The Best Survival Food Guide in 2024

The Best Survival Food Guide in 2024

by Rebekah Brown

Authorities recommend storing at least three days’ worth of food for an emergency. Those of us concerned with preparedness know that three days is the bare minimum when it comes to essentials. 

In this article, we’ll show you how to have enough food to last you a while in case of an emergency situation, including what foods to include, how to store them, and how to extend the shelf life for such foods to improve their longevity. 

Source: Ray Shrewsberry on Unsplash

Table of Contents

  • 01

    Why You Should Have an Emergency Food Supply

  • 02

    What is “Survival Food” Anyway?

  • 03

    Pros and Cons of Specialized Survival Food Kits

  • 04

    How to Start an Emergency Food Supply with Normal Pantry Items

  • 05

    Best Survival Goods to Include in your Storage

  • 06

    Special Considerations for Unique Family Needs

  • 07

    Cooking for Preppers

  • 08

    Conclusion: It’s Not Hard to Start a Survival Food Stockpile

Why You Should Have an Emergency Food Supply 

If you’re planning for emergencies, food and water are basic needs that you need to account for. Most preppers begin their planning by going for emergency food kits or other freeze-dried foods. 

This plan is based on the assumption that you’ll be “bugging in,” or sheltering in your home, rather than “bugging out,” or trying to evacuate. If you have an evacuation kit (which you should!), that should include a three-day supply of nutritious, nonperishable food per person, with at least a year shelf life. 

Short Term Emergencies 

Some temporary emergencies include:

  • Storms
  • Tornados
  • Floods
  • Power Outages
  • Violence
  • Water boil alerts
  • Disease surges


Disasters affect people psychologically and many people panic and rush to stores to buy large quantities of food, toiletries, and emergency supplies. This means you may not be able to purchase these items in local stores during an emergency. Food may be available but far more expensive than usual, which is why it's important to stock up on essential survival items like canned foods. 

Source: Chris Gallagher on Unsplash

This makes it handy to have a short-term supply of shelf-stable food in your home so you can avoid the stores until supply and prices return to normal. 

Long Term Emergencies 

A survival situation disrupting normal life could include:

  • War
  • Terrorism
  • Epidemics/pandemics
  • Governmental collapse
  • Long-term water supply pollution
  • Chemical spills
  • Nuclear event

The larger your emergency survival food stock, the better prepared you will be in case something goes wrong. 

The problem with storing a lot of food is that it can spoil. Prepping for long-term emergency food storage involves choosing goods with a long shelf life and foods you already eat, storing it correctly in your pantry, and ensuring that your nutritional needs are met. 

What is “Survival Food” Anyway?

People usually picture someone living in a mountain house or up in the jungle gnawing on military-style ration bars when the topic of survival food comes up. While MREs (meals ready to eat) are certainly an option, most preppers opt to build their food store using regular ingredients.

These foods should be: 

  • Long shelf life
  • Nutrient-dense
  • Versatile

  • Portable (If you think you may need to evacuate)

Shelf Life

“Shelf life” refers to the amount of time that a food item can be stored at room temperature in a pantry, cabinet, or other regular home storage without spoiling. Survival food should not be dependent upon refrigeration, since you can’t rely on the electric grid working during an ongoing disaster. It's why preppers often prefer powdered goods because they don't expire easily.

Canned goods, pasta, rice, crackers, dried fruit, jerky, summer sausage, spices, oils, and flour are all shelf-stable. If you cook at home regularly, you are already familiar with which items can be stored in the shelf and which ones you need to refrigerate.

Most of these items have a shelf between one and five years. You can use a tool like FoodKeeper to look up storage and safety recommendations for different foods. Some goods, like maple syrup, can last quite a while in storage, especially if you keep them unopened. For instance, when frozen, a sealed jug of maple syrup has an indefinite shelf life!

Nutrient-Dense

It goes without saying that your list of essential survival foods should have a high nutritional content. Home canned foods like canned chicken and other meats, or even rice and beans provide plenty of protein. Pasta, rice, and crackers are filling and offer complex carbohydrates. Plus, a bag of rice or oatmeal can easily last for years if you know how to properly store them. Canned or dried fruits and vegetables offer extra vitamins and nutrients. Creating a balanced mix of all these items helps to ensure proper nutrition if you need to live off your stored food for weeks or months! 

Versatility

Adding some versatile spices like chili powder or Italian seasoning to your supply will make it easier to create some variety. Taste will not be the first thing on your mind during an emergency, but adding in a little bit of seasoning can make a meal of beans and rice far more appetizing. Consider adding some quality-of-life items like hard candy or dried fruit to your supply to keep spirits up, especially if you have children in your group. 

The University of Georgia suggests the following amounts of shelf stable food per adult per year:

Source: Judy Harrison and Elizabeth Andress, The University of Georgia

Portability

Consider if you want your food supply to be portable. While you won’t be able to tote months’ worth of groceries in a backpack, emergency food can be stored in portable buckets that can be loaded into the trunk of your car. Obviously, you will want to ensure that such goods are easy to prepare, so you can consume your meals on the go.

Pros and Cons of Specialized Survival Food Kits 

Some companies advertise specialized survival food kits. These can be a good option if you want an off-the-shelf solution. But, there are a few pros and cons to consider:

Pros:

  • Convenience - it’s done for you
  • Portability - many of these are pre-packed for space optimization
  • Quality - curated specifically for emergencies
  • Clear expiration/replacement dates

There are some drawbacks to these kits though:

Cons:

  • More expensive than building your own
  • May not meet specialized diets (diabetics, food allergies)
  • Not as easy to “use up” in your non-emergency meals

Source: Hope Hodge Seck on Military.com

How to Start an Emergency Food Supply with Normal Pantry Items 

Ready to get started? 

Now that you know the basics, decide how much of a food supply you want to stock. For this example, we’ll say two weeks. 

Make a list of shelf-stable, nutrient dense foods that you can remix in a variety of ways. Make a meal plan, Day 1 through Day 14, of all the meals you can make with foods on this list. Don't forget to incorporate your macros when creating a plan.

We recommend sticking to things that you eat as part of your normal diet and those that can be used in a variety of dishes, like peanut butter or pasta. This way, when items get close to their expiration date you can simply cook them for dinner and buy replacements. That way, you’re always prepared for an emergency and you’re not wasting food. 

Best Survival Goods to Include in your Storage

Some popular foods to include:

  • Peanut butter
  • Crackers
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Canned beans
  • Canned meat
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruit
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Single-serve containers of applesauce
  • Energy bars
  • Shelf-stable protein shakes
  • Dried milk
  • Cereal
  • Oats
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Salsa
  • Spices
  • Freeze dried food

Consider your regular diet and what you find appetizing. It’s usually easier to store large quantities of one ingredient that can be used a lot of different ways (like oats) than to try to have four cans of twenty kinds of vegetables, for example. 

Where and How to Store Survival Goods 

Many people simply keep their survival goods in their pantry as part of their regular food supply. Remember never to store canned goods where they can be frozen or submerged, as this can ruin the food and even cause food poisoning.

There are additional ways to extend the life of shelf-stable food. 

  • Oxygen Absorbers
  • Mylar Bags
  • Metal or Glass containers (instead of plastic)
  • Separate Storage 

Source: Monika from Pixabay

Oxygen absorbers are small packets of salt and iron that can be included with certain prepackaged goods to lengthen shelf life by slowing the process of oxygen spoiling the food. Oxygen absorbers can be tricky, however - they cannot be used with high moisture food or they can cause botulism poisoning. They also won’t help with items that are not sealed or that are stored in plastic. 

Mylar bags are popular for keeping your survival stash safe in long term storage. You can repackage your store-bought items or bulk foods into Mylar bags. These keep out heat, light, and moisture. Once packed, seal the opening with a special heat sealer or a hair straightener. 

If used properly, foods stored in Mylar bags can last over twenty years. 

Food stored in plastic won’t last as long, since plastic allows some oxygen to permeate the walls of the container. Metal or glass storage (like a can or jar) can help solve this problem. Some people store bulk items like rice, oats, and flour inside of mylar bags and then place these in food-grade 5-gallon buckets with a sealed lid to maximize their shelf life.  

Source: USDA

Remember to Check and Refresh your Stash

Decide if you want to create a separate area with your survival food supply and label it appropriately. If the food is kept separate from your regular pantry, make sure you are checking it and refreshing items regularly.

For example, brown rice has a shelf life of 1-2 years. When you check your stash, remove the rice that is getting close to its expiration date and add it to your regular groceries. Do the same for goods with a shorter shelf life, and replace them.

One prepper approach is to create a list of everything that’s in their survival pantry with the expiration dates included. This shopping list can be taped to the wall in your storage area and makes it easier to replenish your goods later. It also makes it easier to explain your system to another person. 

Special Considerations for Unique Family Needs

There is no one-size-fits all solution for long-lasting food preparation. As we've talked about, the best emergency food supply is one that you enjoy consuming, offers ease of preparation, and has a long-lasting life. The list provided above is a great starting point, but you’ll want to customize it to you and your family’s particular needs.

During any discussion of food, consider solutions for: 

  • Specialty diets/allergies
  • Infant formula
  • Pets

For example, if a family member has a nut allergy, then you’ll want to consider an alternative source of protein to peanut butter, like soy or sunflower butters. 

Pet food can be stored in food-grade buckets to lengthen its shelf life and should be checked and refreshed just like the rest of your emergency food, as they contain vitamins and minerals and the content deteriorates over time. 

Cooking for Preppers 

Grains like rice, lentils, flour, and oats are a great source of fiber, and are relatively cheap, especially when you buy in bulk. Plus, they are easy to store, and nutrient dense. Like canned goods, if you store them properly, they'll last you a while.

You can’t eat these foods raw, though, so you need to have a plan for cooking them in case of an emergency. Remember, you can’t rely on the grid. 

Choose a non-electric cooking method and learn how to use it. Butane, propane, and solar stoves are all popular options. For short-term emergencies, you could use your grill, a campfire outside, or even an indoor fireplace to prepare fresh food. Never use charcoal inside, as you will produce carbon monoxide. Make sure you have enough fuel stored for your preferred cooking method and check and refresh it every few months. 


Source: University of Central Florida

Keep in mind that weather conditions may not be optimal, so consider a variety of no-cook meals to mix in with ones that need to be cooking. 

Remember, home-canned vegetables need to be boiled for 20 minutes to kill harmful bacteria. So if you’re relying on home-canned foods, make sure your heating source can sustain a rolling boil for 20 minutes. 

Think about including other safety tools in your emergency cooking kit, like a fruit and vegetable sanitizer and contamination testing kit. 

Dried beans and rice are usually top picks for the best survival foods, but cooking them correctly takes some skill. Make sure that you’ve practiced soaking and cooking dried beans so that you know how to do it in an emergency. 

What about Taste? 

In a survival situation, you likely won’t be worried too much about how your food tastes. With a little extra planning, it’s not too hard to ensure that the food you have is easier to enjoy. This also makes it easier if you are sheltering in place with kids.

Seasonings also help mask staleness or loss of flavor from foods that have been stored a long time. Plain beans and rice taste a lot better with some salsa or enchilada sauce on top. 

Consider including basic shelf stable seasonings and flavorings likes:

  • Jarred salsa
  • Canned enchilada, spaghetti, or sloppy joe sauce
  • Chili powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • Paprika
  • Garlic Powder
  • Sugar
  • Italian seasoning
  • Lemon pepper

These spices can be found inexpensively and are easy to refresh regularly. 

Source: Alan Levine, Wikimedia Commons

Conclusion: It’s Not Hard to Start a Survival Food Stockpile

You don’t need a massive underground bunker or a fortune to start stocking up on food for an emergency. Many people simply mark off a small section of their pantry for long term food storage based on foods they already eat.

As with all survival strategies, planning is the most important part. Know the food you have, how to cook it, and how to make it last. 

Sources:

Preparing an Emergency Food Supply, Short Term Food Storage,” University of Georgia 

What Should Your Emergency Pantry Look Like?” Mississippi Office of Homeland Security  

Food,” Ready.gov. 

Oxygen Absorbers,” Carolyn Washburn, Utah State University Cooperative Extension 

Oxygen absorbers in food preservation: a review,” Simon Angelo Cichello, Journal of Food Science and Technology

Unraveling The Mystery: Using Mylar Bags and Buckets,” Homestead Dreamer 

“What foods should I keep in my house for emergencies?” U.S. Dept. of Agriculture 

Create Your ‘Go Bag’,” The State of California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention

Anticipated scarcity and stockpiling during the COVID-19 pandemic: The role of perceived threat, childhood SES and materialism,” Schumaker, Micheli, and Gesser-Edelsburg, PLOS One

Shelf-Stable Food Safety,” U.S. Department of Agriculture 

FoodKeeper,” The Food Industry Association

Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers,” Total Prepare

Solar Cookers,” University of Central Florida