Stocking Your Pantry For An Emergency

By Amy Crum, MS, RD, LD
October 18, 2022

pantry.jpgWe received an interesting question from one of our Facebook community members that we figured might be helpful for other folks, too: “While fresh is best, I would love to see a post about some shelf stable foods to have on hand for an "emergency supply". I live in an area where spring storms can knock out power occasionally for a couple of days. Typically, my emergency foods are not healthy selections! I have some basics that are consistent with healthier habits I'm working on but would love more suggestions.”

Now first of all, let’s acknowledge that when you are living through an emergency or a natural disaster or treacherous weather of any kind, the main priority is to stay safe. Do the best you can with what you are able to do to help you and your family through the stressful event. Remember you can always get back to healthy eating when your feet are underneath you again. If you find you do have the capacity to think about it, prepping in advance helps and we have some tips for you to consider.

Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I lived through many hurricanes and power outages. My family had a routine of what to do when a hurricane was predicted to make landfall close by. We filled up tubs of water, and made sure we had plenty of shelf-stable food on hand. I never expected that my hardest experience with a storm would be after I moved to Manhattan. After Hurricane Sandy hit, our family didn’t have power for eight days. I vowed to be more prepared after that experience. As my family and I try to eat real food as much as possible, I have taken a new spin on emergency preparedness.

Create A Plan In Advance

While fresh and frozen are usually the best choice for produce, having shelf stable foods as a backup in the case of an emergency is important. Planning what you would make in these situations ahead of time can be helpful so that you’re not trying to brainstorm in the moment while under a lot of stress. Write down a list of a few meals that you can make with what you have on hand. Thinking of what your protein, fat, and carbohydrates will be for each of these meals can be a good place to start. Having balanced blood sugar is even more important when going through a stressful event!

What To Have On Hand

Hopefully in an emergency, you will be able to use the fresh foods you have on hand first. If your power goes out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed for as long as you can. Foods in the refrigerator will stay safe for up to four hours in the refrigerator, and up to 48 hours in the freezer. Foods above 40 degrees should be thrown out. Produce that can last a few days without refrigeration includes citrus, apples, avocados, grapes, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumbers, greens beans, and peppers.

Once you have used the fresh food you have available, it’s a good idea to have shelf stable foods on hand. You will be able to mix and match a variety of different meals and snacks when you have an emergency supply kit stocked with some of the foods below:

Protein: Canned salmon, chicken, and tuna can be great sources of protein that will last about two years in the pantry.  Meat sticks and protein powder can be another way to ensure you’re getting protein if the electricity goes out. Protein bars, such as an RXBAR can be added to your supply for a quick meal or snack that includes protein, fat and carbohydrates all in one. When it comes to protein bars, make sure to plan well in advance so that you can take your time reading labels to ensure you aren’t purchasing a product with questionable ingredients or those that are particularly high in grams of carbohydrates (check out How To Pick A Quality Protein Bar for more details!).  

Carbohydrates: Like stated above, the best real-food carbohydrates are of the fresh and frozen variety and there are several produce options we mentioned before that can sit out on the counter. Canned beans can be another great way to add carbohydrates to your meals and ensure you’re getting enough fiber. Having a supply of canned vegetables and tomatoes in your emergency kit is a good way to add nutrients when you have exhausted your supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. In case of a power outage, consider what you can handle eating cold and try to maintain sufficient variety. Canned and dried fruit can also be good to have on hand if you don’t have the ability to get fresh foods. Having a tub of Key Greens & Fruits is another way to make sure your nutrient needs are being met when it is more challenging to get them through food since all you need is some fresh water to mix it up. Packages of precooked wild rice can be bought and eaten cold in an emergency situation. Wasa crackers have a shelf life of about a year and can be a good carbohydrate to add to a meal when needed.

Fat: Don’t forget about good fats, even in an emergency! Have olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil in your supply. Nuts and seeds are great shelf-stable snacks, along with nut butters. Packets of nut butter is an easy portion control and something small you can throw into the kit for good fat. Consider adding canned coconut milk to your emergency kit. Coconut milk is a great addition to a variety of foods for both flavor and satiety. Canned olives can be added to a meal or a snack for extra good fats. Chosen Foods sells avocado oil mayo in packets that doesn’t have to be refrigerated and can be added to  canned meats to make chicken or salmon salad.

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These foods should be stored in a cool, dry place and in a tightly closed container. Make sure to keep track of the expiration dates for the foods in your emergency kit so you can use them and rotate in new foods so nothing goes to waste. Along with the food, make sure to have a knife, can opener, and scissors. When possible, you may be able to cook food outside on a charcoal grill or over an outdoor fire. Having a lighter or matches would also be a great addition to your kit.  

Don’t Forget About Water!

It is always a good idea to have a supply of water. The CDC recommends storing at least one gallon of water per day per person, for drinking and hygiene.  A 2-week supply in case of an emergency is suggested. 

Create Your Emergency Kit

Hopefully your emergency kit never has to be used, but you can feel good knowing you are prepared if the need arises. To recap, if you live in an area at higher risk for weather related emergencies (even snowstorms!), plan ahead for what you might need or recipes/foods you could use. Keep your list and shelf-stable foods in a tightly closed container. Make sure you have a selection of protein, fats, and carbohydrates, and plan to use up your fresh and frozen foods first before diving into your shelf-stable items. Do the best you can when living through a stressful, uncomfortable situation with the compassion and understanding that you’ll get back to your healthy habits and routines when you can.

For more information on pantry stables, check out these resources:


About the author

Amy likes to focus on small changes that make a big difference and keeping an upbeat, positive outlook. “I love helping people find ways to adjust their daily habits to make nutritious eating easier and to brainstorm creative ideas for incorporating new foods and techniques to meal planning. I enjoy seeing people find out how much better they can feel as they start to cut out processed meals and eat more real foods. I don't believe in people feeling deprived. Instead, I like to help people really enjoy the food they are nourishing their body with and come up with healthier alternative meal ideas that might even taste better than what they were eating before.”

View all posts by Amy Crum, MS, RD, LD


Sue E Allen
This is a great article, and this is what I did in preparation for Hurricane Ian here in Florida. Thank you for posting.
October 19, 2022 at 8:40 pm


Thank you, Sue!

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