Use This Scalable List to Build an Emergency Food Supply

Reader Contribution by Carole Cancler
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Home preserved foods can be part of your emergency food supply. Photo by Carole Cancler

There are several ways to build an emergency food supply to stock a survival kit and a “bug out bag”. While you can purchase specialized food products or a self-contained emergency preparedness kit, these can be costly and wasteful.

Instead, you can simply assemble shelf-stable foods that you already buy or preserve at home. Many canned, dried, and pickled foods are quite suitable for use in an emergency kit.

Types of Emergency Kits

The contents of home emergency kits and bug out bags are adjusted for different situations, as well as different groups of people. There is no “one-size-fits-all” emergency kit.

For example, different emergency supplies are needed for urban families who might need to shelter in place during a snow storm versus a family planning a day-trip into a wilderness area. Likewise, different supplies and amounts are needed for single people, couples, and families with children of varying ages.

A bug out bag or “go” bag is often used in the event of evacuation. It is a compact supply kit containing essential emergency supplies. A bug out bag typically includes food, appropriate clothing, first-aid, and other supplies. Go-bags can be prepared for any number of people or days. When an emergency strikes, just grab the bag and go!

It is recommended to prepare go kits for the car and office, in case you are stranded away from home where your household emergency preparedness kit is kept.

Here are some places to get ideas for emergency preparedness kits and go-bags:

Visit: and search for “emergency kjt” and “go-bag”.

Check out the original “Ten Essentials” list from The Mountaineers, a non-profit community of outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest.

Search online for scouting organizations and local hiking groups to find lists of recommended supplies for various emergency situations.

Your local government likely has information about disaster preparedness specific to your region. For example, you may need to prepare an earthquake kit or hurricane kit.

Types of Emergency Foods

Food is of course an essential part of any emergency kit. Major retailers offer many emergency food options, including ready-to-eat meals (known as MRE’s), emergency preparedness kits, and freeze-dried foods often sold for hiking and camping. While MRE meals, kits, and special foods are a convenient solution, they also tend to be expensive.

MRE’s and emergency kits can be wasteful, especially if the product is discarded and replaced every few years as recommended by the manufacturer. So, it might make more sense to create an emergency food supply from items you already preserve at home or buy at the grocery store.

Instead of MRE meals or freeze-dried foods, simply stock an extra supply of pantry foods you already use and consume. Recommended foods include canned meat, fish, and beans, dried meat and fish jerky, canned and dried soups, dry cereal and crackers, protein or cereal bars, shelf-stable milk (canned, powdered, or boxed), bottled or boxed fruit juices, dried fruits, canned nuts, and peanut butter.

Other considerations for your emergency food supply are comfort foods to alleviate stress (for children as well as adults). Comfort foods might be anything from Cheerios cereal or a favorite flavor of instant oatmeal to garlic dill pickles, bagged popcorn, and dark chocolate. Finally, don’t forget any special needs such as infant formula or pet food. For more ideas and recommendations for emergency foods, visit:

Types of emergency foods include dried, pickled, and canned foods. Don’t forget a few comfort foods and snacks.

Scalable Emergency Supply List

The following list of pantry foods will supply about 1,800 calories—enough for an “average” person for one day in an emergency. The list relies on ready-to-eat foods that require no cooking or simple reheating using a portable or camp stove (no microwave or oven, which may not be available during a natural disaster or extended power outage).

In a mixed family of men, women, teenagers, and children, simply multiply this list by the number of people for which you are storing an emergency food supply.

If you have more male teenagers or adults than women or children, you may want to increase your count by one for every two or three male teenagers or adults.

Likewise, if your household is mostly women and children, you can scale down the amounts slightly. But since they’re foods you already have on hand, the amount you store for emergency can be very flexible.

Proteins:meat, fish, or beans (choose two per person per day)

½ can (12 ounces) corned beef or SPAM
1 can (15 ounces) baked beans
1 small (4-6 ounces) or ½ large (12 ounces) can chicken, tuna or salmon
1 can (~4 ounces) sardines or mackerel
½ can (18-19 ounces) ready-to-serve hearty soup, such as chili or clam chowder

Vegetables and vegetable soups (choose two per person per day)

1 can (10-11 ounces) condensed vegetable soup, such as tomato, potato, minestrone, etc.
1 can (18-19 ounces) ready-to-serve canned vegetable soup
1 serving (3-4 ounces) dried vegetable soups (with or without beans or pasta)
1 can (14-15 ounces) vegetables, such as green beans, carrots, peas, corn, or mixed
As needed: shelf-stable milk for drinking, dry cereal, and creamed soups

Fruits and juice (choose two per person per day)

½ can (15 ounces) fruit, such as fruit cocktail, pears, pineapple, mandarin oranges, etc.
1 bottle (10 ounces) 100% juice
2 each (6 ounces) canned or boxed 100% juice
2 ounces dried fruit, such as apricots, plums/prunes, mango, etc.

Cereal and crackers (choose two per person per day)

1 ounce dry cereal, such as Wheaties, Corn Flakes, Cheerios, etc.
1 ounce crackers or crisp bread, such as Triscuit or Rye Krisp
As needed: shelf-stable milk for drinking, dry cereal, and creamed soups 

Snacks (choose two per person per day)

1 cereal or energy bar (~1½ ounces) providing less than 20 grams protein
1 protein bar (~1½ ounces) providing 20 or more grams protein
1 ounce beef, turkey, or salmon jerky
1 ounce Trail mix, mixed nuts, almonds
1 ounce (2 Tablespoons) Peanut, almond, or another nut butter

Comfort foods or special needs (choose as desired or needed)

Cookies, popcorn, or chips
Chocolate bars or candy
Hot beverages (hot cocoa mix, instant coffee, tea bags)
Dried macaroni & cheese or canned pasta dinner such as Spaghetti-O’s
Condiments (packets or small jars of mayo, mustard, ketchup, ranch dressing, etc.)
Pickled vegetables such as beets, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, or mixed (giardiniera or chow chow), etc.
Special needs for member s of your family, such as infant formula or pet food

Some final thoughts: it is important that the foods in your emergency supply are familiar to you and your family. When dealing with an emergency, eating unfamiliar foods places more stress on everyone, particularly young children.

So, be sure to consume foods from your emergency supply on a regular basis. Mix them into your monthly menu. You might even schedule an occasional “emergency night dinner” and serve a meal composed of your emergency food supply, along with a home movie or board game night.

Familiarity and a little practice will help everyone feel more secure in the event of an actual emergency.

Hearty vegetable soup makes a good emergency food. It’s easy to prepare, nourishing, and comforting. Photo byTimolina –

Carole Cancler is the author of The Home Preserving Bible. She has traveled to more than 20 countries on four continents to attend cooking schools and explore food markets. She studies the anthropology of food with a focus on how indigenous foods have traveled and been integrated into world cuisine. Read all of Carole’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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