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- Emergencies will continue to happen regardless of whether you are prepared
- One of the best ways to prepare for disasters is to have a shelf-stable food supply
- You can build or buy your own supply depending on your preferences
- Beyond food, you should have basic tools, medicine, and hygienic items
Emergencies will happen whether you are prepared or not. You can prepare with emergency food for unemployment, prolonged power outage, or other catastrophe.
Assuming the widely recognized 2,000 calories per-day standard, the cost to build a 3 month supply of emergency food can vary between $450-$700 per person if you buy the supply or similarly $300-$800 if you buy and package food items yourself.
I am CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) certified with FEMA and have lived through a number of events that have challenged our food supply such as “snowmageddon” in DC in the mid 2010s. I’ve also served as the emergency preparedness director for my church congregation, and have built my own year supply of food several times. I have experience dehydrating and professionally canning food as well.
Why have a 3 Month Emergency Food Supply
If you’ve turned on the news at all in the last couple years, you may have seen story after story about any or all of the following: recession, housing crisis, inflation, COVID, supply chain issues, and rising unemployment.
We don’t get to pick our emergencies, nor when they happen, but we can control our preparedness for them. Having food security will be a blessing to you and your family and lower your stress and desperation in an uncertain time. Everyone should have a supply of food that can help them weather natural disasters or extended emergencies with confidence.
How do you get a 3-month supply of food? Where do you begin? How can you ensure you have enough food during a food shortage? And exactly how much food do you need?
I’ll address these questions and compare and contrast the buying v. building approaches to a food supply and offer a few ideas for getting started.
Buy or Build Your 3 Month Emergency Food Supply
There are a number of considerations when deciding whether you should build your supply or buy it outright. Depending on your circumstances and what you value, two reasonable people could make two different decisions, and each could be correct. For example, you can see below some trade-offs between ease and price or value. I’ll explain these below and offer some justifications for the ratings.
Buying Your Own Food Supply
One option is to buy your supply outright with one or more purchases.
Buying the supply outright comes with distinct advantages. One of the largest advantages is it is easy. With a few clicks of your computer mouse, you can be done. In a few weeks, you’ll have your supply and can move on to other preparedness goals. Another advantage is professional food handling companies have the expertise and the equipment to ensure the longevity of the supply. The advertised shelf life is very probably the actual shelf life of the item. Small mistakes in food preparation, or lower quality products during a food preparation process, can degrade the shelf-life of a supply you build yourself.
While there are keen advantages to buying a supply of food, there are some drawbacks to consider. First, this option can be more expensive. Second, while the variety and taste of food offered by large preparedness companies has expanded recently, the industry as a whole lags behind the flexible options given to the average consumer.
So if you don’t want to pick from the same 20 or 25 meals, want only the most delicious food, or you have unique dietary needs, you may not find suitable options for you among the leading food storage providers. In contrast, if you know you already like canned soups, canned tuna, canned fruit, canned green beans or other canned food, you can get most of these items during your shopping.
How To Get Started
If you put $25 a week apart for this option, in about six short months you’ll have enough for your purchase. This may seem like a lot of money, but many people spend this on their morning coffee purchase throughout the week, and food for 90 days, prepared in a way that can last over 20 years is worth that sacrifice. If you are buying for more than one person, the necessary savings each week will increase. Even if a three monthly supply of food seems like a distant goal, start working on a short term food storage plan with foods your family eats.
Where To Get Started
There are now dozens of companies which specialize in long term, storage safe emergency food. This chart compares just a few of them. I have a strong bias for My Patriot Supply, but I include several others to give you a flavor of what types of options, advantages and disadvantages are out there.
Building Your Supply
While there are keen advantages to buying a supply of food, several preppers prefer to make or prepare the food supply themselves.
An advantage to this plan is it is almost infinitely customizable. You don’t have to rely on limited (though growing) menu items, meals that might be out of stock, or options that don’t fit your taste or dietary plans. You also may find it a fun family activity to undertake. Finally, for those on a budget, one can build their supply slowly using very cost effective food items. No one wants to eat ramen noodles or even granola bars for 90-days in a row, but you can certainly have that once a day for three months and your body will more than cope with that choice in time of need.
Cheaper food storage items such as canned foods or frozen foods are generally more available in traditional grocery stores, than in preparedness shops which focus more heavily on calorically dense foods. It is important to note that while you can survive on food with low nutrition, if you want to have optimal energy and health, your three month emergency food supply should have complete caloric replacements and mirror healthy nutritious meals as closely as you can. Fresh produce has the most nutrients, but in an emergency you may have to settle from canned green beans or other canned food.
Building or planning to make your own 3 month food supply can take a lot of time including effort to go grocery shopping, meal planning, and packaging food. Preparing the food to last much longer than a year also takes a degree of expertise and research. If you want your food to have a long shelf life of several years, you’ll also likely need specialized equipment such as a dehydrator and professional grade canner. In short, it can be quite the investment in effort to build your own 3 month emergency food supply supply, especially if a high percentage of it is food that you need to make, dehydrate or can yourself. Food sealed improperly won’t have the same expiration date as properly packaged or dehydrated foods.
A quick note: per the USDA, be aware most foods have expiration dates which refer to an item's “taste” date or “quality” date, not by its “safe” date. Accordingly, many foods are safely edible much past their advertised date. Canned foods can still be a staple for your food pantry. Frozen foods can be helpful, but won’t last long in a power outage.
How to Get Started
Just like with the buying outright option listed above, you can take weekly, small actions to position you near your goal in short order. If you are like the typical American, you buy most of your food once a week, for 21 meals (7 Breakfasts, 7 Lunches, and 7 Dinners). If this describes you, try buying for 24-27 meals a week, or 1-2 days extra. If you can buy a few extra cans of food you won’t eat that week, you will have close to 200 cans by the end of the year. If you typically skip breakfast, how much food you need may vary. Building a three month emergency food supply comes down to first building a short term food storage supply.
Where to Get Started
The beauty of this plan is you can start at any store you normally shop at, or your garden if you plan to utilize vegetables for optimal nutrition.
Buy Some and Build Some
Many people, including experts, choose a hybrid model of the above two options, opting to buy some of their supply directly from a supplier, and slowing building or making the rest of their food kit. This allows someone to have the advantages of both models. You can customize the options that fit your normal diet, build a supply in a way that allows you to utilize it as meals or as separate food items, and still rely on professional services that provide very unique offerings such as peanut butter powder, powdered milk, canned meats or meat packs, and other dried foods. A well stocked pantry may include items from an emergency preparedness outfit as well as food from your normal grocery shopping. If you have a garden with fresh produce, you may want to reserve some vegetables for dehydration. Again, frozen foods may be a useful tool, but they may be unavailable without power.
Where to Store Your Supply
I’ve written other articles on how and where to store food, but here is just a quick word of caution. If this is truly a 3-month supply of “emergency” food, then don’t feel too stressed about it being very accessible. In fact, it may be better to have it a little hard to get to. That way if you are in a stressful emergency situation, you’ll be willing to do the work to get to it, and if it isn’t an emergency, you won’t be tempted to sneak some powdered milk for that recipe when you run out of normal milk. I’m a big fan of long term storage being put under beds. Of course, if you have the space, you can also build or invest in a can roller.
Non Food Items
Being prepared for natural disasters or other emergencies requires you to have more than just food that you regularly eat. You should also have basic hygienic items such as soap, paper towels, medicine, and other needs for an extended emergency situation. You may also wish to have an emergency preparedness plan and discuss it with your family to include what to do if there is a natural disaster when one or both parents are at work. Even your kids should participate and understand the general family reunification plan.
Is your entire supply of food in your home, or can you keep some dry foods, food bars, or food kits in a small go-bag at your desk at work? You may not be able to keep the same variety of items in vehicle or work storage as you can in your home storage, but you can keep small amounts of all the vitamins or non-perishable foods you normally like under your desk, and you can keep granola bars in your car. Whatever your food storage plan is, the best one is the one you start today.