When disaster strikes and your family, friends, and neighborhood need your help, the last place you want to be is stuck in a food line. A backup food supply that's easy to manage and won't break the bank is a cornerstone of disaster prep. The biggest question: How much food is enough?
suggest a two-week supply. On its website, a more world-weary approach, advising its flock to keep a three-month supply of food "that is part of your normal daily diet" on hand. It's not a bad goal, but the commercial food grid is usually up and running in much less time, so we suggest starting with a month's backup. How much is that?
"We need to debunk the one-size-fits-all solution to how much food you need," says survival instructor Cody Lundin, author of the excellent disaster-survival manual When All Hell Breaks Loose and pony-tailed star of Dual Survival. "Age, sex, weight, height all factor in. Just ask any mom with three teenage boys who play football if they will eat the same amount of food as her neighbors with younger kids."
The first step is to figure out the basal metabolic rate—the amount of energy a body uses at rest—for each member of your family. Keep in mind that in a disaster situation, people aren't usually at rest, so add more food to compensate. Visit a site like to calculate your family's BMR. Our sample family has a husband and wife in their 40s (4400 calories per day), and a son and daughter between 9 and 13 (2400 calories per day). We then added 1000 calories as a cushion, putting our requirements at 7800 calories per day and 234,000 per month.
Remember, you don't have to buy it all at once. Each week, add a few extra items to the shopping list until you've filled up your basement shelves to your satisfaction. We built up a sample store of goods for this photo as a guide to the sorts of foods that store well and could keep a family of four well-fed and sane through the aftermath.
"Canned goods are great for a disaster supply," Lundin says. "They're already cooked, they don't need to be heated, you can eat them right out of the can, and they've got an expiration date printed on them."
First in First Out (FIFA) is the time-honored rule of thumb when it comes to rotating food in and out of your disaster pantry. Use the year-old bag of white rice for regular meals and resupply your stock with a fresh bag.
Go for whole grains for health, nutrition, and satisfaction. "In my field courses we have 14 people, and on one night we eat the high-tech, freeze-dried, backpacker food that costs about $7 a person," Lundin says. "Then the next night we cook rice and beans in a pressure cooker for about $5 for the entire group. They are always hungry after the backpacker food, and after the rice and beans they always say they feel full and satisfied."
What's wrong with 250,000 calories worth of chocolate bars? If that's all you have, then nothing. But because we're talking about preplanning, we filled our pantry with enough food to build a 30-day diet made up of 55 percent carbs, 25 percent fats, and 20 percent protein. That puts us within the suggested by the USDA for all age groups.
The downside of all that rice, beans, dried pasta, dried milk, and instant coffee is that it takes water to bring them to life. Our month's pantry requires 78 gallons of water.
Rice and beans can get old, so lay in some guilty pleasures for the kids. A $1 can of SpaghettiOs Meatballs is power packed with energy: 480 calories, 7 grams of fat, 11 grams of protein, and 32 grams of carbs.
SPAM? Hey, some people love it, and if you need an injection of calories, fat, protein, and salt, it's not bad. Each can has 1080 calories, 96 grams of fat, 42 grams of protein, and hardly a carb. Deviled Ham is another high-protein, high-fat alternative.
Don't discount the need for coffee in the morning. The downside: It requires 8.5 gallons of water.
Don't forget your veggies (they will somewhat redeem the SpaghettiOs and SPAM).
Only in a disaster should cling peaches and applesauce count toward your fruit intake.
Peanut butter is loaded with protein and fats. Just don't forget about food and nut allergies.
Long a staple of preppers, dried milk can be used to create sauces, lighten your coffee, make yogurt, and, yes, fill a glass with milk.
Crisco is probably the most stable, easy-to-store fat in the history of the world, but canola oil works well too.