I’m not a prepper but after watching American Blackout recently, I bought some foods to store for harsh times. In times of minimalism and ‘zero waste’ it’s trendy to have as little food in your fridge as possible and use only what you’ve got. As much as I applaud the zero waste movement I see it more as an work of art, drawing attention to society moving in a more sustainable direction than a viable implementation in our day to day lives.
Going hardcore by having only the bare necessities in your fridge and regrowing a celery plant from its stem can be entertaining but it’s pretty dumb not to have some stock in case of an emergency.
Watching that documentary I realized I never really thought about how to survive. It’s only in hindsight you may realize there’s nobody there to bail you out and then it’s too late. Long term storage will prevent you from fighting over the last products in an almost empty store. Prepper or not.
So yep, reducing your waste is a good thing yet it’s wise to stock up too. Here’s my list of 10 essential foods everyone should stock up. Obviously everybody has different eating habits and this list is just an indication of the basics I would need to survive for a while. It’s like they say, “store what you eat and eat what you store“.
Food stored in an emergency stockpile needs to meet certain criteria.
- Shelf life. I stock food with ultimately long expiration dates because I don’t want to have to re-stock my emergency stock every 6 months. Once it’s in the pantry it will stay there until the zombie apocalypse breaks out.
- Easy preparation. When water supply is limited and energy is sparse you will want to be able to cook with limited use of fuel. Or be able to eat the foods raw
- Foods you like to eat. Foods can be highly nutritious but I must like to eat them. When they hug expiration date, I eat them. Emergency or not. Nothing goes to waste (my contribution to the movement).
Higher in protein than rice or wheat. Fills you up good and long. Can be prepared with a minimum of power use. A beloved food in places from Ireland to Africa throughout history, oatmeal is unassuming but vital. It lasts for years without going off if stored in a cool, dry place with no temperature change, so it’s a very reliable staple.
Oats are high in energy and release their energy slowly, leaving you feeling full for longer due to their complex carbohydrates and soluble fibre. Oats soak up cholesterol and contain important vitamins and minerals including calcium, zinc, iron and Vitamins E and B1.
Of course, oats are usually combined with hot water or milk to form porridge, and while they’re technically edible dry, they’re much more enjoyable hot. The fiber-rich survival food requires 4 times its amount in water. By soaking the oatmeal over night it takes only 9-12 minutes of cooking time instead of 20-30 minutes. Quick oats only need about 5 minutes cooking time.
The fast cooking rolled oats will last a long time. A 2005 study at Brigham Young University demonstrated oats to still deliver “life-sustaining nutrition” for over 30 years if stored correctly. The American Preppers Network has a great post on why everyone should store oats. Tip: get individually packaged cereals so the whole box doesn’t become stale after opening.
2. Waxed Cheese
The cheesy remark, I love cheese so much, I put cheese on cheese has some actual prepping truth to it because it’s so friggin versatile. You can put it on bread, on crackers, eat it whole, as a snack, through pasta and other dishes, and so on.
Cheese is a nutritional powerhouse too, it fills you up and I genuinly love it so putting it on this list is a no-brainer for me. What’s even more significant is that cheese treated with cheese wax has a shelf life of up to 25 years. Provided that it’s kept at mild to cool temperatures.
Probably one of the best prepping foods in existence is couscous. The pre-cooked grain only needs to be poured over with boiled water and after some waiting time it’s ready for consumption.
It’s a great source of starch containing fibre, iron, calcium, and B vitamins. “Starchy foods are the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet”. One of your biggest concerns is getting enough starches for carbohydrate energy during a SHTF scenario. Many preppers agree that crispbread and crackers are another great option for this purpose. Keep them in the freezer until needed.
4. Canned vegetables
Stockpile some canned beans for protein. Canned or dried. Canned can be eaten without cooking which could mean the difference between life or death. Beans and peas are excellent sources of dietary fiber and nutrients such as potassium and folate.
One of the most nutritious canned vegetables are sweet potatoes, which also provide you with the necessary starch intake. Carrots are high in nutrients and boost the immune system.
5. Canned fruit
You need sources of Vitamin C to avoid getting scurvy, but fruit can be very hard to store for prolonged periods of time. Raisins are an obvious choice here, as they contain Vitamin C but have a shelf life of a year.
Unopened canned fruit can last up to two years, although interestingly an FDA test on 100-year old canned fruit showed that while they had lost their flavor and texture, they were perfectly safe to eat.
A lot of Vitamins C and A were lost, but protein content remained high and calcium levels were similar to today’s. The USDA recommends using highly acidic canned food such as fruit within 18-24 months. Generally I don’t eat canned fruit but some canned slices of pineapple taste great with sauerkraut. You will also want to include some canned meat and/or fish to cover all of the food groups.
6. Canned fish or meat
Other invaluable protein sources that add some flavor and richness to your emergency diets are canned fish and meat. Sardines and red salmon are popular because of their high calcium content among other necessary nutrients. Chicken, corned beef and turkey are popular canned meats. Generally, shelf life is about two years.
Some food prepping lists mention sugar but if you have to narrow your list down, go with honey. Honey is also good for wound healing, is antibacterial, prevents infections, gives you an energy boost and works perfectly with the porridge mentioned above.
Even in an emergency situation, you need enjoyable food to stay in good humour. Honey never expires, it holds the impressive record of lasting for at least five thousand years, and theoretically forever thanks to a unique combination of factors including low moisture content, acidity and an enzyme in bees’ stomachs called glucose oxidase.
When it comes into contact with nectar, this enzyme breaks up into gluconic acid and the toxic hydrogen peroxide. These factors combine to make honey a very inhospitable place for micro-organisms to grow, once it’s stored properly.
Another carbohydrate that can be stored dry, spaghetti’s benefit over oatmeal is that it is far easier (and tastier) to eat dry, and when cooked is nice without any toppings like one might prefer for oatmeal.
Any form of pasta is great for necessary carbohydrates, but spaghetti is easier to eat than many others, and of course you can always boil it in water assuming you have some. Rice will fulfil the same role, and white rice lasts between 10 and 30 years.
There’s not much point keeping yourself alive if you’re going to be miserable, so invest in some multitasking foods that will last long and act as a morale booster. Peanut butter, for example, lasts for 2-5 years and contains large amounts of Vitamin E.
Ramen noodles are distinguished from ordinary pasta by their flavour packets and extreme cheapness. They can often be bought for under 20c and will last ten or more years. Obviously, treats means something different to everybody. I myself always make sure to have a stash of liquorice.
10. Multivitamins / sports bars
It’s not safe to rely on canned fruit and vegetables for all of your nutrients, so multivitamins may come in handy in providing the vitamins and minerals your body can’t synthesize alone.
Vitamin D and Omega-3 are recommended even in normal situations, and if you’re stuck indoors for a long time Vitamin D is even more important. B Vitamins, particularly B12, are thought to boost energy.
You should also take into account that your nutritional needs may be different in an emergency; if you have to get by without modern conveniences, you will want high-energy, high-protein foods such as granola and power bars to keep you going.
Don’t forget to check expiration dates in your stockpile every year. When buying foods for your pantry get those you like to eat in normal day to day life as well. This way you can consume the foods that almost expire, thus nothing has to go to waste.
Without an opener canned food is tough to open if you don’t know this trick. Fuel for your camping stove or your backyard grill and a bunch of big lighters are nice to have in stock too.
In general, it’s good to separate your stock so if disaster strikes you don’t lose everything. Many of the foods on this list require a way to heat water, so if all else fails “canned heat” sources like Sterno or the more affordable Real Flame Gel Fuel may come in handy.
While you’re in serious trouble if you don’t have a continuous water source, it’s good to have stores of water just in case. Water can be kept in food grade plastic (soda) bottles for years without spoiling, although there is a danger of it developing a bad taste from organic molecules leaking through the plastic over time. Water in glass bottles is less likely to taste bad and can last a lifetime. You need 1- 1.5 gallons (3.8 – 5.7 L) of water per person per day. Powdered milk is good to have for some variety, and will last between 2 and 10 years unopened.
Buying expensive water bottles is not perse necessary if you have the time to fill up empty containers with tap water when things go down. Clean 2 liter soda pop bottles, purchase large empty 5 or 7 gallon jugs and fill them at home. For added convenience you can use them with a top-loading water dispenser. Popular choices to provide in water supply during harsh times are water purification tablets and gravity fed water filtration devices.
Here’s the documentary I mentioned earlier.
Which foods I didn’t mention are in your top 10?
Share your ideal top 10 essential foods to stock below.
Featured image, Peter Fraser.