Save Money: How to Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage

Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage

People often tell me that they don’t have room for food storage or that they worry about mice, rodents and bugs. Sometimes they just feel like they don’t have the money to spend on storing food properly. In the current state of the world, food storage is just important. It should be on your mind, and it should be a priority. 

I’m here to tell you that there’s a solution to your problem, and it’s 5 gallon buckets. Using 5 gallon buckets for food storage will save you money and help you feel prepared – and most importantly, they don’t take up a bunch of space. If you ask the right people, you can usually easily find 5 gallon buckets for free or cheap. Grocery store bakeries are a great place to start. Ask restaurants. Anywhere that buys icing, cheese sauce, etc in bulk probably has a surplus of 5 gallon buckets. Check Facebook Marketplace or yard sales. We’ve found them for free many times, and we often support our local dairy and buy them for about $2.50. 

Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage: Why Gamma lids?

The lids that come on 5 gallon buckets aren’t great, but if you can’t afford Gamma Lids, they’ll work. You just might have achy fingers or broken nails by the time you’re done dealing with the tear strip style lids. I know the price of Gamma lids has gone up since the pandemic, and they might seem expensive, but it’s one of those things that you’ll only have to buy once. Gamma lids twist on and off your buckets so easily that once you use them, you’ll hate the standard tear strip lids. If you can’t order them online, or the price is way inflated, check places like Lowe’s, Home Depot, your local hardware store, or Tractor Supply. 

Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage: Preparing the Buckets for Use

When you get your upcycled 5 gallon buckets, you’ll probably need to wash them thoroughly. Ones we’ve gotten in the past usually have crusties of some sort. Fill your bathtub and soak them, or wash them outside with the hose. Bring a good sturdy sponge and some Dawn. 

Once your buckets are clean, let them dry completely. You do not want to put dry food into a damp bucket. It’s a sure fire way to get moldy food.  

If you have to get new buckets, I would still give them a soapy wash and rinse. Same with the lids – Gamma or tear strip. 

how to use 5 gallon buckets for food storage

Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage – Top 10 Things to Store in 5 Gallon Buckets: 

1. Rice

Brown rice does not store as long as white rice. Brown rice stores 6 months to a year, in my opinion. It could be longer, depending on how well you stored it. While we try to eat more brown rice than white, we do store white rice for long term. We try to work through our brown rice regularly for meals. We do not put the white rice in Mylar bags. We just drop it right in the bucket. We could add oxygen absorbers, but honestly, we’ve never had trouble with white rice going bad yet. 

2. Flour

We keep wheat berries on hand to grind fresh, but we are practical, too. We usually use whole wheat flour or rye flour, but we keep white flour on hand. In extreme situations, food will be food, and it’s a great item for long term storage. Also, some recipes call for a mix of flours, so it’s nice to keep variety. We also do not put our flours in Mylar bags. We just dump in the bucket, and again – we’ve not encountered an issue so far. 

3. Sugar

We usually use monk fruit sweetener, but honestly, our favorite sweeteners are honey and maple syrup, which we’ll talk about in another blog post. We keep regular old white sugar on hand because again, it keeps for a very long time, and it can be a good barter, if we ever got to such a scenario. 

4. Salt

We keep a few kinds of salt on hand. We have standard table salt, which we mostly use for cleaning cast iron, but we COULD use it in an extreme situation for flavoring food. We also like Redmond’s Real Salt, as well as Pink Himalayan Salt. These all store for like – ever. As with most of these things, also could be a great barter. 

5. Dried Beans

Beans are just practical. There are so many kinds, and they can be used in so many recipes. We keep pinto, black, navy, pink, white, chickpeas – all the things. I will pressure can some that are ready to use, but they are also just a good “stores” type product. Keep your back stock of food diversified, so that you aren’t stuck with the same beans and the same rice, if you couldn’t get anything at the store. 

6. Popcorn

Popcorn is a favorite in our house. If you store it well, it can really keep for a long time. We have a variety on hand, white, yellow, purple, red, etc. In an extreme situation, you could pop some popcorn over a fire with some oil and salt and have a snack that’s filling. 

7. Rolled Oats/Steel Cut Oats

Again, these keep for such a long time. Like most of these things, we buy them in 50lb bags because it’s cheaper, and why not? We keep both rolled oats and steel cut oats on hand. Stove top oatmeal is a top breakfast choice for us, but it can also be used for granola, protein bites, baked oatmeal, muffins, or breads. 

8. Potato Flakes

While mashed potatoes from potato flakes are obviously not as delicious as from your garden’s homegrown potatoes, they work in a pinch. They are great to thicken up mashed potatoes you’ve accidentally made too runny, and if things got bad, you can easily whip up this nutritional side with just water and heat. As with all of these things, we just drop in a bucket and close up tight. 

9. Spices

Now this you may or not may need to store in a 5 gallon bucket. If you buy bulk spices in bags, you could Mylar bag them separately and drop several in a bucket, you could store them directly in the bucket, if it’s something you use a lot of, or you could vacuum seal your homemade spices in bags. Several options for this one. Keeping spices in your back stock is important because if things were bad, you could liven up your beans and rice. 

10. Brown Sugar, Flax Seed, Quinoa, Couscous, Etc. 

All of these store great fairly long term. As with everything, work through your stock. Store what your family will eat. If you all hate rice, it’s probably not smart to store that. We store all of these things in buckets directly. Again, you could add oxygen absorbers, if you want. 

Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage: Where to store your stores

Another great thing about 5 gallon buckets with Gamma lids – they store so easily. You can stack 4-5 safely, in our opinion, in a corner of your basement, spare room or wherever you have space. 

Besides our surplus food storage, we keep a bucket of each of these in our stairwell just outside the kitchen door. This frees up room in our pantry, and with convenient scoops in the buckets, we can fill an ice cream bucket or other vessel while we’re busy baking or cooking. 

5 gallon buckets
how to use 5 gallon buckets for food storage

Other Food Storage Options

We are fortunate to live in Amish country, and we have access to all sorts of cool things. I’m sure these are available in other areas, but we love these blue barrels for food storage. 

They sell them at our local hardware store, but you could check with local restaurant supply stores, or ask local restaurants if they’re selling any. 

These have locking lids, and they come in many sizes. We like the largest ones for rice, oats, flours, sugar, and salt. The smaller ones we use for brown sugar, flax seed and other less used things, like popcorn. 

Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage: What if I literally have no space?

My mom was always a fan of Amy Dacyczyn. She had books about being thrifty with large families and all kinds of cool tips. She talked about how she would store food under beds, in closets – anywhere she could squeeze it.

We live in a 1400 square foot house, but we are fortunate enough to have a full basement that’s concrete. This allows us to store what we need and not clutter up our main living space. 

So I would encourage you to get creative. Can you get some under the bed storage containers to store extra canned goods? Maybe you can put some 5 gallon buckets in the bottom of a closet? 

You need to be aware of temperatures and humidities, but on the whole, if you store your food in an area that’s say 45-75ish and dry, you’ll be fine. Don’t get too hung up on this. We’ve lived in 2 houses as a married couple, and both were relatively small. Our last house was 900 sq ft with a stone foundation basement. We made it work and just put shelves up where we could. 

how to use 5 gallon buckets for food storage

Use 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage: I’m overwhelmed. Where do I start?

When we decided it was time to be serious about food storage, we just started getting a little here and there. It’s what we still do. If we are near one of our favorite Amish stores, we’ll grab a bag of this or that. 

So I would start with these steps: 
  1. Prepare your spaces. Where are you going to store food? Does the area need cleaned? 
  2. Get storage containers. This could be the black and yellow totes from Lowe’s for boxed things, 5 gallon buckets, these cool blue barrels, whatever works for your situation. 
  3. Decide what your family eats, would need for 3 months, 6 months, even a year. What can you afford to spend each month to put a little bit away? 
  4. Buy 1 or 2 or 3 extra things the next time you shop. Flour seems like a practical place to start for our family, but we bake our own bread. If you don’t bake bread, maybe start with oats or cane sugar. 
  5. Find friends that support your mindset. Some people will think you’re crazy. Those aren’t your people. Surround yourself with like minded people, find some YouTubers that you enjoy and can learn from, and join some Facebook groups that help you plan. 

As always, we welcome your questions! We love chatting about this topic: 5 Gallon Buckets for Food Storage. Email us at to chat more about this topic! 

If you’re looking for other ways to save money and store up more food for your family, check out my blog: Can I homestead on a 1/4 acre? 

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