We started adding significantly to our food stores a few years ago, and now cans from our first large purchase are beginning to expire. I can donate them to my local food pantry, but my husband (Jim) wants to eat them all – nearly 400 cans of food. I do not want to waste food, so we will try to use them all before their expiration date.
We have always preferred fresh and frozen food, so we don’t normally eat much that came from a can, but my mother used a lot of canned foods when I was growing up, so I think it will be easy enough to convert to canned vegetables.
Jim decided this would be a good time to try living off our food storage, so he has given me a challenge. We will eat only the expiring cans, and I can use any seasonings that I have in my food storage. Unfortunately I haven’t stored very many seasonings, because I have a full complement in my every day cupboard. By his rules these will be off limits.
In the beginning, we have many foods to choose from. I have stored canned meats, vegetables, and fruits. So, our meals will be fairly normal, it seems. Normally we eat oatmeal, grits or other cereals for breakfast, so our first change is breakfast food. I decide that we will alternate between fruits and the occasional corned beef hash. We really enjoyed the corned beef hash, but we found the canned fruit to be lacking in staying power, we would be hungry again long before lunch time.
For lunches and dinners we will have canned meat and canned vegetables. This seems like an easy solution that shouldn’t require much change to our routine. Unfortunately, we will have to give up bread and pasta.
I took an inventory and tried to make meal plans, but we ended up eating what we wanted each day rather than the original plan. Making the meal plans did reveal some imbalances, however. We had enough canned meat to eat one can a day for the two of us. So, if we had the planned corned beef hash for breakfast, that was our meat for the day. We were well stocked on vegetables, but there wasn’t a lot of variety. We had purchased cases of green beans, pinto beans, corn, carrots, tomatoes, mixed vegetables, peas and chicken stock, but only a few cans of potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, and other vegetables and vegetable mixtures.
We had enough fruit to get us through the first three weeks, but would have to switch to purely vegetables for the last week. I tried to save out some of the more filling vegetables like sweet potatoes, but we ended up eating corn for breakfast a few days.
Calories and Hunger
This ended up being a diet for both of us and we lost weight. I lost twelve pounds over the month, and Jim lost five. He was already lean, and really could not afford to lose much more. I’m glad this was only for a month, for his sake. The calorie count of the cans varied, but overall they were lacking. For example, a cup of green beans has only 40 calories. It was difficult to get 600 calories a day, much less enough to supply significant energy for our jobs and life.
Fortunately, we did have some foods with more calories, such as meats, candied sweet potatoes, German potato salad, fruit, and a couple of cans of pie filling. But most of the time we ate large amounts of low-calorie canned food.
The bulk of the meal would fill us up for a short while. However, hunger would return quickly. I considered cheating several times, and I think my husband might have had a few burgers and fries when away from home. I was able to resist the desire to cheat for the sake of the challenge, but it was very difficult. I was hungry most of the time.
The first thing I noticed was a lack of salt. I had not put any salt in my long-term storage, so Jim declared it off limits. Salt makes a big difference to the flavor of foods. Otherwise, the first two weeks went well. The meals were not as good as our usual, but the foods were acceptable. However, it soon became monotonous. Our meats were a rotation of canned ham, corned beef hash, tuna, and canned chicken, plus a few soups with meat. Green beans, corn, carrots and tomatoes were getting old.
I think it would have been easier if I had stocked some different seasonings and spices. Cajun seasoning, All-purpose seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and onion powder would have allowed me to change up the flavor of our meats and vegetables and added more flavor to soup.
Our Favorite Meals
We enjoyed the corned beef hash for breakfast, but learned that some brands are better than others. We also enjoyed the canned ham, possibly because I only had four cans so it was like a treat. We got tired of canned chicken and tuna quickly. I’m not very creative with tuna, so that may have been the problem, and we had more chicken than anything else, so it became monotonous. I had some canned stew type soups and these were a treat, both because it was a pre-seasoned meal and because it was easy to heat and eat.
We learned a lot about food storage and how to plan for better meals.
- Buy more fruit for calories, sweetness, and diversity
- Spices and flavorings are important
- Don’t forget the salt and pepper
- Buy an assortment of food, instead of large amounts of any one food at a time
- Taste a can of each food before buying large quantities
- Learn to cook the foods you stock in different ways
- Keep track of expiration dates
- Buy some foods with higher calorie counts for balance
- Buy pastas, rice, oil and other filling foods
- Plan meals with the foods you purchase so you have everything needed
We were able to put together nutritious meals, but we needed more calories and more variety. Toward the end of the month the variety of foods shrank, and we were eating green beans, peas, carrots, and tomatoes over and over again.
I cannot stress enough how important spices, seasonings, and stock cubes are. In the future, I will stock a large variety. All those cans of tomatoes would have been more interesting with spices to make pizza and pasta sauce, or even just by adding a little balsamic vinegar.
We missed the pasta, fresh vegetables, potatoes and butter. I learned how important our vegetable garden is and how much we enjoy many of the foods we eat every day.
I am glad that we spent this month eating our Walmart canned food storage, but I hope I never have to do it for real! I’ll be planning our purchases for food storage differently in the future, focusing on meals, and I’ll be allowing more time to eat the expiring foods.
Questions to Consider
I am not sure about the nutritional value of our month of canned meals. Because of hunger we probably ate more vegetables than usual, but is the nutritional value of canned vegetables acceptable long term? And did we get enough protein in one shared can of meat daily? I would also like to hear your opinions on ways to better plan so that we don’t end up in this situation in the future. How do you rotate your cans?