As part of National Preparedness Month (observed every September), I like to take a straightforward look at various disaster preparedness topics (see the series page for a complete list of the topics we’ve explored previously).
This year, as I update my family’s preparedness plan and replenish the supplies in our disaster kit, I’m exploring which are the best foods to include in a preparedness kit.
The best foods to include in a disaster preparedness kit
During an emergency, our focus will be on survival. Subsequently, when selecting foods, we should be less concerned with flavor and variety and more concerned with calories (especially calories from protein) and nutrients. Other important considerations are how easy it is to store and prepare various foods. With these factors in mind, it is easy to identify some foods that are good options for a disaster preparedness kit.
Note: When I speak of a disaster preparedness kit, I’m referencing a kit designed to sustain you and your family for a few days to a few weeks. If you’re interested in developing food stores for disasters of apocalyptic proportions, you’ll want to consult sources more knowledgeable on that topic.
Canned fruits, vegetables, meats, and low-sodium soups
Why: Commercially canned foods are considered shelf-stable (they do not require refrigeration until opened). They are also cooked and can be eaten directly from the can (though some are more appetizing if heated). A wide variety of foods are available in cans and most are good for 2 to 5 years after their date of manufacture.
Notes: Acidic foods (like tomatoes) have shorter shelf lives than foods with low acidity (green vegetables, pears, etc.). To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, avoid cans that are rusted, dented, scratched, or bulging.
Why: Peanut butter is a high-calorie food that can make a meal out of crackers or bread. Additionally, it has a relatively long shelf life, is rich in nutrients, and is a favorite of most children.
Notes: Peanut butter will eventually go rancid, so it can only be stored for about a year before you need to eat it and replace it with a fresh jar. Keep in mind, though, that rancid peanut butter is technically still edible—it’s not a health risk but it does taste funny (source). Powdered peanut butter, which has a longer shelf life than traditional peanut butter, is another option to consider.
Why: Freeze-dried foods have been flash frozen and dehydrated. These processes help freeze-dried foods retain their flavors and nutrients and make them shelf-stable for up to 25 years. Freeze-dried foods are compact and lightweight, which makes them easy to transport and store.
Notes: Freeze-dried foods tend to be pricey, which means you may not be able to afford enough of them to constitute the bulk of your emergency kit. However, because they are so compact and lightweight, they are a good option for stocking your go bag (sometimes called a bug out bag). A go bag is a portable emergency kit (usually kept in a backpack or similar container) to facilitate evacuation, not long-term survival. Many freeze-dried foods must be reconstituted with water, so be sure to have enough of this on hand.
Granola bars or energy bars
Why: Granola bars and energy bars contain a lot of calories in proportion to their size. Many are made of protein-rich ingredients and some have added vitamins and minerals. They are easy to transport and require no preparation before they can be consumed. Additionally, kids tend to enjoy them.
Notes: Granola and energy bars have varying shelf lives depending on their ingredients (most are good for a year or so after their date of manufacture), so you’ll want to periodically eat your granola and energy bar stores and replace them with fresh ones. Because granola and energy bars are individually wrapped and relatively high in calories, they are a good option for stocking your go bag. You can also purchase special high-calorie energy bars that are designed for use during emergencies.
Why: Meat jerkies have very long shelf lives and are good sources of protein. They are relatively light, easy to transport, and require no preparation before consumption. They can be consumed on their own or can be cut up and added to other foods (such as rice and beans or soups).
Notes: When purchasing jerky, take a look at the ingredient list. Jerkies contain some form of preservative (they have, after all, been cured in salt and spices in order to preserve them), but many also contain lots of unnecessary junk: MSG, corn syrup, hydrolyzed corn gluten, fermented soy beans, etc. There is no advantage to consuming jerkies that contain these ingredients, so stick with those that are more natural.
Why: Rice is incredibly affordable (it costs about $1.00 per pound or even less when purchased in bulk) and readily accessible. It is high in carbohydrates, which provide a lot of calories to sustain you if you are exerting yourself physically. If stored properly, rice will stay in good condition for a decade or longer.
Notes: Though brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, white rice is generally a better option for emergency kits because it will not go rancid while being stored (brown rice will go rancid because of the oils in the bran and germ). Make sure your emergency preparedness plans provide you with sufficient water and a heat source because both of these are needed to prepare rice.
Why: Beans are very affordable, yet they are packed full of protein and other nutrients. There are a number of varieties available and they make you feel full when you’ve eaten them. When stored properly, beans remain in good condition for a decade or longer.
Notes: Beans require a heat source and a lot of water to cook, so be sure to store sufficient amounts of water and have access to a heat source if you include these in your disaster kit.
This information has given me some direction as I restock our preparedness kit. For additional information on the best foods to include in a disaster preparedness kit, visit my sources: here, here, and here.
What additional foods would you add? Which do you consider essential for your preparedness kit?
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