What Items Should You Stock In Your Prepper Pantry?

Prepper pantries help many feel more prepared for the unknown. Stock your own prepper pantry with these items for a well-stocked food supply.

by Moira McGhee
PHOTO: Alhim/Shutterstock

Whether you’re concerned about a zombie apocalypse or another unprecedented pandemic disrupting the supply chain, prepper pantries help prepare you for unforeseen events that can cause a very real concern over food shortages at local grocery stores.

Having extra food, water, toilet paper and other everyday necessities on hand is a resourceful way to stay prepared for any crisis, large or small. Prepper pantries are relatively simple to create but take a bit of planning and routine management to ensure you always have enough supplies to meet your family’s needs.

What Is It?

Essentially, a prepper pantry is a specific area where you store basic supplies, primarily food, for emergencies. There are two distinct types of prepper pantries, but you might combine elements of both to better suit your space and personal preferences.

The bare minimum of prepper pantries is a working pantry, the easiest and least expensive to start. It’s usually small but larger than the average kitchen pantry. Working pantries are only intended to provide basic supplies for a few weeks to a month or two, depending on their size. 

Working pantries typically contain only the items you normally use, and you’ll continually rotate these items in and out as you prepare daily meals and replace the items removed while grocery shopping. Rotation is essential in a working pantry to ensure all food is used before it goes bad.

If you garden or farm and regularly home can excess produce, you may already have a working prepper pantry and not even realize it.

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Long-term emergency food-storage pantries are the ultimate in prepper pantries and quite extensive. These pantries are intended to hold enough food and supplies to last your family for several months or even a couple of years. 

These pantries contain large quantities of nonperishable foods that last a long time, which may include MREs (meals ready-to-eat) and bulk items such as sealed, 5-gallon buckets of flour/rice/beans and oversized canned goods (sometimes referred to as #10 cans). Items in long-term pantries are saved until needed and aren’t for everyday use such as working pantries. It’s important to keep long-term pantries organized, pest-proofed and temperature-controlled to fully protect your stored items.

prepper pantry pantries
Moira K. McGhee

Why Have One

Prepper pantries are highly useful when big emergencies occur, such as natural disasters, economic collapse and stay-at-home mandates that may cause food hoarding. They can also come in handy for small crises, such as a sudden illness or job loss that cuts into your grocery budget.

Being prepared gives you peace of mind because you know you’ll have extra food available until whatever emergency or crisis passes.

 “Life is unpredictable,” says Shelly Maynard, the blogger behind Lynchburg Mama. As a wife and mom in Lynchburg, Tennessee, she keeps busy trying to stay one step ahead of caring for her family’s current and future needs, and maintaining a prepper pantry is one of the ways she accomplishes this.

“Being prepared for any unplanned event that life throws at us can help give us at least a small sense of peace during the turmoil. It’s also great to have a backup for general, everyday use.”

 “Food prices continue to rise, supply-chain issues continue to be at the forefront, and grocery stores have only two to three days until they’re cleared out. It mitigates fear to know you have food for your family,” says Scott Hunt, the owner of Practical Preppers. He is also known by many people as Engineer775 on YouTube. He holds a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and is an expert sustainable living design engineer specializing in off-grid water and energy systems.

 “Regardless of whether you’re a family of one or a family of 10, a prepper pantry can be a life-saving resource,” Maynard says. “By having staple goods, you have ingredients on-hand to create a meal that will be fulfilling and sustain your family in all situations. Not only can your family benefit, but you can help others during difficult times.”

Read more: Want to start canning? Makes sure these 10 items are in your pantry.

Size & Location Matter

Once you’ve decided to start your own prepper pantry, location is crucial to ensure the space helps prevent spoilage and pest infestations. If your home has a large basement that doesn’t flood, you could be set, but if you have limited space, you need a little creativity.

Some highly important things to keep in mind are: High temperatures and moisture content speed up spoilage, and direct sunlight can zap the vitamins and nutrient content out of food.

“The first thing you’ll want to decide is where your pantry will be located,” Maynard says. “Your pantry should be placed in a cool, dark space that’s free of pests and moisture. This will keep your food stock from going bad earlier than it should. When stored properly, you’re not wasting money nor putting your health at risk.”

When it comes to size, it’s to your advantage if the space is large enough to accommodate shelves to make organization much easier and more efficient. Lack of space is a common roadblock for many would-be preppers, but it’s possible to convert nearly any unused space into a food storage area as long as it’s “a secure, cool, dry place,” Hunt says.

“And those words explain why!”

prepper pantry pantries
Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock

Start Small

It’s perfectly OK to begin with a small stockpile of food and increase it a little at a time. Many people can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on the fly to fully stock a large food pantry, and there’s usually no need to do this unless you know a major emergency is in the very near future. Otherwise, set aside a small part of your grocery budget to dedicate to stocking your pantry and take advantage of sales, coupons, etc.

A two-week to three-week supply of food will get you through most smaller crises and doesn’t take too long to amass, then you can concentrate on compiling a food supply that’ll last three months or more for longer-term emergencies.

Hunt recommends that you stockpile enough to take care of your family for 90 days. He also suggests doubling up on what you’d normally buy during a “buy one, get one free” sale as an easy way to get started on your prepper pantry.

“Canned goods you like turn into B1S1 [buy one, store one],” he says.

It’s also a great way to begin prepping your pantry on a budget. To help you determine how much to start with, Maynard advises people to first decide how many people they’ll need to feed and water and make a list of their ages and personal needs.

Then, consider your available space and decide how many days/weeks/months-worth of supplies you have room to store.

“Don’t plan to stock your pantry all at once,” Maynard says. “Decide what staples your family will use and make a plan to purchase no more than a day or two at a time. You can build your pantry bit by bit with each weekly trip you make to the grocery store.”

Read more: The Graham Family shares tips and tricks for stocking a homestead pantry.

Prepping Your Pantry

When you begin collecting food for your pantry, choose items your family will actually eat or you’ll wind up wasting space and money. Granted, your family may eat something they wouldn’t normally eat if it’s the only thing available, but familiar foods are more comforting during stressful situations.

It’s important to not upset your family even more than they already are, and stocking foods you normally use makes rotating stock much easier. 

Besides an abundance of satisfying foods, also stock basic shelf-stable pantry staples that last the longest without refrigeration. Think dry nonperishable items such as flour, rice, canned goods and dehydrated products. These items offer more bang for your buck because they won’t go bad as quickly and don’t require as frequent rotations as perishable foods.

Maynard’s top five must-have items are:

  • grains (oats, rice, flour pasta)
  • beans (any you like!)
  • oil (canola, coconut, lard) 
  • canned/dried produce 
  • water 

“One of my favorite ways to supply my pantry is by growing a garden,” Maynard  says. “I love canning in jars as well as dehydrating items, such as peppers to use for seasoning/spices.

“The most important item you’ll want to make space for is water. Store at least 1 gallon of water per person in your family for each day.… You can also purchase water purifying tablets or small filters. Actual food storage needs vary depending on the age and nutritional requirements of your family members.”

Hunt recommends 2,200 calories and 2 gallons of potable water per person per day. His go-to supplies include salt, proteins and good fats. Don’t forget vitamins, supplements and condiments—as much nutritionally dense food as you can afford.

prepper pantry pantries
Moira K. McGhee

Organization Is Key

Organizing your prepper pantry is just as important as what you put in it, to fit as much as possible in the space you have available. You’ll find numerous storage container options that provide airtight seals to prevent moisture and bugs from getting inside. These containers are also available in various sizes to fit an array of spaces.

Although Mylar bags are some of the more expensive options, dry foods such as beans and grains can last decades when stored correctly, and bags take up less space than buckets. However, buckets are much less expensive, and it’s easier to remove partial amounts from these containers and reseal them.

“Buy containers that best fit the space,” Hunt says. “For example, #10 cans stack from floor to ceiling, or 5-gallon pails. The container size should also be appropriate to the portion size to the number of people accessing the pantry. So, #10 cans might be too big for a grandmother but perfect for a growing family of six.”

“Use 5-gallon buckets to store supplies you need more of, such as grains,” Maynard says. “Package items in similar-sized containers to easily stack. Vacuum-sealed bags will also help create more space.

“When using shelving, don’t overload them, and always place heavier items toward the bottom.”

Keep It Fresh 

Restaurants and grocery stores use FIFO for a reason and so should you. If you’re unfamiliar with FIFO, it stands for “first in, first out,” and it ensures stored foods are properly rotated to promote freshness and prevent waste.

To keep your FIFO system organized, create an easy method to keep track of which foods have been stored the longest, which are the ones that were first in, and should be used next, or first out.

“I label everything where it can easily be seen without moving everything,” Maynard says. “In my emergency binder,
I have a list that includes when I purchase items and expiration dates. I start moving items into my working/functioning pantry to use them before they go bad and replace as needed.”

“We use an Excel spreadsheet,” Hunt says. “All inventories are laborious to set up. You just accept that and use a method you like. We keep a clipboard and pen next to storage in case anyone takes an item. It’s updated monthly.”

Maynard adds that “when rotating your stock, be sure to check the condition of the packaging and storage containers you’re using. If they’re damaged, replace them as soon as possible. If you won’t be able to use the large quantities on time, donate them!”

Final Words of Wisdom

When asked what her best advice would be to someone who knows absolutely nothing about prepper pantries, Maynard says to, “research, research, research!”

“There are a lot of prepper resources available online and at your local library,” she says. “You may even be able to find someone local to you who can help offer some advice. Use what works for your family. Over time, you may find a new way to organize your stock, and that’s perfectly fine!”

Hunt wants people to understand that a prepper pantry is an insurance policy for hard times and “as you prepare for your family and friends, don’t forget to set a small amount aside for charity. You might end up saving someone else’s life!” 

Sidebar: Basic Food Items

To build a proper pantry, start with the basics:

  • flour, sugar, salt
  • pasta, rice, beans
  • cooking oils, shortening
  • canned meats, soups, chili, fruits, vegetables
  • tomato/spaghetti sauce, chicken/beef broth, bouillon cubes
  • instant potatoes, oatmeal/hot cereals, soup mixes
  • powdered milk, baking powder/soda, yeast
  • pancake mix, biscuit mix
  • peanut butter
  • herbs, spices
  • condiments
  • honey, syrup
  • lots of water

Sidebar: What Else Do You Need?

Because the whole point of a prepper pantry is to be prepared, you should store other essential items along with your food and water. These items include basics you regularly need and use, such as the all-important toilet paper.

Having certain necessities set aside in your prepper pantry ensures you know where they’re located when you need them.

Scott Hunt, a mechanical engineer and the owner of Practical Preppers, recommends a nonelectric cooking method, such as a solar oven or wood cook stove—plus, fuel appropriate to the method, fire starter, etc.

Shelly Maynard, a food and sustainability blogger, suggests creating an emergency binder containing important documents, such as birth certificates, social security cards, pictures of family members and pets, etc. Plus, a first-aid kit, personal hygiene items, kitchen/cooking supplies, fuel, pet supplies, vitamins and medications. 

Other prepper pantry items to consider storing include:

  • cookware
  • eating utensils
  • reusable food storage bags and/or containers
  • trash bags
  • aluminum foil and plastic wrap
  • hand-crank can opener
  • scrub pads/wash cloths
  • all-purpose cleaners
  • hand soap/sanitizer
  • diapers/pull-ups for babies/toddlers
  • baby wipes and other baby essentials
  • pet foods, treats, medications, etc.
  • deodorant, razors, shampoo, toothpaste/brushes, and other personal hygiene items
  • OTC drugs such as pain relievers, allergy pills, cough syrup/drops, heartburn medicine, etc.
  • alcohol wipes, bandages and other first-aid supplies
  • candles, lanterns, flashlights, batteries, etc.
  • battery/solar-powered radio
  • money

This article appeared in Living Off the Grid, a 2021 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. Living Off the Grid includes stories on permaculture, growing plants without seeds and long-term produce storage. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Urban Farm by following this link.

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