Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, and you never know when one will strike. Prepare for the unexpected by purchasing food to stockpile in case of emergency.
Keeping an emergency stockpile of dry goods and other shelf stable foods on hand can not only bring you peace of mind in an emergency, but it can also enable you to help family and friends who might be in a tight spot. Learn the best way for you to build a food stockpile on a budget.
If we’ve learned anything over the last few years is that life can take some unexpected turns. Food shortages, supply chain issues, and inflation have wreaked havoc on your grocery shopping habits of yore. It’s tempting to buy extra whenever possible.
Yet, we haven’t run out of emergencies, either. Earthquake, flood, tornado, hurricane, and the random pandemic can leave us feeling scattered. One thing to help calm the nerves before, during, and after is to have a supply of food to stockpile in case of emergency.
Why It’s Important
Interestingly, when my kids were little, I often worried about what we would do in case of an earthquake and the resulting upheaval (no pun intended) in utilities and services. We live in earthquake country and the risk was high.
I found that once I did some basic emergency preparedness, my worries decreased dramatically. The risk was still there, but I had a plan for it. And I had food for my babies.
I could continue on with normal life, leaving the worry for tomorrow… for tomorrow.
When you take a few extra steps with emergency food storage, you bring yourself peace of mind and an extra layer of protection against the hardships natural disasters can bring.
Let’s look at what you can do and what food to stockpile in case of an emergency and how to do it respectful of the grocery budget.
Check to see what you already have.
Depending on how you’ve shopped over the recent past, you may have food stuffs coming out your ears. It may not be a question of what food to stockpile, but where to store it and how best to use it.
After ten years of doing a yearly pantry challenge and talking with other home cooks doing the same, I think it’s safe to say that many of us already have several weeks of food on hand.
Do a good inventory to see what you have already before you buy more food to stockpile. Chances are you may have more than you think.
Examine the shelf life of what you already have. Items with more than a year until their dates can be relocated with your emergency supplies.
Choose food you would normally eat.
Depending on what emergencies could occur where you live, you don’t need to stock MREs. Unless you normally eat those.
It is a good idea, though, to buy food items you can store at room temperature since certain emergencies do put your fridge and freezer at risk of power loss.
But make it shelf stable.
The best food to stockpile is what you would normally eat, focusing on foods that are shelf-stable. Prioritize those items you really can’t live without like baby formula or foods for special diets.
Since packaged foods do have “best by” dates, you want to use things up in a reasonable amount of time. So don’t spend a fortune stocking up on food you don’t like. Focus on buying a few extras of what you normally consume.
Good examples of pantry stable foods include: oats, crackers, beans, rice, popcorn, canned and dried fruit, canned vegetables, coffee, chocolate, tea, sugar, canned or dried milk, nut and seed butters, canned meat and fish, broth and bouillon, pasta and other grains.
Our budget grocery list features a wealth of good food to stockpile that is also shelf-stable.
Make a meal plan.
The same rules apply when prepping for an emergency as they do any regular day: Don’t stockpile food that you don’t have a plan for.
Instead, have a meal plan ready so that you can keep to a routine and know what to do with the food you’ve socked away. You’ll spend less money and you’ll eat better, too!
In the event of an emergency, knowing what to make with your stockpile of food will help keep you calm as well as fed. And when it’s time to rotate your storage, it will be easy to use it up!
Consider a 14-day supply and how to meal plan for it:
Fourteen days includes 14 breakfasts, 14 lunches, and 14 dinners, plus snacks. That’s 42 meals per person, not including snacks. It’s a basic math problem and honestly, a fairly simple process.
- Print out two copies of this printable meal planner. It can hold a month of dinners or a week of breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners.
- Start plugging in meals that you know you like, based on foods that you already have, what’s on sale, and what can last awhile. Following your typical habits will help keep things on an even keel.
Meal planning for a month or a few weeks is a pretty simple process. It will help you make good use of what you have and calm your nerves, knowing that you’ll eat well for the duration.
Focus on sale items.
Hopefully you have plenty of time to shop at the grocery store for your emergency supply of food. If so, consider building it up over time, taking advantage of sales whenever possible.
This week I found these kinds of prices:
- coffee $6.99/12-ounces
- crackers $1.49/box
- canned fruit $3.99/12-pack of cups
- dry powdered milk $5.99/10 packets
I bought extras to have on hand and will swap them out with what’s already in our emergency stockpile.
Your sales may vary, but the idea is the same. If you’re stockpiling food, try to save money while you’re at it. Thankfully, some of the most budget-friendly foods are also shelf stable.
Expand your canned goods horizons.
I grew up on canned foods, as did my parents. But, I tend to cook with more fresh ingredients on a regular basis. However, canned foods have an advantage over fresh.
Canned goods are usually ready to eat from the can — hello, new convenience foods! — and can be stored virtually anywhere. Even if you don’t have a lot of space to stock your kitchen, you can store cans all over the house: under beds, in the back of closets, wherever you’ve got a little random space.
These Pantry Meals focus on canned goods and are absolutely delicious. Feel free to load up on these things, knowing you’ll have a way to use them up:
- rice (dry or the instant cups/packets)
- canned tuna
- canned tomato products
- pasta, noodles, ramen
Buy extra to share.
Buy enough food to stockpile for a couple weeks for your household and to share with friends and neighbors if needed. Not everyone has the time or resources to really prepare, so if you can swing it, have a little extra just in case.
Store it separately from your regular supplies.
I keep a few rubber totes of emergency supplies separate from my kitchen. This is for two reasons:
- They are packed and ready to go in case we needed to evacuate.
- I can shop my kitchen without concern over what would we do in an emergency.
In the totes, I also have my meal plans and any recipes I might need to access in order to use the food. In the aftermath of a true emergency, I don’t want to go searching for a recipe!
At the end of each summer, I pull out the tubs and remove anything that needs to be used up. I store things with dates out far enough so that I when I rotate stock, I still have three to six months to use up that item.
In this way, I get to prep for my emergency and avoid food waste all in one go.
While we hope that an emergency won’t strike too close to home, it pays to be prepared. Even if it’s just a little peace of mind.
More Ways to Build Your Pantry
This post was originally published on March 12, 2020. It has been updated for content and clarity.
Thank you for the article and encouragement. I have created my meal plan for 2 weeks. Prayers to all. Be well.
Charity, what have you fixed? I am going stir crazy! Would love to share meal lists. Thanks
Great job, Charity!
Jessica, thank you for your helpful thoughts and reminders not to clear the shelves. I try to always have a stock of useful items in case of sickness or bad weather when I can’t get out. I do this by buying extra of what we use when it is on sale and that helps keep it affordable. So we are in pretty good shape and I’m very glad during this crisis.
Canned chicken and tuna or salmon are always useful for quick meals combined with rice, potatoes or pasta. Also, keep a few treats available or baking supplies to make them. This helps a lot during stressful times.
I’m very grateful for your guidance during pantry challenges. It has helped my learn what is and isn’t worth keeping on hand.
Alice and Jessica,
You remined me that I had decided my last Costco trip on the 11th that I bought a package of canned chicken and canned salmon. The salmon my husband eats on a spinach salad often. I will used the chicken as a meal of last resort because I am using the month of easy homemade meals book that I purchased and read all the meals and found the shopping lists most helpful. Its been great, 10nmeals so far and 4 in the freezer. Have three days worth meat, roast chicken, chicken breast and my beef chuck roast thawing for meals this weekend. Its been good to have my son cook with me, even though he can’t do his nursing school work due to covid-19. Made cookies today..yum!
The meal prer helps so much while eating out is not an option. Good luck everyone. Be safe and well.
So glad to hear that the meal plan is working well for you, Heather! Stay well!
Yes to the treats! We’ve been eating nonstop around here.
Miss Jessica, I appreciate you, your wonderful tips to save our families money and amazing recipes to help our families eat well! I have used your cookbooks and website to find great recipes that my family loves to eat. I used your pantry challenge to stretch our food one week where we had some unexpected expenses. We ate well and did not even need to buy much more than dairy, fruits and veggies that week. Thank you!
Yay! So glad to hear it. I know you’ll do well in the coming weeks. Blessings to you and yours!
In our neck of the woods, spring storms often lead to power outages so we have focused on stocking shelf stable items. We have not purchased extra fridge/freezer items. We know our children are going to be home from school for at least 3 weeks. Consequently, I have made sure each family member has a small store of their favorite treats — candy, chips, lemonade, etc. While probably not very healthy in normal times, probably good for everyone’s mental health to have a few comfort foods around. While my children are putting on a brave face, I can tell they are nervous. My best wishes for everyone to stay well. I told my staff this morning to remember a little kindness and a dose of humor goes a long way in coping with tough times.
Great idea. All the cravings for things that we don’t have are now coming out. LOL!
I also am fine. After a successful pantry challenge in January, I purchased some good deals on proteins and restocked my freezer. I need to buy more potatoes and onions then I am set. I did buy the ultra pasteurized milk so it will last longer. We also have three months worth of freeze dried food (with recipes!) stored in our garage that I hope we never have to break into. As I live in Washington in an area that has been hit hard, I’m glad to have the stock I have and the ability to share with others.
Stay well! Glad you’re set up!
I just looked through my freezers, and you are right… we certainly have more food than I realized!
Your practical, helpful ideas are great, and I appreciate your reminders to remain kind, patient, and calm.
Thank you so much, Connie!
I read this, looked around my house and realized- you are right! We have more than 14 days of food- at least a month. I asked my older daughter to help me think about what we might be missing- she was also convince we are well stocked and will be just fine. I need to grab a few stock-up items rice- to keep the family sane and coffee- to keep me sane….haha.
Yay! So glad to hear you’re all set.