When food supplies are limited, an average adult can get by for a long period of time on about half their normal consumption. On the other hand, infants and young children cannot. Additionally, the elderly or sick have special dietary needs of their own. So, when going about creating your stash of food, choose products that do not require cooking or refrigeration. This means canned, dried, freeze-dried foods and MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).

MRE’s were once only available to the military as daily rations, but the public can now obtain similar products. They are complete, balanced meals or meal components packed in nitrogen or oxygen. Some even come with heater packs for cooking. While expensive, they are portable, superbly packaged and practically last forever!

You may also find something similarly long-lasting and pre-packaged in your grocery store. Check the “prepared foods” isle and read the labels; some are for long-term storage more than others. This type of food is less economical than MRE’s or canned goods. Avoid buying specially prepared food with which you are not familiar; it will be expensive and may be a disappointment during a time of stress.

Instead, select three or four days of non-perishable goods you know your family will enjoy and that fall in line with what you normally eat. If you need a jump start, use your pantry inventory to give you some indication of the types of food your family likes. Build from there using the suggestions below and store everything in a cool, dark place.

  • Canned fruits, vegetables and meats (those with pull-top covers eliminate the need for a can opener)
  • Dried fruits and nuts
  • Protein bars
  • Healthy cereal (nuts mean additional protein)
  • Comfort food – trail mix or easily portable foods that have good nutritional content for caloric
  • A few “junk food” treats to boost morale

Food in the Freezer

If you are home or someplace where there is food in a freezer, anticipate it lasting up to 72 hours without power. The variation in the number of hours depends on how well the freezer is sealed, the outside temperature and how often you open the door.

REMEMBER: You may have frozen leftovers or precooked foods that were intended for future use. An emergency qualifies as a good time to use them.

Cooking Outdoors

In a real emergency you can usually expect to be without power, yet that does not mean cooking is out of the question. Having some way to boil water, make coffee and have a hot meal can do wonders for morale. If you are able get set up for cooking during a catastrophe you can considerably expand your emergency food list.

Barbecues are naturally at home in the out-of-doors, but backpacking and car camping stoves, fueled by small cans of propane, are inexpensive alternatives as well.

Sterno® is a petroleum product often seen in special canisters for keeping food warm at buffets. These small, lightweight containers can provide cooking heat (approx. 200° F) for about 45 minutes, which is high enough to get a slow simmer going. These canisters can be found at supermarkets.

Sterno® also makes a stove (retailing for around $10) that holds the can, making it a lot easier and safer to use. Both the stove and canisters can be found at sporting goods and camping supply stores. Of course, the Sterno® stoves should only be used outdoors.

Next>> Month 6: Emergency Equipment/Supplies