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Give your pantry a storm makeover

Putting together a hurricane food kit doesn't have to be a daunting and expensive exercise.

Start with your pantry and a pad of paper.

Cans of tuna, check. Peanut butter, check. Fruit cups and rice cakes, check, check.

Chances are, you already have the makings of an emergency food supply. If you keep the basics stocked, then you can fill in the gaps as hurricane season — or a storm — draws near.

Get water — for a family of four you'll need 28 gallons for seven days — plus a bag of oranges or apples a couple days before the storm is predicted to hit. While you're at it, get some cash and gas.

I like to remind myself that I'm not necessarily preparing for a worst-case, Category-5 scenario. If there's a Katrina or an Ivan barreling toward Tampa Bay, evacuation is Job 1.

What if it's a pesky Category 2 that's skirted the area but knocked out electricity for a week or more? Yes, your home and trees may be upright, but the fridge and stove are dead. Lights are out, too. That can happen, and it has.

I don't want to stand in line for gas or food with a lot of frustrated, sweaty people. In lovely April we sometimes forget how miserable August and September weather can be.

By the middle of June, my family has a hurricane food kit in place. We keep it in a large plastic trunk that can be loaded in the car if we need to skedaddle. It is not filled with gourmet fixings but there is enough to get us through a week. Peanut butter and crackers, yippee.

Here's how you can follow our lead:

• Assess your family's needs, including medical conditions, allergies and age. Diabetics and people allergic to wheat will need special considerations since many shelf-stable foods are harmful to both because of high carbohydrate and grain content. Is someone pregnant? Is there an infant in the family? Your food supply should reflect their needs.

• Don't overload your kit with salty foods. If you do, make sure you have enough liquid to quench the thirst they create.

• Buy food your family normally eats. Spam doesn't taste any better when the humidity is 100 percent and you can't take a shower. The perfect scenario is to cycle your hurricane food back into everyday eating so you can start fresh next year.

• Look for foods that can be eaten with minimal preparation and cooking. There are some hurricane cookbooks out there but honestly, you're just trying to get by for a few days. (Actually, plan for a week.) Does anyone really make campfire tiramisu? If you want camping food, go to an outdoor store and examine the large selections of dehydrated foods that just require hot water. You can heat water in a pot on the grill. (Check your supply of propane or charcoal.)

• Cook up a storm before the storm. I don't do this but I know people who make big pots of gumbo or soups or grill lots of meat as storm clouds gather. This gives them the chance to clean out the fridge to prevent food from going bad. And they have something cozy to eat when the lights go out.

• Think individual portions (fruit, pudding) and small sizes. They're easier to fit into an ice chest than the giant economy-size, and you won't have to worry about storing leftovers.

• Load up your freezer with bagged ice in the days leading up to the storm. If the electricity goes out, move frozen items to coolers and surround them with the bags of ice. This will avoid a watery mess in the freezer.

• Don't forget a manual can opener and any other equipment (cooking and eating utensils and pots/pans). Paper products and trash bags are good to have on hand, too.

Take the time to inventory your pantry and you'll be surprised to see what you already have that can see you through your time of need.

Contact Janet K. Keeler at jkeeler@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.

. FAST FACTS

Food kit staples

Use this checklist to determine what you already have in the pantry, then take it to the supermarket to finish stocking your food kit.

• Canned soups, chili, vegetables, stews. They can be eaten cold but can also be heated in a pot on the grill.

• Cereal. Vitamin-fortified cereal can be eaten dry or with boxed or powdered milk.

• Beverages. Juice, power drinks and enhanced water offer an alternative to plain water. Starbucks coffee drinks come in cans if you won't be able to live without your daily jolt.

• Crackers. For snacking or eating with cheese and cold cuts from the fridge just after the power goes out.

• Condiments. Mayonnaise is generally a no-no because of refrigeration issues, but buy the smallest jar you can to make tuna or chicken salad. Look for condiments — ketchup, hot sauce, mustard, relish, salt and pepper — in individual packets.

• Water. One gallon a day per person for drinking, more if you'll be using it to reconstitute powdered milk.

• Fresh fruit. When a storm is a few days away, buy apples and oranges. They last a while, and it is nice to eat something fresh.

• Healthier snacks. Granola bars, Fruit Roll-Ups, dried fruit, nuts and trail mix offer nutrition and have a long shelf life.

• Comfort food. You might as well buy the Twinkies (or Pop-Tarts, doughnuts, Funyuns, Nutter Butters or Little Debbies). You know you're going to crave them.

Other items to consider

• Peanut butter

• Individual applesauce and fruit cups

• Rice cakes

• Dehydrated food (from camping stores)

• Meals Ready to Eat (from military surplus stores)

• Alcohol. Watch your consumption. During and after a storm you'll need all your faculties to deal with dangerous situations.

• Nonfood supplies: garbage bags and ties, paper towels, wipes, fuel (charcoal, lighter fluid, matches, or a full propane tank for the grill), hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes. Don't forget the manual can opener. Plastic wrap or storage containers.

• Tableware: paper plates, napkins and paper or plastic cups; plastic forks, knives and spoons; a couple of larger spoons, forks and knives for food preparation and serving.

• Food and drink for your pets, and their familiar dishes, as well as vitamins and medications.

• Preserved meats. Beef jerky is high-protein, low-carb and good for diabetics. Canned tuna, chicken, salmon, crab and even Spam provide protein.

Give your pantry a storm makeover 05/16/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 5:21pm]

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