Building an emergency food stash can be a daunting task, and many people will opt to simply purchase one of the many predesigned emergency ration kits that have become popular on the market. However, these prepackaged ration packs can cost thousands of dollars and can be an intimidating purchase for average income households.
While these kits are amazing resources full of innovative and nutritious meals, the following guide will help you develop a stockpile of food with a long shelf life that will still provide adequate nutrition in an emergency. No matter what your budget or supply goals are for your household, you can get started preparing for emergencies and natural disasters on your next trip to the grocery store.
Feel confident getting started planning out meals for your family no matter if you are planning a week-long hiking expedition or preparing for potential natural disasters.
How Much Should You Store?
Ready.gov recommends having a minimum of a three-day supply of emergency rations available in case of emergency. Depending on how close you are to a supply store or how likely you will be able to receive emergency aid for rescue sources, you may want to be prepared for longer periods. Emergency rations are all about peace of mind. Build up your supply to meet your family’s needs for as long as you think might be necessary.
If you are unsure how much food your family will need you can use calorie calculators to get an estimate, or just gauge your supplies by how much your family normally consumes.
A precise calorie calculator can be found here: https://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html
Or a calorie estimate chart can be found here: https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-2/
Your number one priority should be building up an adequate store of water. The CDC recommends a minimum of one gallon of water per individual per day. So for a four-person household preparing for three days you would want a minimum of 12 gallons of water stored. Although, again, this is a minimum and even the CDC recommends aiming for a two-week supply.
Unopened, commercially bottled water is your best bet, but you can also store tap water. Check the expiration dates on the bottled water to ensure freshness and rotate out tap water you’ve stored yourself every 6 months or so.
Long Shelf Life Foods
|Freeze Dried Meals||Shelf Life: 25 Years|
|White Rice/Polished Rice||Shelf Life: 25 to 30 Years|
|Oats||Shelf Life: 30 Years|
|Dried Beans and Lentils||Shelf Life: 10 Years|
|Grains||Shelf Life: 8 Years|
|Powdered Eggs||Shelf Life: 5 to 10 Years|
|Powdered Milk||Shelf Life: 3 to 5 Years|
||Shelf Life: 3 to 5 Years|
|Jerky||Shelf Life: 2 Years|
|Dark Chocolate||Shelf Life: 2 Years|
|Honey||Shelf Life: 2 Years|
||Shelf Life: 2 to 3 Years|
|Granola and Protein Bars||Shelf Life: 2 Years|
|Peanut Butter||Shelf Life: 2 Years|
|Dehydrated Fruit||Shelf Life: 1 Year|
|Dry Pasta||Shelf Life: 1 to 2 Years|
|Crackers||Shelf Life: 6 to 8 Months|
The recommended shelf lives are based on unopened packaging. Always rotate rations out based on the package’s expiration date or “best by” date. We recommend going through your stored rations at least once a year and rotating any foods that are expiring within the year out into your regular pantry and replenish those stored rations with newer items.
Remember that a lot of food spoilage happens as a result of oxygen and moisture. Store your food in a cool dry area, and consider throwing in oxygen absorbers to help keep your food lasting longer. Follow proper storage instructions for all homemade items such as dehydrated fruit and meat and canned foods.
Remember that foods that must be stored cold, such as milk and raw meat, must remain at a temperature below 40F. A standard refrigerator will keep food below 40F for up to four hours after losing power if the fridge remains closed. Don’t risk it! If you aren’t sure if your food is safe to consume do not eat it! Food poisoning can be a deadly ailment and if you are in an emergency with limited access to healthcare facilities you could find yourself in extreme danger.
Create a Balanced Diet
While calories are the basic block for surviving, having a diet of diverse, nutritiously rich foods is equally important. Aim to keep a variety of food that you like to eat. Emergencies are stressful enough without feeling like you are deprived of your normal daily meals.
While freeze-dried meals can be a much more expensive option, they are specifically designed for long term storage. Adding in a few of these prepackaged meals can make for an easy to prepare and highly nutritious option in case of a disaster.
Beans and rice top our list because of their exceptionally long shelf life, but they have the added benefit of making a complete protein when eaten together. A complete protein is a food source that contains all 9 amino acids required for a healthy human diet. While most people get complete proteins from meat sources, beans and rice make a great option for long term storage. They also offer a fantastic nutritional option for any vegans or vegetarians in your household as other vegetarian options for complete proteins, like tofu, cannot be stored for long periods.
Powdered eggs and powdered milk are also a protein-rich food with added nutrients from calcium and vitamin D.
Canned foods are a great option for added variety in your emergency rations kit. Consider including a variety of canned meats, fruits, vegetables, soups, stews, and juices. Canned foods can also be eaten directly out of the can without being heated if a heat source is not available. Be sure to include a manual can opener in your emergency food kit in case electricity is lost and you cannot use an electric can opener.
Dehydrated meat such as jerky can be a good source of protein, but they are often high in sodium. Consider eating them sparingly. Many people consider jerky comfort food and can be enjoyable to gnaw on in high-stress situations.
Dried and dehydrated fruit is an excellent source of potassium and fiber. Add your favorite dried fruits to your emergency kit. Trail mixes and nuts are also a great snack that can be stored long term in an emergency kit, but be mindful that these are high-calorie snacks and should be consumed in moderation.
Instant coffee and teas also make for long-lasting drink additives. Consider storing electrolyte powdered drinks in your emergency ration kits. Electrolytes have many benefits including balancing the amount of water in your body, regulating nutrient absorption, and regulating muscle, nerve, heart, and brain function.
Peanut butter is both high in protein and high in healthy fats, making it a great food to maintain high energy levels.
Crackers are high in fiber and make a great replacement for bread with their higher shelf-life stability.
Honey is a great natural sweetener. While our list claims honey has a shelf life of two years, honey actually never expires. More likely it will just begin to crystalize over time, but it can still be safely consumed. Salt and sugar also can have an indefinite shelf life and will help you add some flavor to your emergency rations.
Dark chocolate has a long shelf life and can be a great treat in stressful situations. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and some studies suggest it may lower blood pressure. Another great snack for high-stress situations, but also a very high-calorie treat. Indulge sparingly.
Practice making meals with emergency rations. Practice as though you were in a true emergency with limited resources. This will help you plan nutritious and tasty meals in a low-stress environment so that when you are in a true emergency you won’t feel overwhelmed by the task. Practice safely and always follow the safety guidelines and precautions on all food preparation appliances.