Approaching Food Storage with Skillet Stretchers

by Denise H

Skillet stretchers

When I first started my food storage and rotation, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of food necessary to feed an average family of four for an extended time. I took the yearly plan, broke it down, and then multiplied it by the numbers of persons who would likely be on my doorstep.

Let’s think for a few moments about these challenges – I know that those who periodically depend on my assistance now, given an emergency, will likely be in need again. I certainly need to provide for my family, however, there are those who are simply unable to be prepared due to extreme limits in their abilities. My extended family includes those with whom I have regular contact, as well as “blood relatives” through a common Savior.
Some of those, have finally discovered their own need, to make some preparations for those around them.

I have tried to encourage them with information and short-cuts to deal with storage challenges. The more people who are better prepared, in the event of interruptions in services and supplies, the less likelihood of a severe life-threatening lack of basics. Preparing for an unknown number of persons presents challenges, as does preparing for larger- family needs. Somewhere I may have to draw the line, but for the short- term I have chosen to prepare what I can against the day of a lack of what are presently easily obtained supplies.

A disaster is very real when it affects an individual you know, or where you are. TEOLAWKI-may be a family emergency where all funds must be diverted to assist someone with critical need…or it can be a regional event, like one we experienced a few years back with a massive ice storm. No one came to feed us, or to verify we had essentials, during those 10 -12 days we were without power. Nor did we expect it.

I looked at serving sizes, by the American Diabetic Association, looked at the usual amounts we consume of certain foods to determine if these amounts would be sufficient, and decided they were a rough guide for the actual amounts we would require, to keep from starvin’ plum to death, but would not be sufficient to do a days labor in our garden or some other type of physical work. The doubling of recommended amounts is closer to what we will require for more than mere existence.

We have limited resources and space to store foods due to heat and humidity. I began by determining how long our basic staples lasted. (Flour, sugar, cornmeal, tea, coffee, pasta, rice, oatmeal, beans)Then, I began making a list of the foods we could eat regularly, by easily changing the flavors with various seasonings. Food fatigue is an on-going battle for our family.

Breakfast is not a problem. It is the meal we can eat any time of the day. A little flour, baking powder, sugar or Splenda, oil, cinnamon and egg powder, with water to mix -will make pancakes. Syrup, honey, jelly or peanut butter are all good with them. Oats can be made with sugar/ Splenda / stevia, and olive oil in 5-8 min, topped with a little sugar, cinnamon, or raisins…or peanut butter added for more protein. Rice, can be served with cinnamon, sugar, and milk as well. The oil added to each should be the very best Olive, Grape Seed or Palm Oil you can purchase to assist in the balancing of the fats in your body. Cheaper oils will exact a price on your health. We discovered this when I used peanut and corn oil for a month…and labs were done at the end of that month. We corrected this with the return to Olive oil.

Next, I began working from the list of staples to determine how much of each was required to make each entre’. I noted that textures and flavor of the famous one box dinners were in two items, the pasta/rice variation, and the spices. Many of the additives in those diners were un-digestible to certain members of our family, and no one wanted to continue with the boxed versions available. We were often hungry after consuming the allotted portion. Most were too salty and too spicy unless we added more pasta and meat. I found I could kill two birds with one stone- cutting the intolerant items and adding portion size.

I made list after list, and lists to keep up with the lists- until I found this quick method for making skillet stretcher meals. It has made buying long-term food options easier, our food dollars stretch further and has given me a method to use to prepare ever-changing meals on a daily basis that are both nutritious and filling.

Lists? Oh yeah! Have they ever changed! Now, I have an urgent list-things for immediate replacement, a list of monthly needs and a list for quarterly needs. I rotate my long term foods, with a regular use for the variety they provide. Bought canned goods, meats, and most vegetables are rotated, by date as well. Tomatoes, tomato products, and fruits that are canned get special attention, but most fruits for longer term storage are dehydrated, with raisins, prunes, dehydrated tropical fruit mix and coconut being our favorites.

Our pantry is based on staple foods.. flour, sugar, rice, oats, pasta, beans, coffee, tea, seasonings. Healthy cooking oils, (which I daily use in the place of butter. And creamed shortening) round out the list. I keep a certain amount of basics out for daily use. I use these with the meats I have available from fresh purchases, harvested or canned meats, and a supply of condiments, seasonings and preferred vegetables.

Monthly usage amounts include Coffee 2 lbs, tea 100ct bags,10-15 lb.SR Flour, baking powder,5 lbs sugar, a 550 serv.(generic) Splenda, 5 lb cornmeal, 6 lbs oats, 8 lbs rice, 10 lbs pasta, approx. 30-35 lbs of assorted meats, 20-36 oz Olive oil, and 24 oz grapeseed oil.. 40 cans vegetables, Seasonings: the one we use most is [email protected] about 3 oz per month. Rounding it out is,2-24 oz natural peanut butter, 2 each grape and strawberry jelly,4 doz eggs, 3-6 packs each of ramen, mac and cheese, and chicken noodle soup.

I have 4 lists I use for preparing a meal/main entre’.

The first one is all meats and Oils…I include every meat we like and have available some part of the year. Canned 3-5 oz varieties of ham, chicken, tuna, turkey, kipper, sardines, larger cans of Spam, Treet, Tripe.. salmon, processed meats, polish and summer sausage, and fresh meats of all varieties…pork- loin, bacon, sausage, and ham. beef, steak, cubed or roast, chicken or turkey parts or whole Chicken stock, beef stock, bone broth, and chicken, beef and tomato bullion.Oil selections include canola, olive oil and grape seed oil.

The second list is all grains- kinds of pasta of spaghetti, rotini, shells, both large and small, elbows and bow-ties. three kinds of rice, white, Jasmine and brown and egg noodles, Ramen….a few boxes of mac and cheese.

List three includes seasonings and prepared sauce mixes. Spaghetti, chili, and taco seasoning powder packs, with the ingredients these mixes call for in basic prep. instructions including …Spaghetti sauce, tomato products of all kinds, diced, sauce and paste, gravy and white sauce mix, sea salt and a high potassium salt replacer, black, red and white pepper, dehydrated powdered vegetables, onions, bell pepper, garlic, celery, carrots, basil, parsley, sage, oregano, bay leaves, nutmeg, cinnamon…and items to make glazes from- honey, molasses, Karo syrup, red plum jelly, orange extract, worcheschire sauce, soy sauce, canned prepared chili, green chili peppers sweet relish, sliced pickles of two or three kinds.

List four includes vegetables to add to main entree’s – this list sometimes overlaps…When this happens I double or triple the amount, if possible on that item. This list includes mushrooms, tomatoes, whole kernel corn, sweet peas, carrots, olives, mixed vegetables, dehydrated or frozen vegetable mixes, canned beans of several kinds.

In addition to these to be included into the entree’s, you will need additional vegetables for a side dish…instant potatoes, dehydrated vegetables, canned vegetables., and a fruit for a dessert if wanted. All this is, completely dependent on the number of persons being served and your desires for that meal.

When I buy, I buy maybe 4 of each item, enough to have the item 4 times, like I am preparing for a large family gathering. No one becomes worried they will be unable to obtain pasta after they see my cart. I make it a policy to never clear the shelf of an item unless I have an immediate need. When 2 of the purchased items are used, I put it on the list to buy 4 or 6 of them again, always rotating…the just stocked with the oldest on hand. Once I have a months supply of meals, then I begin to obtain the amount I can fit in a container for longer term storage.. and prepare it accordingly. once and then again….after 6-9 months, I begin to rotate this as well, depending on how I prepared it, and what I have learned in the process.

Most of my recipes for a skillet stretcher begin with 3/4 lb of pasta, 3/4 lb of ground chuck or turkey, browned in olive oil….To either I will add a selection of a sauce…white, a gravy or tomato based, then spices, then select vegetables… to add into the dish or to serve as a side.. This amount will make 4 reasonable portions which include at least one vegetable, but often 3 or four. Usually, I serve one vegetable on the side, and two if the portions of the entre’ are smaller.

Spaghetti, made with seasoned ground chuck, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, dehydrated bell peppers, onions, fresh or powdered garlic served, with string beans on the side, is just one of our favorites. If we desire it to be Mexican inspired I’ll add a small can of green chilies or a small can of mild rotel in addition.
No spaghetti sauce? No problem, spaghetti seasoning packets are easy to store, to use you will need tomato sauce or paste and diced tomatoes…. a little extra Italian spice either pre-mixed or just a little basil and parsley. If you have tomato powder, it could be used in place of sauce or paste.

It is really easy to start this system. Using this method can enable you to quickly boost supplies of entire meals. Start with two or three of your favorite stretcher meals, obtain supplies to prepare each of them 4-6 times. Prepare them twice, restock for another set of three – six meals with the money you saved. I try to buy in multiples of 6, but will buy in 12-24 if sufficient stock is on the shelf, especially when it is a versatile ingredient.

“Don’t know what you want” kind of a night? Then start with little choices, shells, rotini, elbows or bow-ties…chicken beef, pork, ham… Do you need something with creamy, spicy, tomato or cheesy sauce base? You can make something to suit everyone with the same basic ingredients, just alter the seasonings. To get you started, here are three recipes we use. These are specifically for my family if you like highly spiced foods add more seasonings accordingly.

Basic Hamburger Stretcher Skillet. Larger family recipe.

  • ….In small saucepan.. put measured Rotini, 3/4 lb (1-1 1/4), Add warm water, Use just enough to cover contents.
  • Add 1 Tbsp Olive oil and 1 TBSP. chicken bullion powder,
  • Cook… at a low simmer for 7-10 min. until just tender.
  • Allow… to sit in remaining water, while meat finishes browning and Do not drain.
  • Next:.. In large skillet.. put Hamburger meat,3/4 lb-(1 1/2) lb. chuck or ground turkey,
  • Brown in 2 tsp (1 Tbsp) of Olive oil. with 1 tsp ( 2 tsp)Onion powder,
  • 2 tsp,(3 tsp) garlic powder, 1 tsp, celery leaves, and 1 tsp. parsley leaves, crushed.
  • When both pasta and meat are completed as above,
  • To the skillet, Add 8oz(15)oz.. tomato sauce, one 15 oz can of diced tomatoes,
  • 6 oz. sliced mushrooms, and a package of spaghetti seasoning mix,
  • Mix in well with meat…then, Add pasta. Stir it in well and heat through.
  • Add cheese last- (I add after portion for lactose intolerant has been removed.) Heat until cheese is melted.
  • Check to see if salt needed- after adding cheese. We like this with garlic bread and sweet peas or string beans.

Basic Tuna Helper

  • For the recipe, I use a pre-packaged box of generic mac and cheese + 1/2 lb of extra elbows.
  • (May instead use 1 and a half pounds of elbows with a jar of cheese sauce. or Velveeta..)
  • 1 Tbsp. Olive oil, or grapeseed oil. 1 Tbsp. Chicken bullion granules.
  • 2 cans of Oil packed Tuna, 15 oz., can, sweet peas
  • Cook, Pasta with oil and bullion with just enough water to cover – on medium heat, until pasta is done,7-10 min. Do not drain,
  • Then, add tuna with canning liquids and sweet peas with liquids.
  • Heat until it returns to simmer.
  • Add Cheese sauce (2-3 Tbsp.), or cheese powder from mac and cheese box, and stir in until melted,
    check for saltiness.. may not need it.

Quick Chicken Stew

In 3 Qt pot. Combine…4 cups water,1 1/2 tsp chicken bullion, gran., and 1 C. diced chicken. (I used baked leftovers) Allow to come to a low simmer. ….and begin adding oils and spices…2 tsp grapeseed oil, + 1 Tbsp. Olive oil,
1 tsp each of dried crushed basil, crushed parsley flakes, celery seed, poultry seasoning, onion powder……and 1/2 tsp garlic powder. Then add 15 oz can sweet peas and 15 oz. carrots with canning juices. Allow to return to simmer. Add 1 1/2 cups uncooked small pasta shells. Cook until pasta is tender. Check flavor for saltiness. Add pepper if desired. Makes about 2 qts. Serve with toasted cheese sandwich or over biscuit.

For more food storage and cooking ideas please check out The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook: Over 170-Pages of Food Storage Tips, and Recipes from Preppers All Over America!


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27 Responses

  1. JP in MT says:

    Having been “at this awhile”, I was there too. I’ve added gravies and spices, learned what goes together with what (and what does not) for us, how to make a little meat go a long way, and many other things.

    The importance of this article, especially for larger family groups with younger members, can’t be overstated. I personally have teens that are “spoiled” about their food, but many might. The right mindset come in here.

    • Jesse Mathewson says:

      JP, our children were allowed one food item they “dont eat” period. We do not do picky in our house. My daughter has friends that are being raised “vegetarian/vegan” which is difficult at times but easy enough to adjust too given our attempts to reduce reliance on as much meats as we would like –

      • Zulu 3-6 says:


        Picky wasn’t really popular in my home growing up, but we still managed to avoid foods we didn’t like. Funny thing was, I stopped being so picky on July 1, 1971. That was the day I went into the Marine Corps. Picky was not authorized at all there and besides, I was so hungry all of the time, I’d eat anything. Unfortunately, I still eat like I was in boot camp. Speed eating. 🙂

        • Jeffrey Fitzpatrick says:

          To this day, I still cannot eat liver. I’ve tried several times in my 25 years in the military but I simply cannot. Not picky about anything else. I can eat snakes I catch in my yard but no liver. Weird.

      • Jesse,

        our children were allowed one food item they “dont eat” period. We do not do picky in our house.

        I couldn’t have said it better myself, LOL. The youngest boy doesn’t like lima beans; but, other than that the biggest requirement, at least for the boys, was to have plenty on hand. Our DD has a mild allergy to soy protein; but, we try to stay away from that as much as we can and about everyone I know around here, will eat most anything when you are hungry, and farm work makes you hungry.

  2. Jesse Mathewson says:

    A great approach and diagnostic fix! Definitely agree regarding healthy portions and non!

  3. Cndnate says:

    I’d avoid the Splenda !!!

    Really enjoyed the article otherwise

    Why not store honey to replace the Splenda ? Doesn’t go bad

    • Docj says:

      As a diabetic, honey is not an option. Splenda and stevia are my only choices.

      • JP in MT says:


        I too am diabetic, type 2, but I find that I do okay on Fructose and honey. I get ours locally; since I started doing that, I don’t like the taste of commercial anymore.

        • JP,

          and honey. I get ours locally; since I started doing that, I don’t like the taste of commercial anymore.

          Another thing with commercial honey is you really don’t know where it came from, how it was treated, and how pure it may be. It has been noted that some Chinese honey is produced with chemicals we don’t allow here; but, then filtered and transshipped to hide the actual country of origin. There also may be some percentage of corn syrup to stretch the more expensive honey. Local honey also contains pollens and nectar from the local area and can help soothe and alleviate those with pollen allergies.

      • Livinthedream says:

        Splenda IS NOT a healthy, safe sugar substitute. Much better choices: Monk Fruit, Swerve (Erythritol) and, of course Stevia In The Raw. Not PurVia. Not TruVia. Stevia in the Raw.

        • Livinthedream says:

          Look up Mercola or Natural News on Splenda. In 2016, the corp. producing Splenda hired Monsanto’s P.R team to promote their poison.

          • Grammyprepper says:

            Better yet, try to grow your own stevia! This is one I need to work on!

          • Livinthedream,

            Look up Mercola or Natural News on Splenda. In 2016, the corp. producing Splenda hired Monsanto’s P.R team to promote their poison.

            I’ve been using both Aspartame and Splenda for years with no ill effects. Calling it poison without any real evidence could be considered libelous unless you have concrete proof. Adding that it is your opinion would take care of that and make your unproven assertion perhaps a bit more palatable.
            Honey, sugar beets, or maple sugar are natural and easily produced, and cane sugar is inexpensive and keeps a long time.

    • Anonamo Also says:

      Please consider this is a list I use, IT is MY list…. NOT a “recommended for You to buy”! The list provided is an example of things that I group together, . If you or your family will not eat and item then , it is a real simple fix, just do not buy that item but find what can be substituted to give you another option..that fits into YOUR budget and menu plans..
      Why did i not put honey on that list? ( I do have and store honey for medical use and other family members, but it is not my primary goal to add sugars to our diet… The primary goal is to have foods we can all consume for adequate energy..
      I can eat almost NO sugars/Carbs. This includes sorghrum, Honey, Cane Sugar, Sugar in the Raw…and I need options that can be used to make jams/jellies/syrups in reduced glycemic loads..
      . I am in process of storing Steva, one brand,powdered/granulated,. produced without chemicals.. Pyure brand… .. I use Now brand orig formula, mostly for making syrups…( recipe calls jellies but they turn out as syrups.).. as well. . all of the other sweetners give me gastritis….I still have some splend stored.( probably enough to do us another year.)
      I use healthy oils , but have recipes that call for crisco and Canola oil. The Canola was developed to make COWS fat. It is not a helathy option… coconut, olive, sunflower , butter and Yes LARD are what we use now and DH ‘s triglycerides and lipid levels have returned to normal..It toook 2 months for them to get in line.
      Here are some other things to consider… Your needs MAY change. esp. Your calorie and tolerances to foods or food groups…
      Since i wrote this article i have discovered several things on this list we will not or can not use, even tho they came highly recommended by others… among these are gravy mixes, and bear creek soup mixes. There are also meats that we will only use sparingly… like SPAM.- we do like the bacon flavored one,,but it is not stocked in our area and have to special order it… and will eat a 3 cans a YEAR of it…now…
      I can no longer eat dried beans, I love them but get sick after i eat them….enzymes help but not enough to prevent gastritis…. so our meat plans need to go up by the boat-load.. DH can no longer have common greens daily, limited to 3 servings a week and many of our veggies are now root crops…He can not eat bell peppers, an enzyme in peel issue, makes him sick for days..

  4. Bebe says:

    Good article. One everyone should read, Even Old-timers need to freshen up their thinking once in awhile.

  5. Thor1 says:

    I think I would choose this approach compared to the FDA that wants us to eat bugs and cockroach milk…..LOL

    I would also stay away from synthetic sugar…..not good for anyone.

    • Anonamo Also says:

      Thor 1,, Agreed! the best natural and carb friendly of the sweetners is … Stevia in Pyure brand tastes good, and is processed cleanly…acccording to company web site. from a Non bitter form of the stevia plant…they grow specially for their product.. I also have a stevia plant, getting another one is on the agenda, ..Until i use up the sweetners i have stored will be using them in limited quanities….
      I think that persons who heavily use sugar , and are not preparing for some sweetner to be stored are going to have a rude awakening when the 40 lbs they currently use/mo is no longer available..Of course after the adjustment to NO sugar in that tea… they will be healthier if they live thru the adjustment.. I have just chosen to use mostly UNsweetned tea, and ice water… Now there will be my problem… (lol).

      • Livinthedream says:

        Our new favorite drink is CLEAN water – bottled SPRING water or our Berkey water – w/fresh lemon squeezed in. A good way to detox & liver cleanse, too.

  6. Bonnie says:

    Did you mean the American Dietetic Association? Those are some pretty carby foods for a diabetic! Altho the other ADA promotes a lot of carbs. As one having diabetes, I’ve learned from sad experience to ignore the ADA & stick with low carb foods.

    • Anonamo Also says:

      Not Thor, but I believe he was refering to the Diabetic association..form context..
      The FDA does regulate and include all kinds of junk ingredients in medications… including nagalase, cancer cells from monkeys and cancer cells and human DNA… so educate self on what is in every thing you use…
      I have also found to ignore ADA rules. I am on a prescribed 90 gram protein, low -but healthy fats, and very low carb…25-50 grams..
      This can be justified , ignoring ADA rules, by recording your response to carbs…blood sugar tracking along side a strict diet and exercise diary. Everyones tolerances for blood sugar control is different, some respond to with rapid drops when carbs are ingested..with as little as one and one half of ADA servings of carbs… Folks when a blood sugar drops One must consume food/calories to get it up again. Knowing what and how you respond is vital to your life.

  7. Labgirl says:

    Nice article, I will save those recipes!

  8. Grammyprepper says:

    This was a good piece, I like the idea of adding more veg to a meal as well as offering a side veg.. But I notice no one else mentioned the use of canola oil. Despite all we have been led to believe, it is not a healthy oil There is no such thing as a non GMO canola oil. It is better to reduce use of fats and only use healthy fats. Well sourced olive oil, coconut oil, butter and others are better choices.

    • Anonamo Also says:

      You are right no Non GMO rape seed oil… all is made to make cows fat… We decided..we had enough weigh problems without helping it along…LOL,…. I stopped using Canola and Peanut several years ago.. after I did some research. I found after we had used peanut oil for a month , My DH’s triglycerides went thru the roof… It took 6-8 weeks after elimination to get them back down…
      This article was written several years ago… but this system still works. for us.. I am still refining the lists I use and using less pre mixes and more single ingredients… Single ingredients stored alone…. do not need anti-caking agents as badly or have msg hidden under label of spices.. ..
      I am using the sun butter,, olive, coconut,sunfower, bacon grease, and a little lard/pork fat… so far his labs are fine… next check should be in 3 months… I do have some other oils and they are in reserve for lighting/ other non food uses..I used to have some to use as a back up supply, but now use /keep healthier options in larger quanities…
      . I am trying to reduce the sunflower oil am using as well…to make my sun butter spread…so have increased the butter and coconut oil in each jar a bit… I use all bacon grease we get off our bacon.. Have found that the hickory smoked ones do not cause the eggs to stick…
      We have been working toward the goal of eliminating GMO’s from diet and it is a hard thing to totally eliminate. DH has sensitivity to corn unless organic. we are sure it is the pesticide residue… He has increased pain in feet when he eats regular corn chips…organic ones are not available at most stores, and are 2x price…

  9. mom of three says:

    I’m about a week late but what a great advice extra tid bits, I can use I love canning Spagetti Sauce, so easy and so much better for you.

    • Anonamo Also says:

      Would be nice to have enough tomatoes to can our own, has not happened in several years here… too many things out of our control… working on it.
      ..Meinwhile I buy some pre made on sale and keep cmmercially canned tomatoes to add spices, mushrooms and meats to…
      Glad you found some tidbits use-able in your life. This enables me to keep a variety of foods and make a variety fo different foods form base ingredients.

  10. Denise ,
    I was glad when I started reading this that it wasn’t what I had expected from the title. I have seen too many people talk about skillet stretchers like Hamburger Helper. While the latest versions contain pasta instead of TVP, they are IMHO a poor and expensive substitute for doing it yourself.
    Instead of the 1 box dinners, you could try the better, less expensive 1 bag dinners from places like Bear Creek that all easily store long term as purchased. Most make a good hearty meal right out of the bag with only 2 quarts of water; but, adding vegetables like potatoes or broccoli or some meat to the Darn Good Chili, easily extends the bag contents to feed 3-4 people with little extra ingredients and time.
    Keeping a few hundred pounds of beef in the freezer and chickens that give use 6-8 eggs per day also helps a lot, since a few grains and some eggs can be the start of many tasty and filling meals. We no longer use lists, other than to make sure we keep a supply of canned tuna, chicken, sardines and some ready to eat soupds like Progresso. We also keep a supply of box cereal as well as cream of wheat, oatmeal and corn meal, all of which can make anything from a breakfast to a piece of an entrée with things like easy to make corn meal mush, scrapple, corn bread or corn meal muffings. We keep quite a few jars of various red sauces on hand from Aldi’s any of which can be enhanced with addition of some meat or mushrooms, and used on pasta of all sorts, or baked into pasta dishes.
    We do keep some Splenda and Equal on hand; but, prefer cane sugar which is very inexpensive, plus some honey, maple syrup and sorghum syrup. Our best spices are garlic & onion, since they are what we like.
    If you have no spaghetti sauces, most pasta can still be tasty with only a bit of grease (butter or olive oil) and some garlic.