A DIY "root cellar" with plastic totes and strategic placement in a basement. Credit: Courtesy of Jason Lilley

In March, stocking up took on new meaning as people around the country emptied shelves and hoarded toilet paper. No one wants that scene repeated. But as winter approaches and the pandemic continues, it is smart to have necessities on hand.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration recommends having two weeks worth of food and supplies on hand in the event of an emergency. That doesn’t mean you need to fill a closet with toilet paper or purchase non-perishable food items by the caseload.

Here are things to consider as you prepare your emergency supply shopping list.

Stocking your cupboards

The key to stocking cupboards is filling them with food your household will actually eat. That was one of the problems last spring — people bought whatever they could get, even if the items were foods they didn’t normally use or like.

“Think of stocking up on food as a rehash of your regular go-to foods,” said Mary Lavanway, registered dietitian with Hannaford in Bangor. “What do you and your family eat on a typical day?”

Purchasing non-perishable food simply because it is packaged to last over a long period does no good if no one likes it, Lavanway said. Not only that, if no one eats it, eventually it will need to be tossed out so it becomes a waste of money.

It’s also important to think of your storage capacity, the eating habits of the people with whom you live and household budget, Lavanway said. Beyond that, there is no one-size-fits-all plan for filling the cupboards and freezer.

“Start a list of the things you eat in a typical week for breakfast, lunch, dinners and snacks,” Lavanway said. “Then look and pick out some of those things that are non-perishable and hold up well.”

The food shopping list

While you may normally buy fresh fruits and vegetables, when you are stocking up, you need things that will store easily and stay good.

Grains like oatmeal, rice, quinoa and lentils store easily and can be used to prepare a variety of recipes, Lavanway said. Instead of buying loaves of bread she suggests purchasing packages of flatbreads like Lavish, Naan or tortillas which take up less freezer space. Flatbreads can be used for everything from a breakfast burrito to a traditional sandwich.

“Popcorn is a good grain to have on hand,” Lavanway said. “It’s a fun snack when you need a break.”

Most fresh fruit and vegetables have a short shelf life so Lavanway recommends heading to the store’s freezer section for those items. Root vegetables, however, like sweet potatoes, beets and carrots, can be stored in a cool dark place in your home.

Protein sources that store well include canned tuna fish, canned salmon, peanut butter and canned beans, all of which are very versatile, Lavanway said. Jarred or canned tomatoes and marinara sauce are also great to have on hand for quick meals.

“You may only be pulling this stocked up food out during an emergency to feed our family,” Lavanway said. “But there is no reason it can’t be food you enjoy eating.”

And don’t forget your furry or feathered household residents. Pets should have a two-week supply of food of their own.

Household supplies

Last March when the pandemic triggered stay-at-home orders around the country, among the first things to fly off the shelves were toilet paper and cleaning supplies. The shortages even lead to people looking for alternatives to those products or making their own.

Instead of buying giant cases of toilet paper, take a realistic look at what your household actually uses over a given period of time. Two students in the United Kingdom even came up with a handy online calculator to help you determine how much toilet paper to have on hand.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended frequent hand washing and sanitizing of surfaces since the start of the pandemic. Early on there was a rush on those products and it’s starting to ramp up again. To avoid shortages, many stores began limiting the amount of any one cleaner or sanitizer you could buy at a time and some still are doing so.

Considering any disruption in the supply chain could impact what’s available, it’s a good idea to have extra sanitizer, bleach, soap and paper towels tucked away for use in an emergency. Again, be honest with what your household actually uses and shop accordingly.

Finally, you don’t want to find yourself stuck at home and run out of medications. Make sure prescriptions are consistently filled two weeks in advance and check that your home first aid kit is well stocked and up to date.

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Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.