
Another way to organize your 3 month supply that lends well to entire meals is to do it in bins or boxes. Depending on the size of bins you have, it could take up a lot of space. So look for shoe box sized bins or use tape to section things off.
What you will need:
- Plastic Bins, Cardboard Boxes, or lots of Painters Tape
- Index Cards
The basic organization here is that every meal has all its ingredients together and they are contained in one place with the recipe card. This way you can grab a bin and make the entire meal super easily. Then once you have repurchased everything for the meal, put it all back in the bin and back into the pantry.
To make your bins, label the front of each bin or box with the name of the meal and the date you put it together. Then write the recipe and all instructions on an index card. Place all the ingredients needed as well as the recipe card into the box and you’re finished! Stack them on the shelves of your pantry to better utilize the space.
To avoid purchasing bins or taking up too much space, tape off 6 – 10 inch sections in your pantry shelves. Repeat the same steps as if you are putting it all in a box, but place everything in a taped off section instead.
Your Own Method!
Do out what works best for your family and space! A combination of the above methods could give you a good system of ingredients and meals that everyone can help with. The main focus for organizing your food supply is to keep it orderly, labeled, and easy to keep up!
Step Six: Maintaining your supply
Once you build up your 3 month supply, you will most likely have developed the habits needed to maintain it! Continue to add things to your list as you use them, rotate through your storage, and keep it organized.
Do a thorough inventory once every 4 -6 months to make sure that your family is ready for any emergency and you haven’t overlooked anything.
Other Options For Meal Storage
Freeze Dried Food
If you have access to a freeze dryer, use it for your storage! Freeze dried meals are compact, lightweight, and nutritious! Not to mention they are all inclusive so you won’t have to worry about loose or fresh ingredients.
If you do not own one yourself, reach out to your family, friends, or community to see if you could purchase freeze dried meals for your family.
Prepackaged MRE’s or Frozen Foods
If the list of ingredients and organization systems totally overwhelms you, there are still options for helping your family be prepared with food.
One is prepackaged MRE’s. These are just commercially made freeze dried meals and can be found at most grocery stores. I would not recommend these for too frequent of use as they tend to get monotonous quickly. But having some on hand can always help in a hurry.
There are many pros and cons to relying on frozen foods for your 3 month supply. They are a great option as there is a huge variety, cook up fresh, and they are relatively cost efficient. Keep in mind though that you will want to make sure you have a deep freezer that can keep your meals continuously frozen and not opened every time someone needs a snack. You will also need to take power outages or a backup generator into account as you could be out of luck quickly if your freezer does not have power. Lastly, be sure to keep good track of your meals in the freezer as you will need to rotate them out more frequently so they do not spoil.
My space is very limited, can I really build up a supply?
Yes! There are lots of things you can have on hand that don’t take up much more room than what you have already. Look in your cupboards and pantry and see if there is extra space that you could utilize by adding risers or additional shelving.
Look around your house to see if there are unconventional places that you could stick a meal bin or two from your meal storage. Under beds or on top shelves of closets could be utilized for food storage.
My budget nor space allows for an entire 3 month food supply, what should I do?
Any small step you can take towards being more prepared will always be worth it. Maybe start with having one or two extra meals on hand. Then move to an entire week or 10 days. Do as much as you can within your situation!