Any time that a natural disaster, or a larger-than-normal winter storm comes along, even if I’m sitting in the sunny south, my thoughts turn to asking “what if?”
What if something catastrophic happened wherever we currently are? What if we were stranded or without utilities for an extended amount of time? How long would our current supplies see us through? What if we weren’t pro-active about keep a stockpile? Would we be the ones rushing Walmart and clearing out the milk and bread aisles?
We hope not. We try to keep water in our tanks, fuel in our on-board tanks for our built-in generator, and food enough to last us well beyond a week or two. With water and electric issues, we feel it is actually easier to be prepared in our RV than our sticks and bricks home; however, the food equation is a harder one.
In our house, we ALWAYS had at least six months of food storage for more than 12 people. But, in the RV, there is no way that we can tote around that amount of bulk foods. We don’t have the space, and even if we could, it would put us grossly overweight. We’ve tried to find our happy medium, and have found a few ways to incorporate bulk and long-term food storage into our full-time RV lifestyle.
Whether you are a full-time RVer who loves to boondock away from civilization, a prepper that wants to keep some food storage in case of TEOTWAWNKI (the end of the world as we now know it), want to lower your grocery budget by purchasing some foods in bulk, or just enjoy the peace of mind that having ample food on hand gives, hopefully these tips will help you to fit long-term food storage into your RV lifestyle.
There are four main modes of preserving foods that are used in food storage. Some lend themselves better to the RV lifestyle than others. They are:
1. Canned Foods — Canned foods are excellent choices for sticks and bricks dwellers, but the weight of the cans, whether it is canned food from a store, or home canned products, makes them a poor choice, in large quantities, for the RV lifestyle.
Our family does a small amount of canning on the road, but mostly cooked jams from local fields, and only a batch or two at a time. Trying to store too many glass jars of foods is difficult when we need to worry about both weight, as well as breakage.
2. Frozen Foods — Frozen foods are probably the least RV-friendly method of food storage. Again, there is the weight factor since the freezer itself adds weight to your RV, and the foods are still at their full weight. If you do want to have some items in your freezer long term, vacuum packing provides the longest shelf life.
3. Dehydrated Foods – Dried/dehydrated foods are excellent choices for food storage in an RV! Dried foods have the majority of their water content removed, so they weigh less, have a long shelf life, and often take up less space than their fresh counterparts.
Dried foods do not have to be frozen or refrigerated, just kept out of the sunlight in a dry place.
4. Freeze-Dried Foods – Freeze-dried foods have the same benefits of dried foods, but because of the way they are dried, they tend to weigh even less, cook up faster, and are more nutritious and regular dried.
Freeze-dried foods are our first choice for long-term food storage since they are shelf stable, take up little space and weigh even less, and retain much of their nutritional value.
Tips for purchasing bulk storage foods
Many grocery stores are now carrying #10 cans of dehydrated and/or freeze-dried foods. These are often vegetables and meats, oatmeal products, and mixes such as soup.
One of the biggest benefits to purchasing the large cans of these items is that the foods are already sealed for long-term storage in a food safe container.
If you like organics, you can often purchase 20- to 50-pound bags of bulk foods through your local “real food” store, although they sometimes need to be special ordered. Watch your local organic stores for their bulk food sales, and purchase at that time.
At many stores, you can even take in your own food-safe containers, weigh them on the way in for ‘tare’, put your food items directly into the containers that you want to store them in, and then weigh them again for cost at checkout. The ‘tare’ weight will be subtracted so that you only pay for the actual foods, not the weight of your container.
Bulk foods can also be purchased through warehouse stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco. Amazon can be a good source for some foods, as can other online suppliers.
Excellent foods to purchase in bulk, even if you are in an RV, should these take into consideration weight and space issues:
- Rice, dried beans, steel cut oatmeal, pasta, dried milk, soup mixes, dried spices (or purchase fresh, prepare, and freeze), as well as freeze-dried fruits and veggies.
- Whether you are storing for long-term, or just keeping bulk in stock, will determine which foods you want to purchase.
- Long-term storage needs a better variety of items, across the food groups, to ensure a healthy food assortment, while bulk foods will simply be what you use the most as you will be continually supplementing with recent food purchases.
Storing bulk foods
The first decision that you will have to make regarding each food item will be whether you are saving it tucked way for long-term food storage, or you will be using it and rotating in new to replace it.
If the foods are for long-term storage only (you want to tuck it away for an emergency only, or replace and use after several years only), then it is recommended to purchase pre-packaged and sealed containers.
If you are purchasing in sealed, food-safe containers, then the only thing you have to do is to tuck the containers away in case of need.
If you are purchasing foods that you need or want to repackage, either to put in larger or smaller quantities or to make better fit in a space, then consider investing in mylar bags and oxygen packets that remove the oxygen from the bag. Once each bag is sealed, with an oxygen packet inside, the packet traps the oxygen so it cannot spoil the food item in being stored.
Place your filled mylar bags in an outer protective container such as a five-gallon bucket or even a plastic ice cream bucket. We prefer the square buckets as there is less wasted space when packing multiple containers together.
When storing long-term food storage items, choose out-of-the-way places in your RV that are out of sunlight, dry, and stay under 95 degrees. These can be in more difficult areas to access since you will be stashing the foods there and leaving them there an extended amount of time. It will be worth the effort to dig them out once you need the food, or it has been years and it is time to rotate and put in new.
Areas in your coach that may lend themselves well to long-term food storage are:
- Any cupboard you need a step-stool to access
- Under your couch (even our reclining couch has a large empty space under it)
- Outside compartments if you do not stay in extreme heat.
If your foods are going to be constantly rotated out (bulk food storage), then packaging into usable sized containers is the best way to store them.
When deciding how much to purchase, consider how much you will use, as well as how much space and weight you want to designate to that item. For us, we have an ideal amount of each item that we would like to have on hand, and rotate according to that. We do not wait to run out of an item to restock.
One of our main staples that we buy in bulk, and consider part of our food storage, is Basmati rice. We purchase it in 15-pound bags from Costco, and repackage it into the square containers that you see in the photo.
The containers that we like best for storing rice are actually the packaging for the nuts that we also purchase at Costco. Their handy size, as well as their square shape, make them perfect for food storage for our family.
Because we are rotating these all the time, pulling one out to refill our rice container in the pantry every few days, we also consider it part of our long-term emergency storage. That means we have more than 15 pounds of rice on hand at any given time.
We also rotate these, putting new rice in the back of the older rice so it never ages much. If we did not want to rotate these, I would package the rice in mylar bags for maintaining long term nutrition value.
Another favorite storage container for bulk foods is the square ice cream buckets. We use them both for bulk storage that is accessible without the mylar bags and oxygen packets, as well as for storing smaller containers of long-term storage foods that we pack away. We try to keep our bulk foods fairly accessible since we are always rotating them out.
Some overlooked areas for bulk food storage are under the bed, in the back of bottom cupboards, awkward to access cupboards (like those over the refrigerator), and even in the back of your closet.
We do keep a small chest freezer in the garage of our toy hauler for storing foods that are not shelf-friendly. As long as it is pretty full, it stays frozen well, even on extended boondocking jaunts, with just an hour or two of it being powered daily by our generator.
Whether you are storing foods for long-term security, bulk food buying power, or just to save from grocery trips interrupting your plans, it is important to keep up on how much weight you have stashed away in foods, and limit and distribute accordingly.
Incorporating long-term and bulk food storage into your RV lifestyle is possible with a little awareness and effort. It is of great peace of mind to know that you will not need to rely on getting to the grocery store in a emergency, pay high small-town prices when camping, or even run out of food should you just not want to go shopping!