If a disaster prevents you from regular shopping at the local grocery store, what is the best survival food to store? Review the list below to find out.
I spent the better part of the week thinking about and researching this question. I reviewed the common answers on the internet and then went to my local grocery store to see what was available. I also reviewed the shelf life, nutritional info, and how practical the item was.
What Makes a Food Good for Survival?
The first criterion that came to mind was how long I should plan for. The main factor is most likely how long the power will be out. Most natural disasters, such as ice storms, can knock the power out for a few days to a week. I usually have enough food in my home for 3 months. We would eat the perishable items first and then move to the non-perishable.
For a larger, more widespread disaster, the time without power could be months up to a year. A massive country-wide or global disaster could take years. Once you reach a certain point, assuming you will have enough food stored is probably not practical. You would need to hunt and grow your food. This period differs for everyone and depends on your budget and the space you have to store food.
I don’t feel that storing two years’ worth of food is practical for most. I don’t have a large bunker to store it in or that kind of budget. If the power to my home is going to be off for two years, I would likely be forced to leave the area anyway (or maybe I didn’t pay the bill?). In that case, I would be unable to haul two years of food with me, anyway.
So, my criteria for this list are that the shelf life must be at least six months. I also need a diverse list because I don’t want to eat the same thing every meal, and I want to maintain my nutrition level. I also need something that I can cook without electricity and ingredients that I can be creative with (see my survival recipes!).
Here is the list I came up with.
1. Survival Food Kit
Purchasing a kit from a survival food company is the easy button. I don’t even have to go to the grocery store, I click my mouse a few times, and it shows up on my doorstep, already packaged for storage. This option is more expensive, and no creativity or cooking ability is needed. Some companies have kits that include a variety of three meals a day and have a shelf life of 25 years.
Check out our full Nutrient Survival review for our thoughts on their emergency food kit along with other options.
2. MRE (Meal Ready-to-Eat)
An MRE is the classic military food that soldiers eat in the field. Again, I don’t have to go to the grocery store; I only need to order them. Some of these are a little more expensive than the survival food kit, but it depends on what you get. Many different meal types are available; these can last up to 5 years stored in a dry area with no extreme temperatures. I consider these one of my bug out bag essentials.
This is a food list, but none of this matters without water. Water should be your number one priority before studying anything on this list. You must have water every day, and you also need it to cook with. You can store water or plan to collect it. If you store water, be sure to get long term water storage containers for it. I have had the standard “milk jug” gallon jugs of water that you find at the grocery store leak over time just sitting on the shelf (I thought I had a leak somewhere and couldn’t find it!). If you like some carbonation, a few cans of seltzer water could also be a good option. You can mix these with Gatorade powder (mentioned later!).
4. Canned Meat
I like meat, and this is the next best thing if I don’t have a refrigerator. Options include canned tuna, chicken, ham, corned beef hash, chili, beef tamales, and good ‘ole SPAM. These will typically last 2-5 years in storage and can also be used in many recipes.
5. White Rice
White rice is the classic survival food. It is easy to cook and nutritious. You can also make a variety of dishes with it. White rice will last up to 2 years or longer if stored properly. Rice mixed with some meat, and our next item is a great meal.
6. Dry Beans
This is also a classic survival food. Dry beans have a long shelf life and provide many nutrients our body needs, including fiber. They do need to be soaked overnight and take some time to cook, so be mindful of the time and energy required. Black beans are my personal favorite.
I like honey; I eat it every day in my oatmeal. It will last in your pantry indefinitely and is a great healthy alternative to sugar. I like to get it from a local farmer. It is thought that local honey will help reduce allergy symptoms. It needs to be local honey since the bees collect the pollen from the same plants that aggravate your sinuses. It acts like a vaccine in that you are exposed to pollen a little bit every day. Is this true? I have no idea, but I have noticed my allergy symptoms have been reduced in the springtime. Honey also has some antiseptic qualities, making it great for first-aid situations. Get some from your local farmers market. It’s great.
8. Canned Fruit and Vegetables
For these, walk down the can aisle at your grocery store and pick what you like. If you have limited space, you may want to lean towards foods with higher calories. Cans of fruit or pumpkin will have more calories than green beans and spinach. Don’t neglect the green stuff, though, as the nutrition and fiber are also great. You can also go for beans here since they are already cooked. Also, think about recipes in which you can use some of these canned items. Canned tomatoes, tomatoes and chilies, cabbage, and carrots are great to cook with almost anything to make a soup. A familiar dish in a challenging situation is excellent for morale.
Sugar is cheap, and you can use it for various things. Besides as a sweetener in recipes, if you come across any fruit during your survival period, you can use sugar to make fruit preserves. It can also be used for healing wounds. When sugar is applied to an open wound, it absorbs moisture and prevents the growth of bacteria.
The human body needs salt to function correctly. It is also used to prepare almost any food you can think of and make bland food taste much better. You can also use it to clean, deodorize, put out a grease fire, or relieve a bee sting or poison ivy rash. My dentist says salt water is also a good mouthwash.
In addition to salt, other spices are great to have. I would include pepper, cinnamon, garlic powder, dried onion, and an Italian seasoning blend. Spice blends like Mrs. Dash are plentiful. Pick up a few that interest you. Also, one of my favorites is Sazon. This seasoning comes in little packets and is excellent in rice and beans. It is usually found in the international section at your grocery store.
12. Fats and Oils
Our body needs fat to function correctly, and fat in your meal makes you feel fuller. Per gram, fat has double the calories compared to protein and carbohydrates (nine calories vs. four calories). You also need some oil to cook with, or everything will stick to your pot, which frustrates me. Vegetable oil is a good choice, along with some classic Crisco. Crisco can also be used as a lubricant, relieves dry skin, and makes candles. When oil eventually goes bad, you can use it for fire fuel. Depending on the oil, it can last six months or more after opening it until it goes bad.
13. Peanut Butter
Peanut Butter may be an obvious choice. When I get caught eating it directly out of the jar, it demonstrates why. It lasts a long time even after it is open, is calorie dense, and tastes great right out of the jar. It goes great with the next item.
Saltine, Ritz, Graham – who doesn’t like crackers? The key with crackers is they will eventually go stale. If you can find some well-sealed in small packages, go with them. My grocery store has a box of Ritz crackers in smaller packages. I put these in a zip lock bag so they will keep longer. After the use-by date, you can expect them to be OK for about eight months. However, Graham crackers will only last about two months.
Flour is, of course, the base of baking many different foods. I don’t expect to do a lot of baking without power, but flour can also be used to make gravy and coat meat to pan-fry. Instead of baking, you can make a pancake-like bread in a pan over a fire. I have also heard you can use flour as a shampoo. All-purpose flour will last about one year after the use-by date.
Cornmeal was a staple back in the 1800s. I love cornbread and remember my grandparents eating it all the time (they were not around in the 1800s, I am not that old!). Similar to pancakes, you can make hoe cakes in a pan. These are great with really any meat. You can also use cornmeal like flour and coat meat, especially fish, before pan-frying it. Cornmeal will last about one year after the date on the bag.
17.Powdered Egg and Milk
Many bread recipes require egg and milk. Having milk and eggs on this list is not practical during a power outage unless you have a farm with cows and chickens. Powdered eggs and milk solve that problem. I had difficulty finding these in my local grocery store, but Amazon has plenty of options. These aren’t cheap, so if you are unsure, I recommend buying a small amount and trying some recipes before buying a significant amount. If you can find smaller cans, that is the best option for storage. Once you open an enormous container, it will go bad quicker.
There are also other options to substitute for fresh milk and eggs. Replace fresh milk with evaporated milk. Simply mix 1 part evaporated milk with 1 part water. Replace one egg with Flax Seed meal, mix 1 Tablespoon meal and 3 Tablespoons water. This works well to replace up to two or three eggs.
18. Pancake Mix
To make pancakes with flour, you need eggs and milk. Why mess with all that when you can buy it already mixed? Look for a Pancake mix that only requires water. Mix it up, and you have pancake batter with no other ingredients needed. The shelf life is decent, and you can’t go wrong making these for breakfast. Bisquick is also great for making dough for dumplings.
19. Potato Flakes
Instant mashed potatoes? Are you crazy? Potato flakes are tasty, easy to cook, and long-lasting. My kids love them. You can also use them in some recipes. Shepherd’s Pie, anyone? They will last up to one year after the date on the package.
20. Powdered Drink Mixes
I must have my coffee every morning, but the Keurig isn’t going to work without power. Keeping some instant coffee on hand and some green and regular tea is a must. Could you imagine having some sweet, iced tea on a hot summer day when all you have had for weeks is water? Speaking of plain water, adding some powdered Gatorade to water is a great option and helps to restore lost electrolytes. It is also great in the seltzer water mentioned earlier!
21. Canned Liquids
While on drinks, canned liquids like juices and broth are great for both recipes and in case someone gets sick and can’t keep solids down. Condensed milk, fruit juice, and vegetable juice are great options to not forget about. The typical shelf life is about two years, depending on the liquid.
I eat oatmeal every morning. I like it, and there are many health benefits. Why add it to this list? The shelf life is excellent, it is easy to cook, and you can’t deny that it is a staple everyone should have. Go for the rolled oats (Old Fashioned) and not the premixed instant packets. Use the cooking instructions on the box and add a little salt and a teaspoon of honey. Also, add some dried fruit if you want.
23. Dried Fruit
Speaking of dried fruit in oatmeal, things like dried raisins, dates, and cranberries are great. The shelf life is good, and they have vitamins and fiber that we need. Eating a little daily will add variety to your diet in an extended survival situation. Go for the sealed packages, which will last up to 6 months after the use-by date.
24. Canned Soup
Canned soup is just a leisurely meal in a can. Warm it up a little and eat. Soup is typically high in sodium, which you may or may not need in a survival situation. If you already have plenty of salt and other salty foods in your stock, you may want to go with a low-sodium version here. You can always add salt to the soup if needed.
25. Dried Pasta
Pasta is easy to cook and has 2-3 years of shelf life. Mix it with a can of tomatoes and some Italian seasoning, and there you have spaghetti. Go with the thin spaghetti since it will cook faster. In a survival situation, always keep in mind the energy you will have to heat and cook your food. A box of Mac and Cheese is also a good option. Everyone likes Mac and Cheese, and the shelf life is excellent. Ramen Noodles are also a good choice here. My kids love ramen, and they are cheap. Get the small packages and not the larger Styrofoam premixed bowls.
White Vinegar and Apple Cider Vinegar have many uses and are great to have on hand. Vinegar can be used to clean and sanitize cooking surfaces. You can also make pickles and marinate meat with them. If you grow your vegetables, it makes a great salad dressing. Apple Cider Vinegar is thought to have many health benefits, from helping digestion to lowering blood sugar.
I am thinking more about Soy Sauce (great on rice), Worcestershire sauce, and Tobasco Sauce. Stay away from mayonnaise and anything that needs to be refrigerated. Worcestershire sauce is great for marinating meat. You can use it to make Jerky from meat that you have in your freezer that will go bad if you don’t do something with it once the power goes out. Go for small bottles here since it will go bad sooner once it is open. Tabasco is excellent for spicing up anything and has a great shelf life.
28. Bouillon Cubes
Bouillon cubes should be in every prepper’s pantry. Their shelf life is excellent, and they are probably on every survival food list you can find. Use them to make broth to make a soup or add flavor to almost any recipe. They are perfect if you don’t like the taste of the meat you have (wild game?). Throw it in some broth and get creative.
Nuts like Peanuts and Almonds are great to snack on. They have essential fats that our body needs. Go for a smaller container and watch the sodium. Some are heavily salted, and like soup, you can always add salt.
Lentils are in the same family as beans and peas. They are more prevalent in Indian and Asian cuisine than in the US. They are a great source of protein and rich in fiber and vitamins. Like beans, dried lentils are the best choice because of their long shelf life. They have a clear advantage over beans, though. They do not have to be soaked in water before cooking and typically cook faster than beans. There are several different kinds of lentils, green, red, yellow, and a few others. In a survival situation, they are best thrown into a soup pot with broth, meat, and a few canned vegetables.
Popcorn is a great snack, makes you feel full, and contains fiber and minerals. Go for the whole kernels in a sealed container, not the microwave-style in bags. Popcorn will last up to two years after the date on the container, and you can even grind it into cornmeal.
32. Fruit Preserves
There is a reason preserves are famous in traditional American diets. My grandparents had a giant grapevine, and my grandmother made grape preserves yearly. As a kid, I just thought they liked preserves. They were delicious on a biscuit. The real reason was they couldn’t possibly eat all the grapes when they ripened, and by making “preserves,” they preserved the fruit so they could have it later. You can make preserves with the sugar you have and any fruit you have or find after a survival situation occurs. Canned properly, preserves are good for 18 months.
33. Maple Syrup
Maple Syrup is, of course, great on pancakes but is also a natural sweetener similar to honey. Make sure you get real maple syrup, not fake pancake syrup. Maple Syrup is loaded with antioxidants and nutrients and will last for at least one year.
34. Smoked Meat
This is another lesson from our ancestors. Without freezers, what did they do with the meat once they slaughtered a hog? Of course, it hung in the smokehouse. Appropriately done, smoked meat can last years without refrigeration. While not as popular these days, if you have a smokehouse near you, visit them and see what they have. There are some options online, such as Benton’s Country Ham, where you can order a whole ham. The only disadvantage here is once you cut through the casing, the meat needs to be refrigerated, but hey, invite the neighbors over who didn’t prepare.
35. Baking Soda
Baking soda is a leavening agent that allows the bread to rise. If you are not a baker, there are many other uses for Baking Soda. Using it instead of toothpaste is one of the biggest ones that come to mind. Toothpaste will be in short supply if you can’t make it to the store. As a kid, my mom had me brush my teeth with baking soda, which was awful. But I have never had a cavity, so it must be good. As long as it stays dry, baking soda will last indefinitely.
Some cereals could be a good choice. Look for ones with a minimal amount of sugar and made with whole grain, such as Shredded Wheat. The shelf life is decent, and you don’t have to cook anything. If you have kids, Cheerios could be a treat. The unopened cereal will last up to one year after the date on the box.
37. Protein Bars
Protein bars are a good choice since they are portable and don’t need to be cooked. My grocery store has a wide variety. Look for something with a good balance of fat, protein, and carbs. You don’t want a bar that is all sugar, for example. The shelf life is good but can vary depending on the bar. If I had to be on the move early in a survival event, I would go to these first.
I am not talking about rubbing alcohol. I’m looking at the drinking kind, but preferably vodka or whiskey. In addition to making you feel warm and cozy, there are many other great uses. You can use it to sanitize an injury, as a cleaner, and do many other things, like make bug spray. A teaspoon of whisky and honey is excellent cough syrup. At least, that is what Dad always says. You could also include wine and maybe beer here, but it would be more for drinking or bartering, and who wants a warm beer?
39. Pop Tarts
What? Pop Tarts? While they seem like a sugar-filled agent that will make you die an early death, I know quite a few athletes that eat them right before a meet or race. They provide a quick dose of energy that is easy on a nervous stomach and have a decent shelf life. Just go easy on them, they are not intended to be a meal, but if you have a long hike ahead of you, they are an excellent option to help you get back to your family. These will last about six months after the date on the box.
While this list intends to provide a good list of healthy options, during a prolonged survival event, you could likely have a vitamin deficiency along the way. With all of the extra stress, not feeling well to boot adds to it. Grab a few bottles of generic multivitamins to keep on hand.
41. Chocolate and Candy
Why not? Everyone likes a small treat now and then, and you can also use these to barter. Hard Candy is a good choice, along with some Hershey bars. Avoid anything with a bunch of ingredients, as it will likely not last as long as pure chocolate. A Hershey’s bar can last up to one year. Remember, when chocolate goes bad, it often tastes fine. However, the ingredients can separate and cause the candy bar to look a bit weird.
42. Vanilla Extract
Vanilla is one of the most basic flavorings and is excellent for making pancakes. It will last indefinitely and can be used to cover up smells (vanilla perfume) and as a bug repellant.
43. Gravy Mix
Look for the packages that only require adding water. If you have some gamey meat that no one cares for, pour some gravy on it! Also great with those mashed potatoes from the potato flakes. These dry packets will last up to 2 years.
- In general, look for smaller containers. Once you open them, most items will only last for a week or two. Unless you are feeding a bunch of people, you don’t want that 10-pound box of crackers going stale.
- If any of the food you have smells terrible, has mold, or is leaking a strange substance, don’t eat it. You must be disciplined and not risk poisoning yourself or your family because you are hungry. Prioritize what you have stored and eat what will go bad first. Refer to this guide on shelf-stable food safety and shelf life guidelines. Print it out and keep it with your food.
- Keep in mind that canned food high in acid (tomatoes, pineapple) will spoil in 12 to 18 months while foods low in acid (green beans) will spoil in 2 to 5 years.
- When you store food in preparation for a survival event, you don’t want it to all be bad when you need it. Keep a list of what you have with the use-by dates and use a First-in, First-out (FIFO) approach. For example, if you have some crackers in your survival stores but need to buy some for your regular pantry, put the new ones in your survival stores and eat the older ones. This way, you keep eating the older items before they spoil, and your survival stores stay fresh. Unless you have purchased a survival food kit lasting 25 years, maintaining a survival food supply is an active process.
I hope you enjoyed my list. I tried to put some forward thinking into these items and included items that I thought would be useful. I also used emergency stoves that would be available if I didn’t have power. You can also use these methods to boil water without electricity.
Winston Churchill said “The Pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” While no one wants to see an event where we are without power for months, it is a possibility to consider and prepare for. At the same time, Stoic principles say it should not be something that we obsess and worry about and let it get in the way of living a great life.
The next time you are at the grocery store, get creative and see what you can find. Then, take a look at some of our strategies for setting up your 3 month food supply. Also check out our full guide on how to start prepping.