September 30, 2011

Easy Food Storage for a Family

In our family, we've had a rough start to our school year.  It's all because of my calling! I've been crazy busy lately...Although, according to Pres. Uchtdorf's talk, I think it's been a good sacrifice (wink).  I was introduced to this food storage idea a few months ago, and as Food Storage Specialist in my ward, I decided I'd do my best to implement this activity to motivate members to become better prepared with their food storage.

The idea is to make a "Meal in a Bag".  It's more or less taken from the gift craze several years ago of "Soup in a Jar".  Basically, you get all the ingredients needed for one hearty meal that will feed at least 6 people - food and seasonings- put them in a mylar bag with an oxygen packet, seal it, and put a label on the bag with the recipe and instructions.  All that is needed is water.  These bags can be saved for an emergency, or used when you don't know what to cook for dinner, and are easy enough that your kids could cook it themselves.

Although this has more to do with food storage and not really with homeschooling, I decided to share it anyway because we all have families and we all need to eat. I figure that if you were to assemble these with your family, you'd be able to teach all kinds of math and cooking skills, so it could relate after all!

Meals in a Bag are a simple way to make use of all the dried beans, lentils, rice, split peas, dried carrots and the like, that you have stored.  Instead of not knowing what to cook, it's already made up for you, seasonings and all! It's also amazingly cheap!  The most expensive "bag" is my recipe for Black Beans 'n' Rice.  Depending on the price of rice and dried peppers the entire cost ranges from $3-4 to serve at least 6.  This is the recipe two of my children asked me to prepare for dinner again, after I'd prepared it for the the first time the night before. I have also heard that to store a "year supply" of Meals in a Bag, would take up about half of the space beneath a twin bed...That's one hearty meal a day for your family in a pretty small space!

For the Relief Society Broadcast last Saturday, the sisters in our ward had a "recipe tasting" dinner.  I provided 6 recipes to taste test. I assigned women to make the recipes after I provided them with all the ingredients in the bags.  The women then voted on their top three recipes.  We will be assembling the recipes that were chosen in a few weeks, and already over 200 meals have been ordered! Now I'm madly trying to locate the food needed to fill the bags!

Some pointers I've learned along the way...

  • Keep the beans and seasonings separate so that you can soak the beans if you desire. I put the seasonings into a little baggie and then tie the top in a knot (similar to tying a balloon).
  • Don't add the seasonings at the beginning of cooking the beans, wait until they are more softened.  This makes it much more flavorful.  Also, adding tomatoes or salt too soon to cooking beans, inhibits them from absorbing water and softening.
  •  If dried veggies are part of the seasoning blend, take this into account, and give them more cooking time to become softened.  
  • If pasta is included in the recipe, keep it separate from the beans and seasonings, so it can be added 10-15 minutes before serving.
  • Try out the recipes FIRST, before you put them in bags.  If your family won't eat it now, they won't like it in an emergency any better.
  • Find recipes by searching online for "Soup in a Jar" recipes or adapting recipes that use fresh ingredients to ones that use dried ingredients.
  • Don't forget the optional ingredients. If you know that you want to add canned tomatoes to a bag recipe, make sure you have the corresponding number of cans to bags.  Another option is try adding tomato powder (to be added right before serving, after the beans are softened- see the second bullet) to get the tomato flavor, instead of the can of tomatoes.
  • A lot of beans can be used interchangeably with only a slight difference in flavor (if at all).  So try the recipe with beans that you have on hand instead of sticking to only the kind the recipe uses.
  • You can cut one 12"x13" mylar bag in two for use as two long narrow bags.  An iron used on a wooden board can be used to seal the bags, you don't have to have a sealer.  Simply push out as much air as possible, seal, and the oxygen packet will take care of the excess air. 
  • Buy large labels to print the recipe and instructions so they can be placed directly on the bag. 
  • A lot of the food (i.e. beans, dried onions, carrots, pasta, rice) can be inexpensively bought at a church cannery as well as the mylar bags and oxygen packets.
Here is a recipe that I adapted from a fresh recipe to one calling for dried ingredients. It was the hit of the night at the RS taste testing as well as with my kids:

Black Beans and Rice
3 c uncooked rice
1 1/3 c black beans
1/3 c dried minced onion
¾ c dried red bell pepper (green may be substituted)
1 ½ Tbsp granulated garlic
1 ½ tsp chicken bouillon powder
3 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
½-3/4 tsp ground black pepper
¼- ½ tsp ground cumin

Cover beans with 3-4 cups of water and soak over night, or use the quick soak method (bring water to a boil for 2 minutes, cover, remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour).  Discard water and add 5-6 cups of fresh water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat and simmer for an hour, at this time prepare the rice. Add 6 cups of water to uncooked rice, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender (about 40 minutes), keep warm until beans are ready to serve. Continue to simmer beans until tender.  When tender, drain beans, but retain 2 ½ c of the cooking water.  In a dutch oven, combine the reserved liquid, seasonings, vegetables, and beans, stir often over medium heat until the vegetables have softened and flavors have melded. If desired, leave a little soupy as it can be used as a sauce.  Remove bay leaves and serve over the cooked rice. Enjoy!

If you're interested, this is a link to the original video I watched on YouTube, that introduced me to the idea.  Kory Mikesell is the creator of the video. I believe he is a member of the church in southern California.

If you have any questions, you can email me @ crazyherbgirl at gmail (dot) com.  I will try to answer your questions, don't hate me if I don't get back to you right away...

Can you share how you have found it easier to get your year supply?

Jenny is the nutty mother of 6 kids, and is married to a child psychologist (it's great to have psych help on site). Her varied ramblings are found at We don't call people poopyheads. Her interests are basically anything that makes her abnormal, such as homebirthing, homeschooling, herbalism and natural healing, holistic iridology, being a certified Emotion Code practitioner, and a survivalist wanna-be, to name a few.

3 comments - Add a comment below -:

Dana ♥ said...

Jenny I ♥ this! I am working on my food storage and we just recently had a food storage specialist called in our unit. She is wonderful! Thanks for the recipe, idea and great tips!

JRoberts said...

I have been doing dehydrated meals (in a bag) and cooking in a bag for years! :) It is a great time saver and such a great thing for kids to learn how to cook.

(sometime try dehydrated cake and pudding in a bag. Super yummy and my boys go crazy for it!...I can send a recipe if you want)

I LOVE food storage and think it is totally a wonderful thing. Good luck on your calling. (That was one of my favorite ones!)

Marcina said...

This is a great idea! We have been trying to emphasize meal planning in our ward as a way for each family to know what they need to store for their three month supply of foods they regularly eat. Packaging the meals into pouches is a brilliant idea!