FOOD & COOKING
Figure out your food needs before a disaster strikes. From cooking food on-the-go to storing real food for later
We sometimes have a hard time feeding ourselves on the best of days. Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't just pop over to the grocery store or corner bistro.
In this section, we are approaching food and disaster preparation in three ways. The first is "quickie food" — packaged bars and dehydrated food. They are classic grab-and-go kind of items, ideal for a go bag. You'll also find the surprisingly decent dehydrated food packets in which you add boiling water.
The second section is dedicated to long-term food storage. We detail both the ways to store it, and the kinds of food that are ideal for longtime storage (hint: beans and rice).
Lastly, you'll need to be able to cook that food (or at least boil water to add to the dehydrated meals), so we have equipment solutions for cooking, too — including solutions for those of us who live in tiny apartments.
FOOD & COOKING BASICS
Can I live on nutrition bars?
You could. For a while. But you might lose the will to live. You want a mixture of easy-to-carry items and real food
How long can I store beans & rice?
10 years, if put away inside vacuum bags & a non-toxic bucket.
What do you think
of freeze-dried food?
Good for apts and
go bags. But you have to add boiling water, an issue if you have no heat source
QUICKIE FOOD: WHEN YOU NEED TO EAT NOW
What do you have in your cupboards right now? Enough to get by for weeks? Two? And how much of it is highly transportable? The goal here is to lay some food stores aside for those times when need food that doesn't take much preparation, and is quick and easy. This isn't long-term food. These are the types of stuff that will get you by right now. These are also good options for your all-important go bag.
BEST DEHYDRATED PACKETS, BARS, AND
Bottom line: 14 days of reliable food for one person. Just add boiling water. Add it directly into the packet, even. And the food ain't bad!
Recommended for: All shelters; plus individual packets can be placed in vehicle and go-bag.
No. units recommended: Here's the catch: You'll need a minimum of one or two 14-day supplies for every member of your family. Better to have a whole month's supply for each member, if possible. So if there are four of you in the family, you'll want 4 orders.
You’ll also need: Water — and a way to boil water. Also, a pot to actually heat the water. Hence we also highly recommend supplementing with other long-lasting food supplies. Oatmeal is a good one. So are canned beans.
Be aware: Cumulatively, it comes out to around 5 gallons of water, total, for each 14-day supply of food. For a family of four, that would mean 20 gallons of water to just make this food.
Importance: Important, especially if you live in an apartment or other enclosed space and have no options to boil water in an emergency situation.
Bottom line: A ready-to-eat, hot meal, for which you need no outside heating source. It heats up within its own reactive bag using a bespoke technology. The absolute simplest way to get a warm meal.
Recommended for: Shelters, go bag, vehicle.
No. units recommended: One pouch is good for one meal — but even so, they are small. So you'd need a LOT of them to get by for a week.
Price: Here's the catch: The OMeals cost around $8 per pouch. That’s pretty high when buying enough to feed a family for week(s).
You’ll also need: You need to add liquid into the bag to cause the heating reaction. However, ANY liquid would work, as the fluid never actually touches the food itself.
Be aware: The meals aren't huge, and while the meal is palatable, it is short of delicious. This is sort of the lowest-hanging-fruit option for urbanites who may not be able to heat or boil water in an emergency situation.
Bottom line: Arguably the healthiest and best tasting (and most interesting) dehydrated, ready-to-eat meals on the market. Good To-Go meals are best for picky eaters.
Recommended for: Home, go bag, away.
No. units recommended: 7 days — family of 3.10 breakfasts — 6 oatmeal; 4 granola.15 double-serving entrees. For instance: 3 Pad Thai; 3 three-bean chili; 3 classic marina with pasta; 2 Mexican quinoa bowls ; 2 chicken gumbo; 2 mushroom risotto.
You’ll also need: Water, and a way to boil that water.
Be aware: The shelf life on breakfast products are one year. Most of the entrees have a shelf life of four or more years.
Tasting notes: As one of our tasters commented, "This tastes like food." Pad Thai noodles aren’t mushy, and give a healthy blast of umami goodness from anchovies and fresh shrimp; a hit of cleansing acid; and red chiles. See our article on Good To-Go here.
Importance: Crucial. An easy and long-lasting emergency food source.
Bottom line: When it comes to emergency food, rolled oats are a staple for a very good reason. This bucket lasts 30 years, and has 201 servings. You can make it with boiling water or soak them overnight in water/and or a dehydrated dairy source. This one even comes in a square bucket for easy storage.
Recommended for: Shelters, including apartments and small spaces.
No. units recommended: There are 201 servings here, with each serving equaling 1/2 cup of oats. For a family of four, this would provide a decent breakfast for 50 days.
You’ll also need: A heat source to boil water. If you don't, you can soak the oats overnight in water or, better, dehydrated milk. Saratoga Farms sells fortified instant milk power in multiple packs — each with 49 servings — in containers that last up to 20 years. Our suggestion is buy them together. More details in our field notes below.
Be aware: You'll need water supplies to make this work. Another reason why water is still your no. 1 concern in an emergency situation.
Bottom line: You'll need to put away food that doesn't get eaten in the normal course of a week — but enough food to last you weeks. So these food items should go into a bucket, for instance, and live in the back of a closet. You won't need all of these recommendations, just the items that you prefer and find most palatable.
This isn't the time to worry about veggies, or high calories. You'll want and need those high calories in an emergency situation. Still, you do NOT want to live on protein bars alone.
Recommended for: Home shelter.
No. of units recommended: Think about how much your family normally eats in a week. Then look long and hard at how much you'd really need for days or even weeks. We know, it can be sobering when you're struggling for closet space. But — it doesn't get much more important than this, right?
Suggestions: An emergency or disaster is the time you'll be looking for extra energy. Forget long-term health concerns (veggies!) and think instead to getting you through the next few days and weeks.
This is a case where a collection of energy bars will go a long way. Our absolute favorite are the relatively new RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar, 12 pack. These are actually super tasty, if very dense. We love the blueberry, maple sea salt, and coffee chocolate flavors.
And that old stand-by, the Clif Bar, we STILL stand by.
For those with nut or gluten allergies, a vegan option is That’s It Fruit Bars, which are sweet but tasty.
Peanut butter. You can't beat it for ease, the ability to spread it on most anything, and longevity. (As long as your family doesn't have nut allergies, that is.) If you’ve got kids, you’re likely to have one around anyway — for satisfying, high calorie, on-the-go meal, it’s hard to beat. You don’t even need bread… or utensils. We like Skippy Super Chunk, but whatever works for you. Get four big bottles.
We know Adirondack Trail through-hikers that swear by macadamia nuts because of their crazy calorie count and oil density. The Sunfood brand sells them raw, organic, and in a resealable bag.
There are numerous emergency and disaster situations in which things won't turn back to normalcy anytime soon. If that's the case, you won't be able to resupply foodstuffs regularly, if at all. In other words, you can forget about the grocery store. You need to think about disaster food planning in the long term.
This section is an attempt to get ahead of that. Here we're sourcing long-lasting food that you would actually cook and prepare just as you might, normally. The Mormons, for instance, are masters of this kind of preparation. They've long kept stores of beans, flour, and rice away, using strategies to keep the food fresh for years.
Still, we'll forewarn you: According to some experts, a year supply of basic food storage for one person might include 400 pounds of wheat, 60 pounds of dry beans, 60 pounds of sugar, 16 pounds of powdered milk, 10 quarts of oil, and 8 pounds of salt. That would take a considerable amount of work and space to put away. (Let's not even talk about how much coffee we need to store.)
Nonetheless, we do this stuff ourselves. In our case, we don't keep them in the city apartment, where we simply don't have room for longterm storage. Instead, we outfit our Away Shelter — in our case a house in the country — with these food stores. The idea is that in a longterm emergency situation, we would get ourselves to that location, where our entire extended family has enough food to survive six months to a year.
BEST FOOD TO STORE IN THE LONGTERM & WAYS TO DO IT
Bottom line: These buckets are one of the most central keys for longterm food storage. You put foodstuffs such as dried beans or white rice into Mylar bags, seal them, and then place those bags into these buckets and hammer on the lid. Keeps out air and rodents. (For more info, see field notes below.)
Recommended for: All shelters.
No. of units recommended: There are 6 buckets here, a good start.
You’ll also need: Mylar bags. These also come with oxygen absorbers.
Be aware: Sealing the tops of the buckets isn't that hard, but it isn't exactly self explanatory either. Line up the slots, and then use a soft rubber mallet or similar to bang it shut.
Bottom line: When it comes to longterm food storage, these Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers work hand-in-glove with airtight, BPA-free plastic buckets. Seal up longterm food items like whole beans or rice in these bags, then put them inside the buckets. (For more info, see field notes below.)
Recommended for: All shelters.
You’ll also need: Plastic buckets.
Be aware: These are easy enough to use. Just get it all prepared (the food inside the Mylar bags) before you open up the oxygen absorbers.
These are the types of food that you can put into Mylar bags and then food-grade buckets, and many will last a decade. The kind of "real food" that would be necessary over the long run, and can sustain a family months or even years. It may take some time. So figure on starting slowly and adding to your stores as you go along.
Bottom line: Grains, rice, and other dried and longterm foods that, when properly stored, can last a decade. The kind of "real food" that is highly necessary over the long run, and can sustain a family months or even years.
Recommended for: Home and away shelters.
No. of units recommended: The amount of food needed for a family of four, for a full year, is startling. According to some experts, a year supply of basic food storage for one person is some 400 pounds of wheat, 60 pounds of dry beans, 60 pounds of sugar, 16 pounds of powdered milk, 10 quarts of oil, and 8 pounds of salt. But to get started for a family of three, for instance, you might consider 50 pounds of rice, 50 to100 pounds of a variety of dried beans, and another 25 pounds of wheat berries (which makes flower), and 50 pounds of oatmeal. Then add to it, gradually.
Be aware: Before storing grains, oats, rice, and wheat berries in Mylar bags and air-tight buckets, deep freeze the bags first, if possible, for multiple days. This will kill any potential bugs or insect eggs that could be in them, especially when you use organic products.
Notes: The items here are simply suggestions. For instance, we prefer black beans over lentils. You may like long-grain white rice over short-grain. In a longterm emergency, you want to be preparing food that your family actually likes. No sense in making a bad situation any worse.
Also, take these products out of their packaging before you put them into the Mylar bags and air-tight food-grade buckets.
Beans! Any kind of dried beans you like. Lima, black-eyed, garbanzo, lentils, great Northern, Mung, Navy, Pink, Pinto, small red, kidney, and split-pea and soy can all be dried and stored. For instance, we dig Dried Black Beans- Turtle Beans- 25 lb. Bag. For variety, you might also consider nice selections of non-GMO, kosher Garbanzo Beans, and lentils and split peas (the last two don't need to be rehydrated and are FULL of nutrients). When it comes to quantity, we say get more than less: 25 pounds of two to three varieties, stores separately (ie, 50 to 75 pounds) is a nice start and would keep a family with ample protein and other important amino nutrients for months, as long as they also have water.
Rice! White rice will store up to 30 years in the right conditions. Sadly, not so with brown rice, which is healthier but is only good for up to two years. Legacy Essentials Long Term Parboiled Instant Rice promises a 20 year shelf life and 30 servings for 4,800 calories. Note that many experts recommend up to 300 POUNDS of grains per person per year.
Flour — by which we mean wheat berries. Regular flour doesn't last long at all. The milling process opens up the interior to the elements. So you want unmilled stuff, which is called wheat berries. We like this 10-pound bag of two varieties (which give different kinds of breads): Hard Red Spring Wheat Berries 5Lbs & Soft White Wheat Berries. Clearly, since it is unmilled, it means you will have to mill it yourself. You could buy an electric miller, but that won't well serve you in an emergency with no power. (If you've got juice, a food processor or coffee grinder will also serve in a pinch.) So if you're super serious about it, you'll need a hand miller, like the cast-iron Victoria Manual Grain Grinder with Table Clamp. And yes, it might do you good to have a bread recipe or two on hand, too.
Rolled oats: Another big one. Oats have been a staple for, like, forever. In this case you don't want steel-cut; you want rolled oats, which last the longest (in that 20- to 30-year category), with Mylar bags and airtight plastic buckets. We'd go with two 25-pound bags of non-GMO rolled oats in bulk.
Dried vegetables. Doesn't sound delicious, we know, but freeze-dried veggies have come a long way. You can buy quart-sized plastic jars of individual vegetables, like broccoli from Mother Jones, or a bucket o' dried veggies — 10 pounds worth — from Augason Farms Freeze Dried Vegetable Variety Pack 10 lbs 10.1 oz 4 Gallon Kit.
Sugar. Pure cane and table sugar store well. However, you have to keep moisture away from sugar, so avoid paper wrappings. Consider the plastic-encased types like the Florida Crystals Natural Cane Sugar, 48 Ounce (Pack of 6). Even then, it should be stored in an air-tight bucket to keep out odors.
NOTES ON STORING FOOD FOR THE LONG TERM: STORAGE IN AIRTIGHT BUCKETS
White rice and dried beans (and those other items above) are naturally long lasting. But you don’t want rodents getting in them, and you want to keep air away from them as well. So the key is to pack them in both a vacuum sealed Mylar bag, and then put that bag inside a non-toxic, airproof plastic bucket. Luckily this process is easier than it sounds. You’ll need to buy several items:
The bulk food itself.
Five-pound Mylar bags, which include separate oxygen absorbers.
Durable, food-grade, and non BPA plastic buckets, with hammer-on lids. The ones we list are American-made that we've had great luck with.
From there, the process is fairly simple. Pour the product into the Mylar bags, and then place the still-open bags inside the buckets. Get a hot clothes iron and a long flat board ready. You’ll open the strip of oxygen absorbers and throw one into each Mylar bag. Scrunch the bags down to get the most air out of them as possible, and then, using the strip of board as a brace, iron the tops shut. Then pound the tops on top of the bucket using a soft mallet or similar. Be sure to write the items and date you packed them on the outside with a magic marker. These items should be good for at least a decade.
All of that dehydrated, emergency food is so convenient, right? Just add water... except that many people don't mention that you're supposed to add boiling water. Which begs the question: In many emergencies, boiling water is gong to be difficult if not impossible to procure.
So we need heating and boiling solutions when your stove and oven aren't working. This can be especially troublesome in an city environment, where you can't exactly go build a campfire.
We've broken cooking into two sections — solutions at home, and while on the road (ie, in your go bag). It's worth remembering that owing to the importance of these cooking needs, it's wise to have a backup solution. If your portable butane stove breaks down (or runs out of fuel), it's good to have Sterno gel cartridges around, or a backpacking style burner, too.
EQUIPMENT TO COOK & BOIL WATER AT HOME
Importance: Important, especially as a backup boiling and food-heating solution.
Bottom line: The absolute most basic way to heat food and boil water safely in a small indoor space. In other words, a perfect thing to have in your apartment. These are chafing-style cans from the classic Sterno brand. Each burns for more than 2 hours, and can be put out and reused until all fuel is gone. Burns cleanly and does not emit carbon monoxide or hazardous fumes.
Recommended for: Shelters, vehicle, go-bag.
No. units recommended: At least 12 cans in your shelter.
You'll also need: A lighter and/or matches.
Importance: Important, especially if you live in an apartment or other place where you can't cook outside on a grill or similar.
Bottom line: An easy way to cook food and boil water inside a house or apartment. Stores easily and uses simple and small 8-ounce butane bottles. A perfect backup solution for cooking in a disaster situation where you must stay in place.
Recommended for: Apartments, shelters.
You'll also need: Fuel — Sterno 50130 8-Ounce Butane Fuel Cartridges, 12-Pack. Each cartridge has a claimed two to four hour burn time.
Be aware: The company recommends that it be used outside except by "food service professionals." Nonetheless, as the stove IS designed for catering and cooking demos, it should be fine indoors as long as used in a well ventilated space, and used with care. Note: Heating food and boiling water is essential, so we also suggest keeping at least some type of backup source, as well. Sterno's "canned heat" fuel — that you find on buffets and catering lines — is ideal. Sterno 20504 7-Ounce Entertainment Cooking Fuel, 6-Pack.
Bottom line: A longterm cooking solution — if you have the ability to cook outside, and access to hard wood that you can chip up. The Weber lasts forever, is simple, and super efficient. We've loved and used ours for ten years and it is still with us. Just care for it and it'll last a decade.
Recommended for: Shelters with outdoor space.
Bottom line: An ideal way to cook all kinds of foods over an open flame, in embers, or in a makeshift oven.
Recommended for: Shelters with outdoor space.
Be aware: You'll have to season it, and since it's cast iron, you'll have to care for it carefully
REVIEWS AND FIELD NOTES OF BEST EQUIPMENT TO COOK FOOD & BOIL WATER AT HOME WITHOUT ELECTRICITY
Review & field notes of the Sterno 20504 7-Ounce Entertainment Cooking Fuel, 6-Pack. If you live in an small apartment without easily available outdoor space (like we do), cooking food and boiling water is a real conundrum. You'll need a solution that isn't dangerous, is easy to store, and is simple. The absolute simplest solution is to use the same thing they do in buffet lines to keep chafing dishes warm — Sterno's classic cooking fuel. Each burns for more than 2 hours and is sufficient to cook basic food and boil water. Burns cleanly and does not emit carbon monoxide or hazardous fumes. We've used these in our own kitchen, simply placing them on the stove burner and placing pots over them, like normal. To snuff out the flame, simply cover it with a plate or similar. You can relight them until all the fuel is burned out.
The next step up, also for apartments (and also highly recommended) is the only slightly more complicated and space-taking butane stove by Sterno. Review & field notes of Sterno ActionStation Culinary 7,000-BTU Butane Stove. If you live in an apartment and you experience a blackout — and so does your stove/oven — how do you cook? This Sterno ActionStation Culinary 7,000-BTU Butane Stove is the answer. It packs up small and is easy to store in a closet, and works with 8-oz butane bottles that are also easy to store (and use). The stove is very easy to use, and has a thin plastic case which makes it a cinch to store. The only true downside is the single burner. If you've got more space and bigger cooking needs, you might consider a larger, twin-burner system. Still, it suffices for most of our needs. NOTE: Be sure you buy sufficient fuel cartridges. The 12-pack Sterno Butane Fuel Cartridges are 8 ounces each and have a 2- to 4-hour burn time.
Review & field notes of the Weber 741001 Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill. In the longterm during a disaster situation, you'll be much better off with outdoor space and access to fuel like hard woods. For that, we like the very simple and easy touse Weber Kettle charcoal grill. Unlike a gas grill, fuel is basically a renewable source. Once you run out of charcoal, you can chip hardwoods and use them. (Wood doesn't burn as hot as charcoal, but it totally works, and is a good way to get a nice smoke flavor, too.)
While we're at it — Review & field notes of the Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Deep Camp Dutch Oven — there's a good reason that the settlers depended on cast iron cooking implements. They last forever and you can everything from bread, stews, beans, and meat on this very heavy, well-made oven. The Lodge Seased Cast Iron Deep Camp Dutch Oven has legs, so you can literally put it on a campfire. It's made to put charcoal briquettes both underneath and on the lid itself, for even cooking. Genius. Little wonder we're obsessed by cast iron and this pot in particular. Made by a company, Lodge, that's been doing cast iron for generations. This one is made in the U.S., and it's as heavy as you could hope. It's pre seasoned and should last a generation or two in itself. Be sure to keep it in a dry place, and put some paper towels inside and between the lid and body to allow a bit of air to circulate. Never use soap to clean!
EQUIPMENT TO COOK & BOIL WATER ON THE ROAD
Bottom line: Boiling water is essential — especially to cook dehydrated food, coffee, etc. The Solo Stove Lite uses available (and natural) fuel like wood and twigs, to boil small amounts of water in about ten minutes.
Recommended for: Vehicle, go-bag.
Be aware: This is best used for boiling water, and not actually cooking food directly.
Importance: Important, especially if you carry dehydrated meals that need boiling water.
Bottom line: A very fast and efficient way to boil small amounts of water. The Jetboil flash uses a proprietary propane canister in less than two minutes. Appropriate for using outside to boil water for coffee, dehydrated meals, etc.
Recommended for: Go-bag, vehicle.
You'll also need: The system only works with its own gas canisters (a drawback): Jetboil Jetpower Fuel Gas Tank 230g. Another nice addition is the Jetboil Coffee Press, which works like a French press in the system's included cup.
Be aware: The system is only good as long as you have the fuel canisters for it. A 100-gram canister is good for about 2.6 gallons of boiling water.