You’re ready to crank up the food storage. And you’ll be doing it for your family of 4. Fantastic! Building up a well-fortified pantry is an important undertaking.
It’s important to remember however, that stocking up on survival food is a 2-fronted battle:
- Stocking up on things that you will actually eat, and
- Learning how to actually cook and eat the things that you stockpile.
In other words, don’t just stock up on 100 pounds of rice or dry beans if you don’t really know how to cook rice or beans. And at the same, you should learn how to actually cook and prepare rice and beans in some tasty ways that you like.
For many of us, #2 is probably a harder task. Compared to generations gone before, most of us are really far removed from cooking, especially cooking with the kind of raw, bulk ingredients that typically store really well. For that reason, I recommend collecting a handful of easy to prepare survival recipes, so that our “bucket o’ beans” isn’t just some weird, boring thing in the pantry that we’ll figure out on the day that we absolutely have to (bad idea anyway).
This guide provides you with our complete survival food list, our recommendations on supplies for creating and preserving your own long term foods, criteria to look for when you’re building your food storage, and answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Table of Contents
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- Quick and Easy Meals
- Grains and Starches
- Sauces, Oils, and Condiments
- Shelf Stable Dairy
- Snacks and Luxuries
- Juices and Other Beverages
- Bulk Staples
- Freeze Dried Emergency Foods
- Baking Ingredients
- Vitamins and Supplements
- Animal and Pet Food Storage
- Criteria for Choosing Your Survival Food
- Survival Food Storage and Preservation Supplies
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Ready to Get Going?
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Quick and Easy Meals
The first thing that you’ll want to consider when you’re assembling your food storage is a supply of some easy to make, good-tasting, box and can entrees (soups can also fall into this category, see below).
No these aren’t usually “healthy” by any stretch of the imagination, but they are quick, foolproof, and delicious. When things are hectic and falling apart, you don’t want to be soaking black beans for 3 hours or worrying about baking bread from scratch.
The name of the game with these meals is throwing something together to easily fill the family’s stomachs, so you can regroup and figure out your next move.
- Waffle/Pancake Mixes
- Stovetop Meals and Stuffing
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Potatoes Au Gratin
- Canned Spaghetti, Ravioli and similar products (think Chef Boyardee)
Grains and Starches
Only a small step removed from the “Quick and Easy Meals” category above, grains and starches are incredibly long lasting, and typically easier cooking than lots of other things.
They are inexpensive and should ultimately be the backbone of your survival food. They are usually carb heavy and a good source of quick energy, although better if they can be coupled with proteins, sauces, and veggies to make them more tasty and nutritious.
- Bulk Pastas and Noodles – spaghetti, macaroni, fettuccine, linguini
- Bulk Instant Potatoes
- Cereals: In particular, think about stuff like shredded wheat (some decent nutritional value)
- Instant Rice Mixes
Proteins are the building blocks you need to create and repair cells. While it is definitely possible to get protein from plant sources such as beans, nuts and grains, the largest and most prevalent sources of proteins stem from animals.
Canned meats offer an inexpensive and long lasting way to incorporate some protein into your emergency food. Jerky is a tasty but expensive and less shelf stable source of protein (making it more of a snack or luxury item than a staple).
Over the last couple of decades, protein shakes and bars have become increasingly popular, and also provide a quick and easy way to get some protein on the go.
- Canned Beans – You can get these much cheaper in dry bulk, but they will require a lengthy cooking process. We recommend having at least a small supply of canned beans that are ready to open and eat right away
- Peanut Butter and Other Nut Butters.
- Protein Bars
- Protein Powder and Shake Mixes
- Canned Beef
- Canned Turkey
- Canned Chicken
- Vienna Sausages
- Hot Dogs and Cured Sausages
- Dehydrated eggs
- Boxed Tofu
Soups are a time-honored way of filling up stomachs. Need to feed a couple more people on the fly? Easy! Just add more liquid and water it down.
Historically, soup has been the food of people in extreme poverty, people trying to extend wartime rations, or otherwise down on their luck. Today however, there are a lot of options to stock delicious and satisfying soups. Soup is also an awesome survival food, because it’s easy to prepare, and in most cases, very shelf stable.
- Canned Soups
- Dried Soup Mixes
- Make your own Rice and Bean Survival Soups (or “Garbage Soup”)
- Ramen Noodles
- Canned Chili
Fruits add a little punch of sugar that makes everything taste better. You can add fruits to oatmeal in the morning, eat them as snacks, or couple them with proteins (think peanut butter and jelly, trail mixes, even combos like turkey and cranberry or applesauce and ham).
In addition to being great-tasting, fruits add legit dietary value–vitamin C, potassium, iron, fiber, vitamin A, antioxidants and others (although some nutrients can be lost in preservation). The ideal fruit situation is to have access to fruit trees. That way, it really doesn’t matter if there is an emergency or not. But if you don’t, there are dried and canned varieties you can easily stock up on.
Keep in mind, dried fruits don’t have near the shelf life that anything canned will. Also, if you do have access to your own fresh fruit, drying and canning are 2 very easy ways to preserve (see preservation supplies below).
- Dried Fruits and Fruit Leathers
- Canned Fruits
- Jams, Jellies, and Preserves
Vegetables offer fiber and micronutrients, but depending on what you store they can also be a decent source of calories as well.
Focus on pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and other root crops for the highest calories. Although these are less common for lots of westerners to regularly eat, with the right preparation and seasonings, they are delicious and filling.
- V8 and similar vegetable juices
- Canned Tomatoes
- Canned Pumpkin
- Green Beans
- Mixed Vegetables
Sauces, Oils, and Condiments
The sauce and condiment family offers flavors and variety to an otherwise boring survival food list. Oils will provide you with energy, are loaded with calories, and essential in baking and cooking.
The key issue here is shelf stability. Coconut oil is actually one of the longer storing oils, lasting roughly 2 years on the shelf. Bottom line–be sure you know how long each item will last, label clearly, and remember to rotate.
- Salad Dressings
- BBQ Sauce
- Soy Sauce
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Organic Shortening
Shelf Stable Dairy
If you’re a hardcore homesteader, you may have a goat or cow that you can milk, but for the rest of us, a few dairy staples can go a long way. Powdered milk (or “whole milk powder”) can be used for drinking. It can also be used for baking, as can powdered eggs, evaporated milk, and whey (the lighter part of the milk that separates from the curds in processing…awesome protein, with virtually no fat).
Shelf stable cheeses are further out on the luxury spectrum, but can add some punch and pizzazz if you have the money and space for them. These include things like powdered Parmesan cheese, as well as hard cheeses encased in wax. Depending on what kind of cheese it is, and how well the processing is done, cheese preserved in this way can last 10-25 years.
- Evaporated Milk or Sweetened Condensed Milk (key difference is that, like the name says, condensed milk is usually sweetened).
- Powdered Milk
- Powdered Whey
- Shelf Stable Butter
- Shelf Stable Cheeses
Snacks and Luxuries
While snacks often aren’t quite as nutritive or healthy, they are comforting, and a nice little bit of energy in between meals. They fall lower in the survival food priority list, but if you have most of your other bases covered, it’s still not a bad idea to incorporate a couple into your preps if you can.
A word about “pemmican”: don’t buy the stupid prepper course floating around out there about how to make your own pemmican. The goal is to put together reliable food storage that will serve you well, meet your nutritional needs, be affordable, and be as simple as possible. The pemmican course is an expensive marketing offering detailing a complicated DIY project. Don’t get distracted by this–stay the course.
- Granola Bars
- Beef Jerky
- Trail mix
- Hard Cheeses Encased in Wax (can keep up to 25 years!)
- Pickles (if you’re able to find varieties in a can, less potential for glass breaking)
- Hard Candy
- Nuts: because of the amount of fat in nuts, they are not shelf stable for extremely long periods of time
- Chocolate or Chocolate Chips – If you have the other bases covered, stash away a little something to help the morale (usually only last about a year).
Juices and Other Beverages
Drinks can provide some variety and nutritional value to your food storage diet, but they are also just tasty. Think about how nice that steaming hot cup of hot chocolate is on a cold wintery day. Or for many folks, coffee and tea are a comforting part of a daily routine.
Drinks also offer a hit of energy and/or nutrition on the go. Think of this section as an “additional” layer that you can add to your preps, but not life or death.
At long last, we reach the “textbook” survival foods. Rice and beans. Hard wheat berries that last 25 years. Grains you’ve never heard of and have no idea how to pronounce.
Bulk staples are in the intersection of the cheapest and longest lasting long term food storage. Beans in particular, are high calorie, versatile to use, and can even be sprouted for a little fresh nutrition or the survival garden.
But the tradeoff is that they take a little while to learn how to cook and prepare. And even once you know, they can be the most time-consuming and involved to cook and prepared. Many beans need to pre-soak for a few hours, and then still cook for an hour or more. Unless you are using a rice cooker, rice can take quite a while to cook as well.
- Dry Beans
- Hard Grains – These grains have a hard protective shell, enabling them to be stored upwards of 25 years.
- Soft Grains – Like the name would suggest, these grains have a softer shell, and if stored properly, can have a shelf life of 8 years or more.
- Rice – one important thing to note is that even though brown rice is more nutritious, the shelf last is far less than white, Basmati, or Jasmine rice, making them better for long term storage.
Freeze Dried Emergency Foods
Freeze-dried foods are lighter, more compact, and better tasting than their canned food counterparts.
They can be made shelf-stable for several years (sometimes decades), oftentimes with much of the nutritional value preserved. They also typically taste better!
However, they are more expensive, and take longer to prepare (reconstitute and cook vs. open a can). Freeze dried fruits are a notable exception, and popular because you really don’t need to reconstitute them to enjoy. You can snack on a handful here and there.
- Freeze dried fruit: Great source of fiber and anti-oxidants. Pick up the bulk fruit bucket, or choose individual fruits, such as:
- Freeze dried vegetables
- Freeze dried meat
- Flour (preferably Whole Wheat Flour). Storing some actual wheat is also a great idea if you have a grinder (see bulk staples above).
- Iodized Salt
- Spices and Seasonings
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Leavening – Remember, this is what brings life to all of your dry storage for baking.
- Coconut Milk or Coconut Milk Powder
- Bullion Cubes
- Vegetable, Beef, or Chicken Stock
- Bread Crumbs
- Cornstarch or Potato Flour – thickening agent, also great for breading fish, vegetables, and other baked and fried items.
- Honey: Local is better if you can find it, but honey makes a great sugar substitute, and has several anti-bacterial and immunity properties.
- Cocoa Powder
Vitamins and Supplements
Vitamin D and Calcium are great for helping your body fight infections. Magnesium helps to counteract the wear that ongoing adrenaline and stress puts on your body. Other vitamins help your body to more effectively absorb nutrients, replenish itself and more.
Animal and Pet Food Storage
Don’t forget about the critters in your life! For many of us, our 4-footed friends are every bit as much family members as everybody else. Accordingly, ramping up on food storage for your animals is critical to think about ahead of time.
The expense here will vary greatly between cats, large dogs, and livestock. It’s also important to note that because of included proteins, many cat and dog foods are not shelf stable for longer than a few months.
Criteria for Choosing Your Survival Food
Survival Food Should Be Easy To Prepare
Think about how involved. How much cooking? How much fuel will this take? How much water will you need to prepare it? What if you don’t have access to a modern kitchen? Can you cook and prepare your foods using alternative methods, like a wood burning cookstove, solar oven, or campfire? This is one reason why canned foods are such all stars–open and eat!
It Needs To Have a Long Shelf Life
If your food doesn’t last long enough to be of value when you actually need it, what’s the point?
While it’s important to remember your food storage enough to be rotating it, for it to truly be “survival food”, it should be something that can give you years–decades if possible.
It Should Be Affordable
Food storage isn’t supposed to be gourmet, and neither should it be expensive. Food storage is supposed to keep you and your family alive during lean times when you might otherwise starve.
It should be affordable enough that you can build up a decent quantity over time without breaking the bank. In the list above, some items are more “critical” than others (like the “Snacks and Luxuries” section for instance). Be mindful of this as you stock up.
Emergency Food Should Be As Nutritionally Dense As Possible
Architects often talk about the “function” vs. “form” of a building. With food, nutrition is the “function”, and taste is the “form.”
While usually there is some middle ground, it’s particularly important to prioritize nutrition for food that you may be eating in a survival situation. As much as possible, the goal is to stock up foods that will actual give you fuel and keep you going.
Think About The Overall “Storability” of Your Food Storage
Although it’s low on the list, it’s an important consideration nonetheless. Storability has to do with the size, weight, and shape of certain foods.
Avoid glass jars whenever possible (obviously not possible when you are canning your own food, but something you can get around when you are buying store bought food). Glass jars present the added risk of breaking and damaging your food, the broken glass is dangerous to humans and pets, and glass bottles and jars are also easier to become contaminated in hurricane and flooding situations than their can counterparts.
Survival Food Storage and Preservation Supplies
If you are trying to build up your emergency food storage, there are a handful of supplies that can assist enormously in the process:
Food Storage Buckets
Food storage buckets are a no-brainer, but there are some important things to keep in mind. First of all, the buckets must be “food grade”, to ensure that there is no leaching of the plastic or toxins. Then, remember that the more waterproof and airtight you can keep your buckets, the better and quality and longer time you will be able to preserve your food.
Finally, the bigger your buckets are, the heavier they will end up being. There are 6-gallon food storage buckets on the market, but obviously one of these that’s filled to the brim is going to be much heavier than a 5-gallon.
Likewise, you can find smaller buckets that will be even lighter. You can usually find buckets around town, or you can score them on Amazon here.
Gamma Seal Lids
You may have heard of Gamma seal lids before. These are the best lids for your food grade buckets. They make buckets both waterproof and airtight, to ensure the absolute longest possible shelf life for your food.
You can find Gamma lids at Lowes, Walmart, Home Depot, Costco, and several other places. You can also get them shipped directly to your house by purchasing them from online.
Mylar Food Storage Bags
While the shelf life of food stored in mylar food storage bags isn’t quite as long as food in buckets or #10 cans, it is excellent for situations where you want a little more flexibility. It’s also a lighter container, so food stored this way can be a little more portable if you need to box it up or throw it in suitcases.
Some folks that really want to ensure food preservation quality, will even store food in mylar bags, that they then put inside of 5 gallon buckets.
See the lowest prices on these bags here.
Dried Long Term Food Storage Containers
There are a variety of dried food storage containers that you can use to extend the shelf life of your food. 5-gallon buckets are obviously one of the most common, because of their sturdiness, versatility, and large capacity. But as mentioned before, mylar bags and #10 cans are also popular.
Above and beyond that, it’s obviously possible to store food in any container you want. The major factors are that the containers are: food grade, waterproof, and airtight. The more that your long term food storage containers meet this criteria, the longer your food will keep. Here is a selection of some of the most popular choices for containers to keep your long term food storage in.
A solid pressure canner is a must for anybody that is serious about preserving their own food. While hot water bath canning is excellent for fruit, tomatoes, and other foods with higher acidity, pressure canning allows you to preserve foods like meat, soup, and vegetables.
The process is slightly more involved and involves extreme temps, but the outcome is that you will be able to shelf a much bigger variety of high quality food with a pressure canner.
As the name implies, a food dehydrator works by eliminating the moisture from your food, so that it can be stored for longer periods of time without spoiling. It can also make some foods more transportable and easy to eat.
Think about it–it would be a little difficult to throw a steak in your backpack to eat for lunch, but with food dehydrators it’s easy to make some beef jerky. The same is true of many foods.
Dehydrators are particularly awesome for making jerky and dried fruit. Once dehydrated, your food can be stored for months or years, particularly if you have a means of vacuum sealing it, or otherwise keeping it air tight. Later, you can enjoy your food in it’s dried form, or if you want, you can rehydrated it with water (usually for things you will be using in cooking).
The Excalibur is the gold standard of food dehydrators. Although they are not cheap, they are seriously high quality, and the company stands behind their products with a fantastic warranty.
A vacuum sealer allows you to package up the food that you are planning to store in a water-tight, air-tight container. They are great for meats and veggies that will be kept in the freezer. They are also good for dry ingredients that need a more durable or air-tight seal than the packaging that they were sold in. These machines look kind of like a laminator, and work similar too.
Check out the best sealers for food storage here.
Wheat Grinders and Grain Mills
If you will be storing whole wheat and other grains, a wheat grinder allows you to process them into flour, for cooking. People have been turning grains into flour since the beginning of time, so it’s fair to say that there are a bunch out there on the market today. The absolute best however, is the Country Living Grain Mill.
I have had one of these since 2012, and it is awesome. For starters, it can be used as either a hand-cranked grinder, or you can power it with a small motor. There’s even a belt attachment to hook it up with a bicycle, so the grinder is cranked as you pedal! This flexibility is great for emergency situations, because you might not actually have electricity when you want to use it.
The construction is also really heavy duty. They are American-made of solid, aircraft aluminum. The bearings that turn the crank are industrial level, and the cutters inside are made of high-quality, high-carbon steel (so they won’t dull quickly). The powder coatings are all FDA approved to be food safe. I also really like that it has the options to temporarily clamp it to your kitchen counter, or permanently bolt it in.
These suckers aren’t cheap (like, several hundred bucks not cheap), but they are hands down, the best, and will last throughout generations.
Frequently Asked Questions
What plans should I make for water on my survival food list?
Simply put, water is liquid life. Having it will keep you alive longer than any food, and conversely, not having it will kill you quicker than starvation. Another really important thing to consider is that you will use a significant amount of water in cooking (especially if you will be reconstituting anything dehydrated). If you really want to make sure you have this base covered, you need to have some water stored (multiple sized containers), a means of resupplying (rainwater collection, well, stream, nearby pond, lake, etc), and reliable means of purification (I recommend the Lifestraw or Aquamira Frontier Pro for your bug out bag, and the Berkey for your home). If possible, a bathtub water storage bladder like a WaterBob gives you the capacity to store 100 extra gallons, although you do need a few minutes notice to get it out and set up.
How much rice should I have on my survival food list?
Rice is one of the better foods to store because of its low cost and long shelf life. Families should store at least 300 pounds of grains per person, of which 25-60 pounds should be rice. This provides a solid staple food store that can be built around.
How do you store survival food for a disaster?
Emergency food storage should be shelf stable for the long term (as long as 25 years in some cases). It is best stored in air-tight, water-tight containers in cool, dark places. Some of the most effective and convenient ways to store bulk staples (such as rice, pasta, and other grains) are in sealed number 10 cans, or plastic 5-gallon buckets. The amount of light and heat in the storage area has a direct relationship to the time it takes for food stores to break down and/or spoil.
How do I stock up on food storage without breaking the bank?
There’s a few different ways to build up a year’s supply of food. You can:
- Piece together your long term food supply a little bit at a time, stocking cans and freeze-dried items from a survival food list (little by little or bulk sale)
- For the people that are really ambitious, you can preserve your own long term food storage through canning, dehydrating, and more.
- Buy some commercially manufactured, pre-packaged “survival food.” Convenient, tasty, and well thought out, but also more expensive.
Most people don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to plunk down on food storage all at once, so the best way to get cheap survival food is to assemble it a little at a time, when there are case lot sales, or other specials.
We recommend a layered, combination approach. Lots of “little by little” grocery store food, some of your own preservation, and at least a small assortment of the expensive, freeze-dried pouch meals (these are awesome in bug out bags also).
What are the best canned foods to store for survival?
This is a great question. The best canned foods to store are meats (see the protein section above) and vegetables. The reasons why are simple. These are the hardest kinds of food to get otherwise.
Unlike pasta, rice, and other carbs, meats and vegetables are much more expensive in their freeze-dried or dehydrated forms. Our advice is to incorporate them in their canned form as part of a well rounded long term food supply.
There are also plenty of soups, pastas, and other convenience foods, but remember, many of these can be had cheaper and lighter in a dehydrated form. Lastly, don’t forget a can opener!
Ready to Get Going?
Good! We’re excited to be with you on the journey of helping your family be more prepared.
Feeding a family of 4 is a big responsibility, so it’s good to be thinking about it. Like you know, there are a number of things that could happen to disrupt the food supply of grocery stores and distributors that service your area–floods, fires, earthquakes, or economic crises.
But there are also “personal disasters” that can affect you and your family, whether or not anybody else ever even knows about them. These are things like job losses, illnesses, injuries, car accidents, or death in the family. During these times, having the best emergency food possible is a wonderful blessing. Even 1-2 weeks’ worth of food can really ease the financial pressure of the moment. Having several months or year’s worth of food on hand–even better!
So before you get started however, a couple of final reminders:
First, if it’s possible, it’s great to have your stored food be a balance of:
- True “emergency” food – think food bars, MREs, Mountain House meals, and other freeze-dried pouch meals. Things you can be eating in less than 5 minutes.
- Short term “regular” food – things that can be eaten easily in the short term (cans, box dinners, and other things that you would normally get at a grocery store)
- Hardcore “long term” food storage – This is your dry bulk food, stuff like 25 pounds of beans, or “hard red wheat berries” that provides shelf-stable calories for decades if needed.
And second, remember that nobody else has a perfect “formula” for YOUR family.
Because so many people get intimidated out of taking any action, we recommend that you do a little of everything. In reality, storing food is less about following some specific recipe, and more about heading in a general direction. And at the end of the day, the goal is to do it in the way that best fits you and your family.