There are many schools of thought on what should be stock piled in the event of a disaster or prolonged period of social disruption or societal collapse. It is hard to say with complete authority what “The best” foods are. This will depend on a number of factors, such as storage space, number of people to be fed, availability of water for preparation, availability of a means to cook foods or heat water, and the list goes on. There are however some standards that can guide pretty much anyone in the right direction. Just be certain that whatever you store, it provides enough calories, a dietary proper balance, vitamins, minerals, and fats. Remember, a crisis has a way of creating situations that will increase your caloric requirements, and that will tax your immune system and electrolyte balance.
When I am going through a grocery store gathering survival food, I get some strange looks from people close enough to hear me muttering under my breath as I discount items. Phrases like “not enough calories”, “needs more fat”, not enough carbs”, and the like roll off my tongue frequently. The truth of the matter is that what we consider to be a healthy diet in normal times is probably inadequate in a high stress, very active, crisis situation. There is a reason we like carbs, and fats, and sugars, and that reason is our body needs these things. The human palate developed in times when being physically active and dealing with life threatening events was the norm, and when a steady supply of food was not a guarantee. Hence the urge to get all we can when we can, which leads to rampant obesity in modern sedentary times but is adaptive to survival in harder times.
So, here is my list of indispensable foods to store in quantity for hard times. I have tried to take into account caloric as well as nutritional content, ease of storage, shelf life, and the intangible of enjoyable to eat. Let’s face it, it doesn’t have to taste good to keep you alive, but it does to keep you happy! Never underestimate the power of a good tasty meal to make things seem better, and never underestimate the power of a positive outlook to help survive in hard conditions!
1. Bulk Dry Goods
Bulk dry goods are a great way to put in a large supply of staples. They should be stored in oxygen purged, food grade buckets with a Mylar bucket liner and O2 absorber for best storage life.
Be aware that some of these, like whole grains, require some processing in order to make the best use of them. So, if you are going to stock things that require processing, be certain to have the tools and equipment required to do the work!
Oatmeal is great stuff! Filling and nutritious, and economical! It is also pretty darn tasty, and if you have some add ons it is easy to dress up for variety.
I like to purchase it in sealed 5 gallon buckets, which yield about 222 servings per bucket. Even with 6 of us in the house each bucket provides a month’s worth of breakfasts. These buckets can be found on EBay, or you can repackage yourself.
Rice. This is an old standby. It can form the base of many tasty and nutritious meals. Be aware that although it requires no processing, it does require quite a bit of water to cook. It is most economical to buy rice in 40 lb bags and repackage it into buckets yourself, a 5 gallon bucket will hold a 40lb bag. For a bit more you can find rice sold pre-sealed in buckets from a number of sources.
Beans. Another good staple, and when combined with your rice, some seasoning, and canned meats it makes a great meal! And don’t forget about a big pot of chili when you have meat from wild game or a butchered animal.
Beans can be bought in pre-sealed 5 gallon buckets as well, but it is more economical to buy in large bags and repackage it in buckets yourself. Get a variety of beans, Red, Black, pinto, kidney, according to your taste.
Pastas. Good source of carbs, and a firm foundation for a variety of meals. Even more so than with rice though, be aware of the water required to cook pastas.
They can be stored in buckets, or sealed in vacuum seal food saver bags with an O2 absorber.
Grains. Grains are good for making flour or meal. Wheat and corn are the most common. Bear in mind that you will need a grain mill to process these, and I recommend a good hand mill in case power is an issue. By storing whole grains instead of flour or meal you drastically increase storage life. Again you can buy these in ore-sealed buckets, or repackage bulk purchases yourself to save money. If you want to increase the shelf life even more, you can turn them into flour and then into Hardtacks.
Dried fruits. These are a great addition to your oatmeal or other dishes or just for snacking on.
They can be purchased by the bucket, or in number 10 cans form a variety of online sources. At Costco they have the #10 cans of fruit like pears or apple slices and each of these has 25 servings. 5 of these will cost about $25 and give your family their daily dose of fruit.
Sugar. An infinite variety of uses, a good source of carbs and very cheap. Stock lots stored in 5 gallon buckets.
No matter if white, brown or powdered, sugar it won’t spoil (sugar inhibits microbial growth) as long as it’s stored in an airtight recipient, away from humidity and sunlight.
Honey. Honey is a great natural sweetener. If you store local honey it is also good to help combat allergies and boost the immune system. It also has first aid uses, it is a natural antibiotic salve.
Honey is one food that never spoils! Although the look of your product will change somewhat over time, it will never actually spoil. It will begin to look yellow and cloudy instead of golden and clear and will get thicker and grainy over time, eventually looking white and hard. But, it is still good. In this form, the honey may have started the process of crystallizing.
To decrystallize honey, place the sealed jar in a warm, non-boiling pot of water and heat the honey. The crystals will dissolve as the honey heats. Do not add water to the honey. This will raise the moisture content and the honey will ferment.
You can also find it in 5 gallon buckets on Amazon for $189, but my guess is that you’ll never need
2. Canned Foods
Canned foods are quick and handy. They also have a fairly substantial storage life. Do keep an eye on expiration dates, and rotate your stock.
Canned Ham. I like the ones by DAK the best, but there are other options. DAK brand makes a very good quality canned ham with a shelf life of more than 5 years (most of these canned hams have a “stated” shelf life of greater than 3 years).
Great chopped up in your beans and rice, fried with scrambled eggs, or cooked on a grill as a main course.
Canned chicken. Add variety to your protein sources. Canned chicken is great in rice dishes. In the picture you can see the Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken. Looks a little strange but the flavor is okay.
Canned tuna. Fish is an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for many functions of your body. Oil packed tuna is also a good source of other fats and oils, which your body needs to function properly. My favorite brand is “Whatever is on sale!
Keystone canned meats. Pick your meat, they have it.
Beef, turkey, pork.
These are great tasting meats with a good storage like, they add to any meal and are an important source of protein.
Vienna Sausages. A great quick high protein snack! Also great in pasta dishes like Mac and Cheese.
These have a pull ring pop top. The ones I bought have a 3 year expiration date. I have eaten lots of things that were expired. These will still be good years after that. The Wal-Mart Great Value brand costs a little less but the Libby’s tastes better. I eat these right out of the can. I have also added them to soup and pasta. Cost: $0.50. (11 cents per oz). 40 cans for 20 dollars
Canned fruits. Tasty and full of needed vitamins. Stock a variety, your kids will thank you. Go with syrup packed products to maximize calories and carbs.
Canned vegetables. Again, a vital source of vitamins.
Unfortunately, green beans do not pack many calories. If you’re looking for the ideal veggies to stash, then think about canned root vegetables, like sweet potatoes and yams. Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin A, plus they’re filling.
Stock a wide variety to add diversity of flavor and nutritional content. Excellent source of vitamins. Again, I prefer the “On sale” brand!
Dinty Moore canned stew. Very good stuff and a quick meal that every one is sure to enjoy.
There will be times when the rigors of the day don’t allow time for preparing a scratch meal, and the freezer and microwave won’t be options!
Other “Meals in a can”. Spaghetti Os. Ravioli, canned tamales, and the like are all good choices.
This has to easily be one of my favorite junk foods. It requires a can opener (non- electric for blackouts).
Stock a variety of these that appeal to your family’s tastes.
Shelf-life: 1-3 years
Canned Soups. Good for winter day warm ups, also good in rice and pasta dishes. Shelf-life: up to 4 years.
You’ll enjoy a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup with lots of black pepper, accompanied by a grilled cheese sandwich.
Peanut Butter. This is a staple in my house at all times! Peanut butter is a great source of protein, and a very compact source of calories. It also provides essential fat and oil content.
It’s packed with protein and essential fatty acids, as well as contains many essential vitamins and minerals (such as copper and iron). Just a couple tablespoons a day of peanut butter can help a person survive a period of limited food intake.
While drinking plain water all the time won’t harm you in the least (Its actually good for you!), variety is good for morale! There are other benefits to some beverages as well.
Sports Drink Mixes. These mixes turn ordinary water into a rapid recharge system for electrolyes lost through perspiration. Gatorade mix is great for this, and it tastes great too. Remember, in a crisis you will probably be working up a good sweat a lot more often than you do now.
Cool Aide Mix. Kids love Cool Aide! OK, who doesn’t? I like the pre-sweetened packets that make a quart each. You can store these packets in Vacuum sealed food saver bags virtually forever. A cold glass of Cool Aide in your favorite flavor provides a smile and a quick burst of sugar energy.
Coffee and Tea. I am a dedicated coffee drinker and hate the thought of a coffeeless existence! One pound vacuum sealed bricks are the most convenient way to store coffee, they stack well or can be kept in plastic totes efficiently. Tea is another good source of caffeine, and I love a cold glass of iced tea on a hot day. Remember that in a true crisis, you may have to maintain 24 hour watch, and caffeine is a big help in this.
Hot Coco Mix. A great treat for adults and kids alike, and a great way to warm up on a cold evening. Also a good sugar boost for some extra energy. Pick your favorite brand, they all have a very long storage life if you leave the packaging sealed so don’t skimp! This is another one where your kids will thank you!
Dry Milk. A good supply of powdered milk is great for cooking and baking needs, as well as for drinking.
You are going to want to have plenty on hand if you have kids. And, to go with this, have some chocolate milk mix stored up because chocolate milk is really good (you can even share it with the kids if you are a generous soul!
4. Freeze Dried Foods
Freeze dried foods can be cost prohibitive, but their long shelf life is very beneficial. I would not try to build a survival larder based solely on freeze dried foods simply due to the expense, but they do have a place.
Thrive Life Foods. This is my favorite of the freeze dried foods for one simple reason- They sell ingredients, not dishes. With this brand, you can stock up on nimber ten cans of ingredients that you use in favorite dishes. You are not constrained and can prepare the meals that your family is used too eating, cooked from your standard recipes. Unopened cans have at least a 25 year shelf life, and some items are available in 5 gallon buckets. Thrive Life foods can be found online.
5. Spices, herbs and salt
These are going to go a long way to adding a variety of flavor to your storage food meals. They have other benefits as well. There are many medicinal herbs, and they can provide an additional source of Vitamins in the diet.
- Of all the things you should stock, salt should be high on the list and stored in large quantity. In addition to its flavor enhancing properties, salt is useful in preserving meats and fishes, for home canning, to attract wild game, for the health of livestock, and more. Salt is incredibly inexpensive, and has a shelf life of “Forever”.
- Oil of oregano. This is my favorite pick for a medicinal herb. This stuff has amazing immune system benefits and antibiotic properties. We use it constantly in my house to wipe out colds and flues, it does the job every time! Capsules are the most convenient form, although you can purchase the oil and add it to beverages (Don’t expect it to taste good!)
- Stock a wide variety of spices to add flavor. Here again, I watch for sales. We like cinnamon for our oatmeal, especially in apple season. Get a lot of everything you like to use in cooking, spices have a very long shelf life if properly sealed.
6. Cooking Oil
It is important to maintain fats and oils in the diet for proper function of all body systems. This is one area where freeze dried foods fall short, so if the bulk of your food storage is mountain house or one of the other brands be sure to supplement with oils.
Coconut Oil. This is great stuff. It provides essential fat content without many of the long term health risks of other oils. Over 90% of the fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated, which makes it your best choice.
It has a long storage life, and can be purchased in sealed 5 gallon buckets. There are many non-food uses of coconut oil as well, such as lip balm, and as an ingredient in sun screen.
Deep Fryer Oil. In 5 gallon jugs, available in many formulations. You will need this for your outdoor propane fryer, for fish fries, chicken fries and the like.
Animal fats are also excellent choices for deep frying. This includes fats like lard, tallow, ghee and fat drippings. Only animal fats from naturally fed animals should be considered good choices.
7. Shelf Stable Prepared Meals
There are a wide range of these available. This is essentially the MRE category. I like the first strike Meals, these are a full day of rations in a single package, the non essentials have been stripped away and they are a pretty compact package for the content. There are a lot of options available, however, so you can pick what works for you. I don’t recommend MREs as a staple of your food storage program. Shelf life is marginal and fluctuates with temperature, they are bulky on a per calorie basis, and they are cost prohibitive. However, they are very convenient and have a place as a supplemental portion of your food storage program.
If a crisis persists for a long enough period of time, it is very difficult to have an extended comprehensive food stock pile. Having the ability to grow vegetables is a great supplement to your stored foods. Be sure to have varieties that do well in your area, in your soil, and that you know how to grow. Have seeds for medicinal herbs and flavorful spices as well.
Edible landscaping provides another potentially important supplement to your storage foods. Instead of planting ornamental trees, plant fruit trees. Instead of ordinary shrubs, plant blueberry bushes. Fruiting vines, blackberries, and things of this nature are great to have around in the best of times, they can be life savers in the worst of times.
This is by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list of the items available for your long term food storage program. You can tailor your program to your tastes and your budget. Remember the key elements are calories (LOTS), nutritional value (Vitamins and Minerals), storage life, storage space, and flavor. By consulting this list however, you can get a pretty good idea of how to get going on your program.