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Baby Steps for HEALTHY Emergency Food Storage

Unless your home is completely fireproof, will never flood, and you can be assured that the economy will be perfectly able to support you every day for the rest of your life, you might want to be ready for something weird to happen.

It’s a surprise when it does – that’s why it’s called an emergency.

Those of us who know how to make things from scratch, buy in bulk to save money, and have the ability to preserve the harvest might not be thinking about what we do as food for emergency storage, but believe me, we’re leaps and bounds ahead of the average American already.

That average American only has 3 days or less worth of food on hand at any given time.

That would give me serious food insecurity feelings! 

dry food storage in glass jars

If you want to make sure you’re above average and start to build up long term food storage BUT still watch your budget AND prioritize healthy food, I can help.

For me, it would be a cinch not to get groceries for a few weeks without starving. In fact, I challenged myself to stay out of stores for four weeks (and not send anyone else in my stead) when the coronavirus pandemic first hit, and I achieved it.

At the end of the time, we still had fresh vegetables because I understand how to shop for veggies that last.

Healthy, Budget-Friendly Emergency Food Storage: A Rookie’s Guide

This rookie’s guide is different from other “preparedness” resources out there.

You can find dozens of companies who sell 72-hour survival kits stocked with MREs (“meals ready to eat”, like the military uses), and you can even buy a big box at Costco that claims to be able to feed a family of four for a year and lasts for 25 years. Plenty of online writers choose to promote a feeling of fear and “the world is ending” mentality when they teach long term food storage.

Problem: Many disaster preparedness resources rely heavily on highly processed, not-so-healthy foods that are closer to the space program than something you’d regularly see on your table.

Since one key to actually being ready when the time comes is “store what you eat, eat what you store,” those packaged dinners won’t be a good option as rotating them to keep the food freshest is neither desirable for a real food family nor frugal.

If you want to spend $1000 to feel “secure” for that big emergency, Costco has your back. 

If you’d rather learn from a resource infused not with fear but wisdom, one that will teach you how to:

  • buy healthy emergency food you’ll actually eat
  • build up your long term storage using achievable baby steps
  • stay within your budget
  • use what you stockpile, and
  • master lasting skills that will regularly impact your family’s healthy eating goals in a positive way

…then stick around. 

You’ve found your best guide to being prepared for an emergency without compromising your ideals

emergency food storage

Baby Step #1: Keep Easy-to-Eat Foods Around

A stocked pantry is a great thing, but if you have no way to cook your dry beans and rice, you’re still hungry.

Think of a list of foods from multiple food groups that can be eaten without cooking, whether needed for an evacuation plan or if you have an electric stove that could easily be out of commission simply when the power goes out.

For example:

  • dried fruits
  • nuts and nut butters
  • canned tuna or salmon
  • canned soup or meat (home-canned preferable to avoid MSGs and other preservatives)
  • canned or frozen legumes (beans)
  • frozen peas
bowls of nuts

This isn’t something that’s good just for “being prepared for an emergency.” If you can make sure you always have a few of these foods on hand, perhaps by buying in bulk or just picking up a few extra each month for the next few months, then you don’t have to think about it again. 

It’s routine. 

Your new “food is low, add this item to the list” should kick in when you have a few left, instead of when you’re out. 

It’s like my mom always says about driving in the winter in Michigan: 

Treat half a tank as if it’s empty and live off the top half. 

If you never let yourself get below “half full” in your pantry, you’ll always have food in a snowstorm (or whatever sort of “storm” may come your way). 

How to get started: Just add a few extra of each of these items that your family will actually eat to the grocery list regularly.

Other pantry stocking tips:

Baby Step #2: Stock up on Legumes

bowl of beans

Part of knowing how to be prepared for an emergency is simply using real ingredients and buying in bulk, which is exactly what we do all the time here at Kitchen Stewardship®

Long term food storage is easy when you learn to use dry beans and incorporate them into your menus once a week so that you can “store what you use, and USE what you store.” It’s important that your family is used to beans if you suddenly need them often.

Check out The Everything Beans Book for 30 recipes to keep your palates happy.

If you’re curious, it’s recommended that each person have about 5 pounds of beans per month for emergency storage, and about the same for rice.

 How to get started: Just buy a few bags of dry beans and a large bag of rice next time you get a chance. Figure out how best to store things as you go (reused jars or plastic nut containers are perfect and free!). Progress over perfection!

Don’t forget that to cook dry beans and rice, you’ll need both water and a power source. Keep extra propane on hand for your grill, including the small bottles if you have a travel grill.

The Everything Beans Book eBook

The Everything Beans Book has twenty pages of beany information, including all you could possibly want to know about legume nutrition, how to cook dry beans, and lots of time-saving tips for managing this frugal source of protein and fiber more often in your kitchen.

It also offers 30 bean recipes, for the bean lovers of the world and the bean haters.

That brings us to:

Baby Step #3: Store Some Water

Water stored in mason jars for emergencies

Always store empty canning jars filled with water instead of empty. You can boil it for doing dishes and washing people if you have it available.

Of course, during certain times of the year, your canning jars are probably full of good food to eat, but then you are ready for some of the other steps at least!

In order to make the water potable (safe to drink), since bacteria can always thrive in moist locations, you’ll need some additional help. See How to Store Water Without Chemicals for more detailed information. We simply rely on our Berkey filter. (Read my review here.)

If you don’t want to learn how to do all that, just buy a few jugs of water and make a note to yourself in the calendar to swap them with new ones every six months.

Helpful note: Those plastic gallon jugs that you can buy water in for under a buck? Within a year or less, they will begin to slowly leak. It makes a mess. Be ready to swap them out every 6 months or store where a leak won’t say, drip through your floor, and damage ceiling tiles downstairs. (I may know that one from experience…)

If you have well water, you’ll need water for flushing toilets, too, so you might want a few extra gallons on hand.

How to get started: Grab some empty jars (hopefully some that you already have), and fill them with water. Begin the habit of filling jars with water when you store them. Or, just buy a Berkey. 😉

Baby Step #4: Stockpile Whole Grains

Whole grains are easy to store as well, especially if you invest in buckets with tight seals to put them in. 

Try to have a variety of rice, along with any other whole grains your family would actually eat regularly (quinoa, oatmeal, buckwheat…).

If you have a grain mill, all the better.

You can store dozens, if not hundreds, of pounds of whole grains like wheat, spelt, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, teff, and more, and bake your little heart out. Whole grains can be stored at room temperature, whereas whole grain flour should be kept frozen. 

But if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t buy flour, here’s what to do. (Remember at the beginning of the 2020 pandemic? You couldn’t find flour anywhere!)

RELATED: Read my Mockmill review here (my fav grain mill). 

wheat berries

Buckets for Food Storage

Grains are best stored in large buckets if you plan to really stock up. 

  • 5-gallon food storage bins on Amazon
  • Emergency supply buckets
  • Bread Beckers is a food co-op operating mostly in the southeastern US, and they sell grain and beans in 6-gallon buckets to start with and then you can buy refills in bags. They also sell empty buckets and lids.
  • Auguson Farms has lots of processed options, but they also sell buckets of plain grains, beans, and freeze-dried fruits and veggies. 
  • If you’re going to be eating from your storage consider investing in some gamma lids. They make it much easier to get into the buckets and easier to make sure they’re closed all the way. 
  • Mylar bags are another long term storage option

What Other Foods Should Be Part of an Emergency Food List?

After getting systems in place to store (and use!!) basics like rice, legumes, and other grains, consider what else is non-perishable that you use often

Canned tomatoes of all kinds, salt, spices, coconut milk, and fats and oils are all part of our well-stocked pantry. 

More Resources for Emergency Food You’ll Actually Eat

How to get started: Take a wander through your pantry and consider what you use regularly. Try to double the number you keep on hand.

Pat yourself on the back if your pantry or basement food storage has plenty to get your family through a few days (or more) of being disconnected from the grocery store. You’re probably well prepared for a financial emergency like layoff or injury.

easy bean soup

Baby Step #5: Learn to USE What You Store!

Here’s the thing – if you don’t know how to cook from scratch and don’t regularly make meals with dry beans or whole grains, this system won’t work for you. 

BUT if you’re willing to learn, the techniques that will help you feel ready for any emergency are the same ones that save money, increase nutrition, and keep your family healthy every day of the year

It’s exactly what I teach here at Kitchen Stewardship®

Here are a few recipes to get you started:

How to get started: Get in the habit of making at least one meatless, legume-based meal each week until you have a collection your family truly enjoys. Keep up that habit so you can use what you store.

Emergency Food for Fast Evacuations

There may be times when you don’t get to stay with your pantry in your home, but you have to Get Out of Dodge quickly, as the preparedness crowd terms evacuation.

Learn more about creating a 72-hour survival kit (or “Bug Out Bag”) and use a food storage calculator to see how much food your family would need to store for a week or two.

Big Question: What Foods Should I Stockpile? (Should We Be Stockpiling at All?)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, folks got nervous about food. (And toilet paper, ahem!)

“Stockpiling” became as popular as binging on Netflix, and the grocery store shelves showed it. 

I’d much rather teach you to slowly build up your emergency food storage, to have this system be part of your normal routine, so you never even NEED to “stockpile” food out of fear. 

You should always be prepared

If you’re caught thinking that you’re not ready, however, and want to have a month’s worth of food on hand, all the tips in this post can apply at warp speed too

  1. Collect foods you don’t have to cook: dried fruit, nuts, canned beans, canned fish and meat, etc. 
  2. Buy some dried beans and grains in bulk (but make sure you know how to use them!).
  3. Get some of those long-lasting fresh vegetables from the produce section. 
  4. Make sure you have some fruits and veggies, too, either frozen, canned, or both. (I never buy canned veggies because we won’t use them regularly, so that’s not a part of my emergency food prep plan.)
  5. Keep enough pasta, popcorn, canned tomatoes/sauce, and munchy foods around too so that there are some easy meals in the hopper. 
  6. Salt! I buy Real Salt in 25-pound bags. It never goes bad, is needed for all cooking and baking, and can preserve food if necessary. 
bags of beans

Faith Perspective: Is Preparing for Disaster Faithful or Fearful?

Does God help those who help themselves, or will He toss into the fire all those worried about stockpiling earthly goods?

You’ll find Christians who say both, some quite vehemently. But where is the truth? 

Is there such a thing as Christian preparedness, or should we all put our trust in the Lord that He will help us in our time of need?

In my opinion, we can have a balance between the two extremes – I don’t like the idea of spending hours each month making sure I have all the necessary everything for a major disaster to keep my family alive for a year.

I do, however, think it’s prudent and wise in many ways, and I pray that the Lord agrees, to stock up on things that we use, have more than 3 days worth of food in the house – because we can! – and maybe have some water set aside.

As a Christian, it is definitely an interesting question: Jesus talked A LOT more about NOT storing material things but also about “being prepared” in our souls for the end.

Bible Verses About Being Prepared for Emergencies

  • Noah prepares for flood: Genesis 6-7
  • Joseph stores grain to save Egypt: Exodus 37, 38-45:1-8
  • Jesus’s parable of the 10 well-prepared virgins: Matthew 25:1-13
  • The prepared woman in Proverbs 31
  • Proverbs 6:6-8, Proverbs 21:20

Does the Bible also say that we should simply trust in the Lord for our daily bread and never stockpile? Read Matthew 6:25-34 for that perspective, ending with:

“Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

The spirit of Christian preparedness, then, cannot be one of fear for our earthly lives, but one of taking care of our bodies so that we can serve others as best we can.

If we are weak, starving or ill during a disaster, who will serve the corporal, and much more importantly, the spiritual needs of the community?

I’m sure, like many things in this world, preparedness can become an idol.

It’s a wise reminder for all of us to make sure that we (1) don’t let it do so and (2) do not live in a spirit of fear, regardless of our level of preparedness.

I love this reader story, which embodies the servitude and community that can be fostered when one is prepared and unselfish:

I am reminded of a huge snowstorm years ago which shut down our whole city for at least three days. It was an early-season storm, and breaking branches knocked out transformers everywhere…plus the three feet of snow made roads impassable for almost everyone…


While many of us had camp stoves, one of our neighbors invited us all up for meals every day. We cooked oatmeal and other yummy things on our camp stoves for the 5-6 families who came. It’s one of my favorite memories!

How Many People Aren’t At All Prepared?

In Michigan, we have very few natural disasters to worry about, a point for which I’m very thankful. However, in the winter, a big snowstorm can make it nearly impossible to get around.

I remember being shocked watching the news coverage of one winter’s biggest blizzard – so many people were rushing the grocery stores to buy milk, bread, and canned goods.

It was expected that one might be snowed in for a day or two, maybe a few more if you had to rely on back roads. Even if I was snowed in for a week, I can’t imagine feeling like I had to rush to the store to buy anything in preparation.

I thought, “Who are all these people who don’t even have a few days’ worth of food in their homes?”

My hope is that no KS reader feels that insecure, and we can leave all the store rushing to the other people.

Having fun sledding outside in the winter snow

Are You Doing It Already?

My hope is that a frugal, real food crowd already has food storage and knows how to use it.

If you take nothing from this post, please accept encouragement that you are prepared for many emergencies simply by the way you shop and live.

Beyond Emergency Food Storage:

We’ve covered a lot about storing food, but there’s more to emergency preparedness than that. If you want to dive deeper, here are some further questions and topics to direct you.

  • How long could your family survive on what you have in your house right now, assuming the only problem was that you couldn’t leave your house?
  • How long could you go without electricity?
  • What if you had to leave your home quickly and couldn’t go anywhere hospitable?
  • If you had no running water, what would you need to do to keep the family healthy?
  • Do you have alternative ways to cook if your stove is out of operation and sufficient power supplies for them?
  • Do you own a manual can opener?

I really want you to brainstorm your own list to this question before reading mine, and feel free to add ideas in the comments.

List all the things that you are used to having access to in your home, the supplies you don’t like to run out of:

  • food
  • water
  • diapers
  • toilet paper
  • the ability to wash laundry, flush toilets, do dishes
  • gasoline
  • soap, shampoo, deodorant
  • heat or cooling ability

Prepare for Different Levels of Emergency

There are so many disasters for which you might want to be ready that will change how you prepare a bit. Just a few:

  1. Loss of job/income
  2. Natural disasters: flood, hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, tsunami, earthquake, etc. depending on location.
  3. Economic disasters: gas prices skyrocketing, food prices skyrocketing, infrastructure breakdown for food or fuel delivery, etc.
  4. Losing electricity, natural gas, or other utilities for a short spell or a few days.
  5. Illness or injury that would debilitate one or both spouses for a time.
  6. “One of those days…” when you don’t really want to cook/function.
  7. Being stuck IN your house.
  8. Having to be OUT of your house with short notice.

Start with one of these scenarios if this list sounds overwhelming.

What’s your “prepare or not prepare” philosophy? Does the real food life make it any easier?
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

About The Author

13 thoughts on “Baby Steps for HEALTHY Emergency Food Storage”

  1. Becca @ The Earthling's Handbook

    Don’t forget these 30+ bean and lentil recipes! My family made Nicaraguan style beans and rice last night and was grateful all over again that we found that recipe years ago! It uses carrots and onions, which are easy to keep on hand so we’re ready to make this great meal on a moment’s notice–though it is tastier when we have avocados, cilantro, and eggs to go with it.

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I added that link Becca, thanks! That recipe looks like a good way to spice up regular rice and beans. I like to add different toppings for added flavor, but my husband always wants just plain rice and beans with a bit of salt.

  2. Pingback: Easy Things to Do to Prepare for an Emergency — Life As Mom

  3. Love that you are writing about this!! I have always read that when storing water store tap water as it already has chlorine in it and will be safe to drink 6 months from now. Having said that, that is what we do and then we filter it with our Berkey when we need to drink it. Also having a propane stove on hand (about $25) can come in handy when the power goes out. We ‘stock’ extra propane (about 3) 25lb. tanks) for our grill and so there is always extra for the stove if need be.

  4. Great list! This might be the wrong post to ask this question (maybe I should go back to the lunches w/ food allergies post?), but a GF mom (I have a daughter who is newly GF) told me that canned beans are better than dry beans for gluten allergies? Supposedly beans and wheat and other grains could be processed in the same facility?

    She cited this article:

    My only concern is BPA. Canned beans are definitely easier to prepare (or less time consuming). My family cannot really fit the costs of BPA-free canned beans into our budget. It’s not known if our daughter has celiac–just that she’s sensitive to gluten. So….just didn’t know what you thought or if you had heard of this since I know your family has some gluten sensitivities, too. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Erin, Hmmmm, that’s a new one for me. Wouldn’t the canned beans have to start out as dry sometime? I think the safest thing to do is to call the dry bean brand of your choice and ask. Then you know for sure! 🙂 Katie

  5. We’ve got enough food for about 3 months, give or take and, except for the fresh milk wouldn’t miss much.
    During Dave’s Moms’ last years, we got a house generator so we’d never go without heat, hot water, lights.
    Also, we try to keep our vehicles at least half filled with gasoline at all times and keep some extra in cans in the outbuildlings.
    Great post, useful information.

  6. Thanks for doing this series. Most people are so unprepared when it comes to emergencies. I myself need to work on it! I also think its especially helpful in this economy where we really don’t have financial security. Thanks for the accountability!

  7. I have a significant amount of food in the house all the time, but I do consider ’emergency’ food in two ways.

    1. Food should there be an interruption in access to food for some reason [I live on Long Island – no isolated, but extra transportation factors etc] I certainly have plenty of food as well as some ’emergency’ provisions to tide us over, canned milk powder, powdered eggs etc.

    2. For ‘bug out’ situations I have a completely different agenda! There are certain convenience foods that have worked their way into our mostly homemade world – different bars and protein powder, for example. We also have a lot of nuts on hand at all times [much of this is for my husband who eats too little and works and works out too much ;)] Anyway I keep a much larger amount of these things ‘on hand’ as my evacuation supply – I know it will get rotated without any trouble and it’s easily packable and portable should we need to do so.

  8. Lindsey @ Why Just Eat

    Thanks to Shelf Reliance, we are up to just about 3 months of food in our food storage. I was a “head in the sand” person for a long time about all of this preparedness stuff, but I have to say, I feel so much better knowing that I will be able to feed my family (well) for quite some time if I have to. I encourage people to be sure that they know how to cook with their food storage items, especially if they are storing items that might be unfamiliar such as freeze dried meats and egg powder. That’s why I write my blog – so, if the time ever comes, people know what to do with what they have!

  9. Beth @ Turn 2 the Simple

    My pantry is pretty well stocked — rice, barley, millet, oatmeal, dry beans, peanut butter, frozen strawberries, frozen sweet corn, frozen zucchini and I’ve got 45 lbs of apples coming (applesauce), 40 lbs of nectarines and 40 lbs of pears (canning). So as long as I’ve got my pantry, I think we’d do pretty well. I should get all documents and such together and store some water. My problem is re-stocking before we’re “almost” out. At least we’re not usually out of everything all at once!

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