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How Should I Choose Disaster Survival Foods?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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Choosing the right disaster survival foods to store for consumption during and after a disaster is critical to not only making your survival possible, but also making it comfortable. Often, people think of boring canned vegetables and powdered milk when they think about foods that will help them survive. While these things do have their place, there's so much more you can and should have in your disaster stores.

Start by making water a priority on your list. For each person in your home, you should have no less than 3 gallons (11.3 liters) of water on hand. This will give each person enough water to wash up, cook with, and drink for about three days. Since you cannot be sure that help and supplies will arrive that quickly, you may do well to store a seven-day ration of water to give you a better chance of survival. If you have a family of five people, this means storing 35 gallons (132.5 liters).

Next, stock up on canned foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and starches, but don't stick to just the boring selections like peas and potatoes. Instead, go for a variety of vegetables and include choices for satisfying your sweet tooth, such as peaches and pears. Include meats and soups, as consuming nothing but fruits and vegetables can grow tiresome rather quickly and won't provide you with protein. You can store things like canned tuna, corned beef, beef stew, chowder, and even Spam®. While these things may not be as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, they can help your body to stay nourished and your taste buds satisfied until help arrives.

No list of disaster survival foods will be complete without spices. Store salt, pepper, and a selection of spices for adding flavor to your meals; don't forget sugar and flour. These things aren't strictly necessary, but they can go a long way toward making your family more comfortable and improving everyone's moods when you're stuck eating dried and canned foods. You should also have a supply of oil or cooking spray and a selection of condiments like ketchup and mustard. Buy smaller jars of mayonnaise or individual packets, as it goes bad quickly in the absence of refrigeration.

Milk is an important addition to your list of foods. Besides drinking it, you'll probably want to use it for cereal and cooking. You can buy milk that is pasteurized and needs no refrigeration until it is opened. You might also consider powdered milk, but that will require using some of your already-limited water supply.

Make sure your list includes vitamin-fortified cereal, which will not only provide nutritious breakfasts, but also healthy snacks, especially if you avoid those that are packed with sugar. You should also store a supply of snacks, such as pretzels and potato chips, which can help to keep spirits high during scary or chaotic times. Store only small quantities of rice, dried beans, and pastas. These require water for preparation, and you may not have much to spare. Additionally, make sure you add a selection of foods for anyone in your household who follows a special diet, such as infants and those with diabetes.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a HomeQuestionsAnswered writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon275595 — On Jun 19, 2012

I have lived through two hurricanes where we were without utilities for over two weeks each time, not to mention the downed trees, damaged buildings, etc.

I was jokingly termed a "survivalist" before all of these incidents because of my camping gear and preparedness skills. I am a former paramedic and lived close to nuclear power plants, so when the storms hit, I was fine.

My wife chooses to be with me because she says it is the safest place to be -- imagine that. Preparedness is a state of mind, not a list. It is a lifestyle, not an incident. Learn to live it and you will be glad when the bad times do come.

By anon149157 — On Feb 03, 2011

I have been in a prolonged disaster! If you are hungry enough, you will eat anything that you can put in your mouth! You can survive reasonably for three days without water, then get closer to death each day thereafter (less in a dry, desert environment).

Zerowater, a non-electric water purification cartridge system will solve the water supply problem. I do not have any connection with zerowater, except we now use this system for our drinking water. Look it up. Diabetics die without meds and food earlier than most! We have our emergency rations buried in a safe, secure place.

My family knows the exact location of containers (fiberglass, water tight), obtained at our local pet supply store! Trust me -- a bottle of water will be the currency of choice!

To shrug preparedness off, is to not provide for yourself, or family, in case of a ruinous emergency! There are no friendships if you are starving! Nothing defends your family as well as a 12 gauge shot gun, for close in defense. I am not a wild-eyed survivalist, just a realist if real bad things happen.

I will be very happy if I have spent money and time on something that never happens. Foodstuffs store for 15 years. It’s my job to provide for my family -- always!

By anon107063 — On Aug 28, 2010

106276 is not very informative and is completely wrong about this article.

There are some very good ideas written here. Though not a complete list, the items presented here are absolutely worth thinking about.

I would add a couple of small bottles of vodka, whiskey or even a six-pack, to barter/trade with, not to drink, as you might need something that you didn't think of. Money may not have any value when it's life or death.

By anon106711 — On Aug 26, 2010

I have served with on site response with honors and so I can say with authority, that this is a fine article! It gets people thinking in terms of preparedness, if nothing else.

Each person's needs are unique, so it is important to think what might be most useful and store well. Something for food, a good first aid kit, and entertainment. Creams and things that comfort you are good too, since they calm the stress in an emergency. Whatever works is valid. Also, since these preparedness kits often never get used, if we are lucky, replace your kit from time to time, to keep the items safe and fresh, and donate the old one to the food pantry as long as the dates are OK.

Thanks again, WiseGeek! Elle F.

By anon106570 — On Aug 26, 2010

Buy items for consumption with little or no salt as that will increase the need for water.

By anon106501 — On Aug 26, 2010

i think that what you are trying to put across to people is very good. i went through a disaster and was glad to have some food. when you get hungry anything will do. i lived four days on potatoes and beets. i have learned to store other foods that are all dried and in bags. i now have dried eggs, peas, carrots, tomatoes and fruits. dried foods will keep you alive. that's what counts. thank you.

By anon106378 — On Aug 25, 2010

106276 should enlighten us, if they are such an expert on survival.

By anon106349 — On Aug 25, 2010

I live in Fla. and we have had some pretty fierce hurricanes. I was happy to have stored plenty of water and canned foods.You article is great for newcomers to Fla.

By anon106347 — On Aug 25, 2010

For those who aren't allergic, you left out peanut butter. In a disaster, I don't think having well balanced meals is the concern. It's storing what you can safely to eat plus peroxide, alcohol, a home made first aid kit, and, as you said, lots of water. Store your supplies where they are least likely to be destroyed considering the type of disasters that occur in your area.

By anon106327 — On Aug 25, 2010

Just surviving "today" is a challenge (without the added floods/earthquakes, etc. My "store" of food is not only for a possible disaster, but just for the disaster of surviving for the week.

I would love to be prepared for any disaster, but not too many people can. And I personally do not want to count on our government or FEMA to help me out. They can't even help out the disaster that's going on right under their noses (lost homes, jobs, etc.).

By anon106295 — On Aug 25, 2010

To be truthfully honest with you, I find it hard to survive from day to day, let alone concern myself with a disaster situation like Haiti: Pakistan etc.

I can't get my head around these natural disasters and very few people can. I know and see their plight but the world aid people certainly are doing there best. Helping them is my priority rather than what would I do if the same disaster happened where I live.

Storing up may be a good, positive approach but if it is floods than your store could be wiped away.

By anon106276 — On Aug 25, 2010

This article is utter tosh and shows you have no idea what it means to be in a disaster zone at all.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a HomeQuestionsAnswered writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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