Building a 3 Month Food Supply List is easy if you follow a practical strategy. We have developed six strategies and detailed each to help you find what works best for your family.
Everyone has different lifestyles, preferences, families, and lives in different areas. Following a simple list that says to buy 100 pounds of rice may not be practical and could be a waste of time and money.
When I first started building my 3 Month Food Supply, some of the lists I found just didn’t make sense for my family. Most were based on basic staples that we used regularly but seemed to be more on storing vast amounts of the basics while leaving out many items we usually used. I went through a few iterations before developing a strategy that works for us.
My advice from my experience is to have patience. Don’t rush into buying a bunch of food without considering what is best for you and your family.
Below we will review the benefits of having a 3-month food supply. We then detail each strategy based on your goals, discuss how much food you should store, and finally give you a list of tips to help you start and maintain your food supply.
What is a 3-Month Food Supply?
Having a 3-month food supply is a personal decision. It can have different meanings for different people. For some, it is strictly for survival reasons during a disaster. For others, it is incorporated into their regular food pantry and daily cooking. Regardless, the intent is to have enough food to last three months without going to the grocery store.
Why have a 3 Month Food Supply?
There are several benefits of having a 3 Month Food Supply at home. One is for disaster preparedness, but there are also many others. For some, these other reasons are more important, and being prepared when they can’t go to the grocery store comes naturally as a secondary benefit.
This is the most obvious one. When a disaster or shortage occurs, and you can’t regularly shop at the grocery store, you have plenty to eat at home. As we saw during the covid pandemic, most people rushed to the grocery store and bought a ton of stuff they probably didn’t eat. If you have a 3-month food supply at home, there is no need to panic buy. Just continue as usual and build your supply back over time when conditions improve.
How often do you hear “what’s for dinner?”. Or “Hey, so-and-so will be here tonight for dinner.” Life tends to make our day different than we had envisioned that morning, and we are making yet another trip to the grocery store. Making multiple weekly grocery store trips can take away our valuable time.
The stoics wrote that time is our most precious resource. Tempus Fugit, which means time flies, is a phrase that reminds us that time is one thing that we can never get back. Would you rather spend an hour driving and rushing through the grocery store or an hour at home with your family?
Every time you go to a store, there is the potential to buy more than you planned. Large corporations spend a lot of time and money to develop ways to entice you to buy more. Running “special” sales, coupons, clearance items, and many other ways. During those two or three weekly trips, you are spending a lot more than if you just went once.
Building and maintaining a 3-month food supply allows you to buy in bulk. Non-perishable items like canned goods and grains will keep for more than three months. Instead of buying one can every week, you can buy 12 cans at a warehouse store like Sam’s Club or Costco at an overall lower price.
Unexpected Life Events
Beyond the things in life that are unexpected daily, sometimes life can throw you a curve ball that affects your family for weeks. Losing your job, sickness, and accidents can disrupt our routines and finances for an extended period. Knowing that you have three months of food in your pantry makes these stressful events much easier. The time and money needed for grocery shopping can be saved and spent on what is most important during those times.
3-Month Food Supply vs. Long-Term Survival Pantry
What is the difference? Well, it depends. For some, it could be the same thing. If you are comfortable keeping three months of food that you regularly use, that is perfectly fine. If just a supply of long-term food items that will last for 25 years is best for you, that is great too. Maybe you have both. It is all a personal decision that we will help you reach with the strategies below.
Why have Different Strategies?
Most of the 3 Month Food Supply Lists you find have several nonperishable items you should have on hand for each family member. This is great for people who have the space, cook at home, and use the items in the list regularly to avoid spoilage. This is not a practical strategy if you live in a small apartment, don’t cook at home, or travel a lot.
In 2019, over 65% of the people in the US said they cooked at home less than five times a week. Nearly 30% only cooked at home twice a week, and over 8% said they cooked at home less than once per week. The 2020 Pandemic certainly pushed people to cook at home more, but trends point to people reverting to their previous habits.
It is estimated that between 30% – 40% of the food supply in the US is wasted each year. That is a staggering statistic. Not having a well-thought-out strategy and just buying a bunch of food you don’t use will lead to it spoiling in a few years. Not to mention it is a waste of money.
My point is that if you never cook rice at home, why would you buy a considerable amount of it?
We must keep some considerations in mind. These will help you decide the best for you and your family. In each section, jot down a few notes. These will help you in the next section.
In general, setting your overall goal for a food storage plan is a great place to start. It could be saving time, preparing for a disaster, eating healthier, losing weight, saving money, or a combination of these or all of them. Spend a few minutes thinking about what brought you to this guide.
How much space do you have to store food? Storage space should be cool and dry and not vary significantly in temperature. An outbuilding or garage is not a good choice. If you do not have a home with a basement or larger area that is somewhat temperature controlled, think outside the box. Consider some of your closet space, for example. Canned goods and boxes can fit nicely under a bed. Consider adding a shelf to store food on if you have a spare room. By objectively looking at each room in your home, you will likely find extra space. Also, do you have a large freezer? If not, considering a lot of frozen foods doesn’t make sense.
If you are in the group of Americans that rarely eat at home, does it make sense for you to store food at home? It could be that a short-term food supply doesn’t make sense for you, but a long-term emergency supply does.
Do you have a relatively large budget to spend all at once? If not, implementing a strategy may take some time. Consider building your supply over time, as you will likely find changes to make it better along the way. If you buy too much of one item, for example, it could spoil and become a waste of money.
Do you eat mostly fresh food or a combination? Do you eat a lot of frozen foods? What foods does your family like? Do you like variety or eat the same foods each week? Consider recipes and meals that you make often. Is there something you eat out a lot that you could make at home instead? Brainstorm this with your family one night at dinner. The answers may surprise you.
3 Month Food Supply Strategies
Now that you have some notes let’s jump into the strategies.
1. Long-Term Easy Button
Do you rarely cook at home, don’t want to cook, and don’t have a lot of space? In this case, a premade kit from a long-term survival food company may be the best bet. These kits come with various meals, all packaged into storage buckets. You simply order online, and they arrive at your door, ready to put in the closet. This is the more expensive option, but you are paying for the convenience. Most have a shelf life of 25 years, so you don’t have to worry about them going bad. These are not those nasty military MREs. They are much better.
2. Long-Term Survival Pantry
Do you cook at home and don’t have a lot of extra space? Do you just want some food stored in case of a major disaster? Consider putting together a long-term survival pantry from our list here. Only stock items your family will eat so you can keep your pantry rotating and fresh. Things like peanut butter, canned goods, rice, and oatmeal are easy to store and last a few years. When the time comes, you will have food that you can cook. For some recipe ideas, check these.
3. Basic 3-Month Food Supply
Do you cook often but don’t have a desire or the space for a long-term survival pantry? For this strategy, you will not change any of the items in your pantry but just simply add more of them. Do you keep one jar of peanut butter, and when it is out, you just buy another? In this case, buy two jars next time. When you finish one jar, buy one more to replace it. The amount of each item differs for everyone, and we will review this in the next section. This strategy ensures that you do not run out of the food you eat every week.
4. 3 Month Food Supply Plus Frozen
Do you often cook and use a lot of fresh food? Do you have a large freezer or space for one? In this strategy, you will do the basic strategy above and substitute some fresh food you eat for frozen food. Frozen food is nearly as good as fresh and will keep for more than a few days. This method can also save money. Instead of buying one steak, for example, you can buy a family pack that is usually cheaper. Cook some and freeze the rest for later. You can do the same for fruits and vegetables.
For this strategy, you must also consider your options if the power goes out. Losing three months of meat and vegetables is not what we want to happen. One option is to have a small generator on hand just for your freezer if you don’t have a larger one for your entire home. Solar is also an option that is becoming more viable. Most standalone freezers will keep food frozen for a day or two without power if you minimize opening the lid or door.
5. 3 Month Food Supply Plus Frozen and Long Term
Do you have plenty of space and want all the benefits of a 3 Month Food Supply and a Survival Pantry? For this strategy, combine the 3-month food supply plus frozen strategy with our survival pantry list here. In the basic sense, your panty becomes a mini grocery store that you restock when convenient. For the non-perishable survival items, you would store more of them depending on your time goals.
6. The Ultimate Food Supply Strategy
This is the ultimate, so it must be the best! If you have plenty of space and your budget in the short term is not a huge concern. This strategy is also good if you live in a remote area and do not often get to a store. I know some people that live over 45 minutes from a decent grocery store and only make the trip once a month.
In this strategy, you use the above and add all the other items you regularly need to your pantry. These include toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, zip-lock bags, and other non-food items. We all remember the toilet paper shortage in 2020. With this strategy, you could have avoided all of the panic buying and using the “rough stuff” for those few weeks.
How Much Food Do I Need to Store?
A 3-month supply should get you through almost any disaster you need to hunker down at home. When you need to evacuate, see our Bug out Bag Guide. But how do you know how much food you need to make it last for three months?
Many lists will have an exact number and amount of food you should store for each person in your household. However, this doesn’t take into account personal preferences and dietary differences.
Instead of using a bunch of math to calculate calories, serving sizes, and the ages of your family members, a better way to do this is to use patience. By that, I mean to adjust the amounts you have in your pantry over time. Use these steps.
- First, determine what you are going to keep in your 3-month supply. Make a list of the items you typically buy and meals you usually have. Divide these into perishable and non-perishable groups.
- Buy at least two of each item. For example, if you have spaghetti each week, buy two jars of sauce and two packages of spaghetti noodles. By starting with at least two, you can quickly look at your pantry and see that you only have one of something and need to replace the second one that was used.
- When you use one item, write down the item in a shopping list with the date. Keep the list from each week and see what you typically use over one month. Use a month because that will factor out the nontypical days when you may not be home.
- Over time, you can adjust the amount of food you have and monitor if you are using a lot of one item or less of another. Keep an eye on the best-by dates so that you don’t have something spoiled. See our Survival Food list for more info on shelf life.
If you enjoy making spreadsheets, another option that may be available is using the rewards program at some grocery stores. You can see what you purchased online and even export the data in some cases. While certainly not needed with the simple steps above, this will allow you to look back at history.
- Refrain from going out and buying vast amounts of food based on a rough calculation. Determine the amount of food your family uses and adjust it over time. I have already mentioned this a few times, but it is best to have patience and ease into a strategy, so you don’t waste food and money.
- The upfront cost can be a little higher, but once you replace what you use, your cost of food should go down. If you don’t have an extra budget for this, just buy a little more each week. Look for items on sale and buy a few extras.
- Don’t store a bunch of junk food. While some treats are fine, don’t fill your pantry with twinkies and chips, especially if you have kids. Having more of these around will encourage your family to eat more.
- Make sure you are rotating your pantry in a FIFO (First in, First out) manner. This means using the older item first before the item you just bought. With two of each item, you simply move the older item to the front of the shelf and place the newer item behind it.
- Organize your pantry. If you don’t have a lot of space, this gets harder, but everything in your supply list should have a spot in your pantry. This will allow you to know at a glance what you need to resupply.
I hope these strategies helped you develop a plan that works for you and your family. Building a food supply using calculators and general lists may not be practical for you and could be a waste of money. Hitting the easy button and buying an emergency kit may be the best for you. Patience and thinking through your lifestyle is usually the best action.
Seneca said, “If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.”
What does sailing have to do with food? With this analogy, Seneca meant that if you don’t know where you are going or have a plan, then it doesn’t matter which direction you go. Doing something without a clear goal and plan is worthless.
Take the time to make your three-month food supply list plan with your family before starting. Check out our Survival Food list and Survival Recipes for more ideas. Review our Prepper Tips guide and our Civil Unrest Preparedness guide to help you PREPARE.