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!
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
More Resources for Emergency Food You’ll Actually Eat
- Best Long-Term Preservation and Storage Techniques: an exploration of the real food pros and cons of canning, freezing, dehydrating, freeze-drying, and more.
- Can you Stockpile Meat, Protein, and Fat?: including dried beans, canning your own beans and meat, and what traditional fats can be shelf-stable.
- How to Store Fruits and Vegetables: Cans? Dehydrated? Freeze-dried?
- Always a good idea to know how to properly store and use long-lasting fresh vegetables that you can keep on hand without any preservation.
- How to Stock up on Dairy Foods: You can can butter, preserve cheese about 4 different ways, and just eat your ice cream first.
- Best Grains for Emergency Food Storage: Why grains, where to find them, and how to store; includes many ideas from readers.
- Creating an Herbal Medicine Cabinet
- Going camping? Use this camping meal plan (or our gluten-free camping meal plan)
- Bonus Resource: Being Prepared in the Short Term: quick meals and unplanned dinners
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.
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:
- Cooking dry beans
- Perfect rice in the Instant Pot
- Mexican rice and beans
- 30+ Lentil and bean recipes
- Tuscan bean soup
- Black bean soup
- Three bean soup
- Easy Instant Pot bean soup recipe
- How to make chicken stock
- Turmeric lentil soup
- Breakfast hummus
- Blender hummus
- Chicken barley soup
- Lentil stew
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.
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!
- Collect foods you don’t have to cook: dried fruit, nuts, canned beans, canned fish and meat, etc.
- Buy some dried beans and grains in bulk (but make sure you know how to use them!).
- Get some of those long-lasting fresh vegetables from the produce section.
- 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.)
- Keep enough pasta, popcorn, canned tomatoes/sauce, and munchy foods around too so that there are some easy meals in the hopper.
- 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.
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.
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:
- toilet paper
- the ability to wash laundry, flush toilets, do dishes
- 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:
- Loss of job/income
- Natural disasters: flood, hurricane, tornado, snowstorm, tsunami, earthquake, etc. depending on location.
- Economic disasters: gas prices skyrocketing, food prices skyrocketing, infrastructure breakdown for food or fuel delivery, etc.
- Losing electricity, natural gas, or other utilities for a short spell or a few days.
- Illness or injury that would debilitate one or both spouses for a time.
- “One of those days…” when you don’t really want to cook/function.
- Being stuck IN your house.
- Having to be OUT of your house with short notice.
Start with one of these scenarios if this list sounds overwhelming.