Why should you consider stocking up on emergency foods for a potential natural disaster? Fueling your body during a crisis is very different from your everyday diet. (Think of how an emergency fund functions differently than a savings account.)
If you do find yourself implementing your emergency plan, you’ll probably be expending more energy than you usually would. So you should eat high-energy, high-protein foods. Here’s what you should have on hand in advance and what you should buy right before an emergency.
Why Nutrition Counts in an Emergency
If the emergency is disease-related (as in the coronavirus pandemic of 2020), it is especially important to eat nutritious foods that will help you maintain good health. And because you’ll have a limited supply in your emergency preparedness kit, the higher-quality foods you eat—and the fewer of them—the better.
“In a disaster or an emergency you want those calories,” says Barry Swanson, professor emeritus of food science at Washington State University. “You want some nutrients and some fiber—something to keep your diet normal.”
“In an emergency, generally you tend to think of meeting more basic needs than preferences and flavors,” says Elizabeth Andress, professor emerita and extension food safety specialist at the University of Georgia. “But if you plan right, you can have a great variety of foods and nutrients.” Here, Andress and Swanson weigh in on what items—perishable and non-perishable—you should include.
What Emergency Foods to Keep in Your Pantry
These non-perishable food items (or close to it) have lengthy expiration dates, so you can stash them away for long periods of time, even if it’s not hurricane season or tornado season. Make a list of everything in your stockpile and check expiration dates every six to 12 months to keep things fresh. And don’t forget to have a can opener on hand at all times—all that food won’t be of any use if you can’t open it.
A great source of energy, peanut butter is chock-full of healthful fats and protein. Unless the jar indicates otherwise, you don’t have to refrigerate after opening.
To get the most bang for your buck, purchase a three-pack of Teddie All Natural Super Chunky peanut butter, which comes in 16-ounce jars. The all-natural, gluten-free, and vegan-friendly peanut butter is ideal for groups with different needs, and at just 36 cents an ounce, it’s an affordable choice too.
To buy: $32 for a three-pack; amazon.com.
Crackers are a good replacement for bread and make a fine substitute when making sandwiches. Due to their higher fat content, whole-wheat or whole-grain crackers have a shorter shelf life than their plain counterparts (check the box for expiration dates), but the extra fiber pays off when you’re particularly hungry. Consider vacuum-packing your crackers to prolong their freshness.
For added value, purchase a family-sized pack of Hint of Sea Salt Triscuits or 100 percent whole grain Wheat Thins. The toasted crackers give a bit more of a healthful kick and are made without high-fructose corn syrup.
To buy: $53 for a six-pack; amazon.com.
Nuts and Trail Mixes
Stock up on these high-energy foods—they’re healthful and convenient for snacking during a hurricane, tornado, or other emergency. Look for vacuum-packed containers, which prevent the nuts from oxidizing and losing their freshness.
Choose multigrain cereals that are individually packaged so they don’t become stale after opening. Also look for cereals with minimal added sugar as well as high fiber content to help you feel fuller longer.
Granola Bars and Power Bars
Healthy and filling, these portable snacks usually stay fresh for at least six months. Plus, they’re an excellent source of carbohydrates. “You can get more energy from carbohydrates without [eating] tons of food,” says Andress.
Nature Valley’s Variety Pack will provide you with 12 individually-wrapped bars in both peanut butter, oats ‘n dark chocolate, and oats ‘n honey flavors. And with 16 grams of whole grain per serving, these bars will be more than enough to keep people full.
To buy: $20 for a six-pack; amazon.com.
Dried Fruits, Such as Apricots and Raisins
In the absence of fresh fruit, these healthy snacks offer potassium and dietary fiber. “Dried fruits provide you with a significant amount of nutrients and calories,” says Swanson.
To get all that nutritional goodness, pick up a variety box of Crispy Fruit. Inside, you’ll find freeze-dried packs of apples, Asian pears, and tangerines. Each pack is simply pure fruit, meaning no preservatives, sweeteners, or additives at all.
To buy: $20; amazon.com.
Canned Tuna, Salmon, Chicken, or Turkey
Generally lasting at least two years in the pantry, canned meats provide essential protein. Vacuum-packed pouches have a shorter shelf life but will last at least six months, says Diane Van, manager of the USDA meat and poultry hotline.
Moreover, vacuum-sealed packs may come in handy if you don’t have a can opener. For your pantry, purchase a 12-pack of Safe Catch Elite Wild Tuna, which has the lowest mercury count of any brand on the market, making it a safer choice for kids and even pregnant women.
To buy: $33.50; amazon.com.
Canned Vegetables, Such as Green Beans, Carrots, and Peas
When the real deal isn’t an option, canned varieties can provide you with essential nutrients, making these a great hurricane food or natural disaster option. To pack in as many healthy vitamins and minerals as possible, order a case of mixed vegetable cans from Libby’s. Inside each can, you’ll find peas, carrots, corn, lima beans, and green beans, giving you a well-balanced meal straight from the jar.
To buy: $31; amazon.com.
Canned beans like chickpeas, black beans, and white beans (among others) provide a good source of protein, along with fiber, potassium, and iron.
Canned Soups and Chili
Soups and chili can be eaten straight out of the can and provide a variety of nutrients. Look for low-sodium options and those containing beans for extra protein.
Dry Pasta and Pasta Sauces
Pasta is filling, and dry pasta and jarred sauce can last on pantry shelves for months. If someone in your household has dietary restrictions, look for gluten-free pasta or pasta made from chickpeas (or another alternative).
Try to stock at least a three-day supply—you need at least one gallon per person daily. “A normally active person should drink at least a half gallon of water each day,” Andress says. “The other half gallon is for adding to food and washing.”
To ensure everyone stays hydrated, purchase a case of water that comes with essential minerals added to it. Essentia’s bottled water has added electrolytes to aid in hydration and improve the taste.
To buy: $22.50 for twelve 1.5-liter bottles; amazon.com.
Sports Drinks, Such as Gatorade or Powerade
The electrolytes and carbohydrates in these drinks will help you rehydrate and replenish fluid when water is scarce. Just make sure your sports drink of choice doesn’t come with too many additives, such as sugar or artificial sweeteners. Instead, choose a product like Nooma, an organic electrolyte-enhanced drink made with coconut water and natural sea salt that comes in four different flavors.
To buy: $31 for twelve; amazon.com.
Almost all dairy products require refrigeration, so stock this substitute for an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D when fresh milk isn’t an option. Go for an organic, resealable option from NOW Foods. Its product is flash-pasteurized to give it a superior flavor and can last several months once opened if stored in a cool, dry place.
To buy: $31 for a three-pack; amazon.com.
Sugar, Salt, and Pepper
If you have access to a propane or charcoal stove, you may be doing some cooking. A basic supply of seasonings and sweeteners will improve the flavor of your food, both fresh and packaged.
Supplements will help replace the nutrients you would have consumed on a normal diet. But vitamins don’t have to be boring. Instead, opt for a delicious fruity gummy from SmartyPants. The gummy comes with a complete day’s worth of vitamins and even contains omega 3s and folate for complete coverage.
To buy: $23; amazon.com.
What to Buy Right Before an Emergency
If you’ve been given ample warning that a storm is coming, there’s still time to run to the market and pick up more hurricane food: fresh produce and other items that have shorter shelf lives. Most of these foods will last at least a week after they’ve been purchased and will give you a fresh alternative to all that packaged food.
Make sure to swing by your local farmers’ market if it’s open; because the produce there is fresher than what you’ll find at your typical supermarket, you’ll add a few days to the life span of your fruits and vegetables.
Apples last up to three months when stored in a cool, dry area away from more perishable fruits (like bananas), which could cause them to ripen more quickly.
Citrus Fruits, Such as Oranges and Grapefruits
Because of their high acid content and sturdy skins, citrus fruits can last for up to two weeks without refrigeration, particularly if you buy them when they’re not fully ripe. Oranges and grapefruits contain lots of vitamin C and will keep you hydrated.
If you buy an unripe, firm avocado, it will last outside the refrigerator for at least a week.
If you buy them unripe, tomatoes will last several days at room temperature.
Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, and Yams
If you have access to a working stove, these root vegetables are good keepers and make tasty side dishes. Stored in a cool, dark area, potatoes will last about a month.
Cucumbers and Summer Squash
These vegetables will last a few days outside of refrigeration and can be eaten raw.
While most are inedible uncooked, winter squashes, such as acorn squash, will keep for a few months. If you’ll be able to cook during the emergency, stockpile a bunch.
Hard, Packaged Sausages (Such as Sopressata and Pepperoni)
You can’t eat canned tuna and chicken forever. Try stocking up on a few packages of dry-cured salamis such as sopressata, a southern Italian specialty available at most grocery stores. Unopened, they will keep for up to six weeks in the pantry, says Van.
More Food Advice for an Emergency
Eating From the Fridge in an Outage
If the electricity goes out, how do you know what is and isn’t safe to eat from the refrigerator? If your food has spent more than two hours over 40°F Fahrenheit, don’t eat it. As long as frozen foods have ice crystals or are cool to the touch, they’re still safe. “Once it gets to be room temperature, bacteria form pretty quickly, and you want to be very careful about what you’re eating,” says Swanson. To keep foods fresh and safe during a power outage, keep the doors closed on your refrigerator and freezer to slow down the thawing process.
Cooking Without Electricity
If you don’t have electricity, you may still be able to cook or heat your food. If you have outdoor access, a charcoal grill or propane stove is a viable option (these can’t be used indoors because of improper ventilation). If you’re stuck indoors, keep a can of Sterno handy. It’s essentially heat in a can. It requires no electricity and can warm up small amounts of food in cookware.
Stocking Up for Special Needs
If your family has special needs—for example, you take medication regularly, or you have a small child—remember to stock up on those essential items, too. Keep an extra stash of baby formula and jars of baby food or a backup supply of your medications.
Choosing Cans in Flood-prone Areas
- If you live in an area at high risk for flooding, consider buying all your pantry items in cans, as they are less likely to be contaminated by flood waters than jars. “It’s recommended that people don’t eat home-canned foods or jarred foods that have been exposed to flood waters because those seals are not quite as intact,” says Andress.