If there is anything we learned in 2020, it’s that our food supply isn’t as stable as we’ve once been led to believe. Preppers who used to be considered the “fringe” element of society are now more mainstream. Which is why more and more people are asking what the best survival foods to store are.
Most of us can now see that it is prudent to be prepared, if only as a form of insurance. But if this is your first time storing emergency food, we know that it can be overwhelming.
What kind of survival food should you start with? What kind of foods will give you the most bang for your buck? What about water?
All those questions and more will be answered in the article below. So let’s get right to it.
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Foundations of Emergency Food Storage
When it comes to long-term food storage, there are a lot of options: MRE’s, freeze fried food, etc. But if you are just starting to build your emergency pantry, I would not recommend these options.
Well, does anyone in your family eat MREs and freeze fried food? At first glance, the 25+ year shelf life seems attractive, but you can easily create a food hoard that lasts 2-5 years of food you commonly eat (i.e. tasty food).
And it’s cheaper too.
As the saying goes “store what you eat, eat what you store.”
In the beginning, it really comes down to the fundamentals. When you are first building you emergency food pantry, there are a few critical things to keep in mind. These are:
- Long shelf life– This goes without saying. At the far end of the spectrum you have freeze dried food which can last up to 30 years. For most people it is sufficient to purchase longer shelf life items you can find at any supermarket.
- Ease to prepare- Specifically we are looking for food that, if possible, does not require the use of fuel or electricity- after all, in a true emergency, power is one of the first things to go.
- Nutritionally dense- We are looking for dense foods, which will also take up less of your precious pantry space.
So now that you know what we are looking for in survival foods, let’s get right to the top 10 foods you need in your pantry.
Any survival plan must start with water. After all you can last 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water.
We have come to assume that tap water will always be available and that it will always be relatively clean. But in the case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the water supply can easily become compromised. This is why you should always have your own source of water that you control.
For the sake of prepping, bottled water is fine as a starting point. According to the FDA, bottled water technically has an indefinite shelf life, although you of course want to use your discretion. The key is to store your water properly, which means in a cool, dark place. And also avoid contact with the heat and the sun.
FEMA recommends one gallon per person per day, with at least a 3 day supply. For an individual, this is one standard 24 pack of bottled water at 16.9 oz per bottle.
Now, you’re probably thinking that this amount of bottled water adds up quickly. And you’re right.
While having a solid store of bottled water is a solid first line of defense in an emergency, I always recommend a good portable water filtration system. After all, water is heavy, and will be hard to carry in case you need to be mobile.
My recommendation would be the Lifestraw portable water bottle, which has been a trusted option for years.
Beans are a true staple of any prepper’s pantry, and it’s easy to see why. Black beans are high in protein, iron and antioxidants. And to top it off, they are an excellent source of fiber, which helps control blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol.
And perhaps the best thing about beans? They’re extremely cheap relative to the amount of nutritional benefits you receive.
If you have a large family, I would consider going with #10 cans of beans. This will be the most cost effective with the added benefits of providing protection from rodents and contaminants.
Shelf life: 2 to 5 years on average for canned beans
Pro tip: Buy no-salt added brands if possible
#3 White Rice
Rice is one of the most popular survival foods and with good reason. White rice is a cheap and great source of much-needed calories.; in fact, one pound of rice packs an impressive 591 calories.
Now you might be wondering why we don’t recommend brown rice, given its well-known nutritional benefits. The reason is quite simple: as preppers, we want food that is not only nutritious, but will last through an emergency. Unfortunately, because of the oils in brown rice, the shelf life is only 6 months.
In terms of white rice, a common concern is that it will spoil, often because of exposure to moisture or rodents. To protect yourself from these common scenarios, I’d recommend storing your rice in an airtight storage container.
This is a good tutorial on how to do just that.
Shelf life: 4-5 years. Up to 30 years with proper storage.
Pro tip: Store in plastic containers with mylar bags and oxygen absorbers
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There are few better sources of calories in an emergency situation than pasta. In fact, one pound of pasta contains over 1,300 calories. In addition, pasta is cholesterol free and low in sodium.
At the end of the day, pasta checks most of the boxes for an ideal prepper food: 1) it’s easy to prepare, 2) cheap, and 3) calorie dense.
Shelf life: Two years
Pro tip: If stored in jars with oxygen absorbers, pasta can last well over 10 years
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#5 Canned Meats
Canned foods are fundamental to a good emergency pantry. And unless you are a vegetarian, you will probably want access to meat in an emergency situation. Luckily, canned meats last between 2 to 5 years. Quite simply, there are no better sources of protein for its price.
Canned meats, such as canned chicken, are ready to eat out of the can, which is an important consideration if you lose access to electricity and can’t cook. I suggest diversifying with salmon so you can get healthy Omega 3 fats, which are also essential for brain development in babies.
Shelf life: 2 to 5 years
Pro tip: You can go a few years beyond the expiration date on the can in most cases.
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#6 Canned Soup
Canned soups, especially those that are not acidic, are great additions to your pantry. With the exception of tomato soup, soups should last between 2 and 5 years.
The great thing about canned soup is that it is ready to eat out of the can.
Shelf life: 2 to 5 years (unless it’s tomato soup)
Pro tip: When buying canned foods, avoid cans that are rusted, dented, scratched, or bulging.
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Honey is one of the dark-horse survivor foods. Not only does it last incredibly long (some say forever), but it is high in antioxidants and helps fight infections. Honey is also extremely calorie dense, with about 1,300 calories per pound.
It is also a better form of sugar for diabetics. And in a true crisis scenario, honey can even be used to treat wounds! It’s hard to think of a more versatile food.
Shelf life: 25+ years
Pro tip: Consider using a mason jar to store your honey
#8 Powdered milk
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, powdered milk can last three to five years. Storing milk is especially critical if you have young ones, since milk will be one of the first staple foods to disappear in a crisis.
Powdered milk, like its liquid counterpart, is an excellent source of protein and calcium. It is also very easy to prepare, only requiring water. My recommendation is to purchase either a bucket or #10 can for best protection against spoilage.
Shelf life: 3 to 5 years
Pro tip: For those of you who are lactose intolerant, consider powdered goat milk
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Out of all the foods on this list, oats are arguably the most nutritiously dense food. High in antioxidants, oats also are a good source of fiber, calcium and iron.
Several things make oats a mainstay of any prepper’s pantry. Not only are oats nutritious and easy to prepare, but they are also filling- an important consideration in an emergency situation. And finally, oats are very easy to store long-term.
In terms of long-term storage, I recommend using #10 cans with oxygen absorbers. Store these cans in a cool, dark, and dry place.
Shelf life: 2 years
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While not exactly a food, we would be remiss if we did not include multivitamins on this list. Why? Well, the nature of stocking food for emergency means we are often putting shelf life and calorie density ahead of nutrition. This is understandable- there will naturally be a give and take, especially with budgetary constraints.
So it’s always wise to supplement your nutrition with essential vitamins and minerals.
So how long do multivitamins last? Interestingly enough, the FDA does not have a requirement to put an expiration date on vitamins. Here we need to use our common sense, as well as practice good maintenance.
Shelf life: 2 to 5 years
Pro tip: Vitamins lose effectiveness over time, so it’s better to take earlier rather than later
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Filling your pantry with long-lasting survival foods in case of an emergency doesn’t have to break the bank. Nor does the food have to be unappetizing. With a well thought-out plan, anyone can build an emergency food pantry that is resistant to any natural disaster, emergency, or pandemic.
But buying the right food is only half the battle- storing it properly is equally important. If you follow the tips and video tutorials I provided, you’ll be in a great position to outlast any crisis.