One of the most fundamental preps that everyone needs for facing down a prolonged emergency or disaster situation is a food stockpile.
Everyone intrinsically understands the importance of food, but what you might not understand is how fragile the systems are that bring food to your local grocery store.
Any number of events could cut you off from that food supply, from a natural or man-made disaster to a serious personal emergency.
What matters is that you have a store of food that will last you and your family for the duration. When it comes to being prepared for emergencies, having a 3-month food supply is the gold standard.
A 3-month supply of food will statistically last through any event that is even feasibly likely to happen to you.
But a 3-month supply of food is an awful lot to the average person! Where do you even start when you want to assemble a stash of food that big?
This may seem like a daunting task, but with careful planning and execution, it can be done in small steps over time.
In this article, we will walk you through the process of building up your food supply so that you can rest assured that you and your family will be well-fed in case of an emergency.
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What Kinds of Foods Should You Put In Your Survival Stockpile?
When it comes to stockpiling food for emergencies, it is important to have a variety of items on hand, both for nutrition and also to keep boredom and “menu burnout” at bay.
Some people just don’t hold up well when fed the same things over and over on a daily basis!
Any items you pick for your food stockpile should share some basic characteristics, things like:
Shelf-Stable: Easy to keep stored in a pantry, cabinet, or container with no refrigeration and little worry about spoilage due to temperatures or other conditions.
Long Shelf Life: The food should last for a long time when stored properly. Fresh foods are great but spoil quickly when not eaten right away or preserved somehow, meaning they are not great choices for our survival stash.
Calorie-Dense: Calories are a bad word for people on a diet, but critically important in a survival situation.
Calories are fuel for bodies, and without enough calories, your mental and physical capabilities will suffer. Go without calories long enough and you’ll die from starvation.
Nutritious: Generally! In a comparatively short-term survival scenario, it is unlikely that you’ll suffer from malnutrition unless you eat nothing but junk, but you are always better off eating food that will nourish your body. It is okay to have some comfort foods too, though!
It is also important to understand you don’t need any fancy (and expensive!) “survival meals” or MREs as part of your stash; all you really need are items that are ready to eat with no or minimal preparation that you are sure you can make under the circumstances of the event.
If you have a way to heat food and boil water when your kitchen is offline, you should be good to go!
Here are some examples of non-perishable foods that you should include in your survival stockpile:
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Canned meat
- Dried fruits and vegetables
- Beans, dry or canned
- Rice, whole grain or instant
- Powdered Milk
- Powdered Eggs
- Comfort foods (Ready to eat: Pop-Tarts, cookies, crackers, candy, etc.)
- Other Spices
These are just a few examples of non-perishable foods that you should include in your emergency food supply.
How Much Food Do You Need to Stockpile?
The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors, including the number of people in your household, the age and health of those people, how active you are, whether or not you plan to ration your food, and how long you think you’ll need to survive on it.
Calculating food requirements by calories allow you to establish an accurate baseline for selecting and stocking food, but requires more math and record keeping on your part.
The answer to this question also depends on a lot of factors, including the person’s age, sex, and activity level.
As a rule, men need more calories than women, adults need more calories than kids and active bodies require more calories all around.
An active man needs about 2,500 calories per day to maintain his weight, while a sedentary woman needs about 2,000 calories per day.
If you add in significant activity, those numbers go up to 2,800 and 2,300 respectively. The older someone is the fewer calories they need, reducing the above figures by appx. 10% for every 10 years beyond 30 they go.
For instance, let us say that you are a man, aged 28, and it is just you that you are preparing for: you will need about 2,500 calories a day to maintain your weight at a modest activity level post-event.
If you want a 3-day supply of food you’ll need 7,500 calories. A one-week supply comes out to 17,500 calories, and a one-month supply of about 75,000 calories.
All you do is multiply your calorie requirement by the “survival time” and you will easily have a target number of calories to reach.
Another example. Let’s say you are prepping for yourself, your wife, and your twin children, aged 10 years.
You’ll need 2,500 calories a day, your wife will need around 2,000, and your kids will need around 1,700 each.
Again assuming moderate activity this totals 6,200 calories a day for your young family. That means a 3-day supply of food is 18,600 calories, a one-week supply is 43,400 calories and a one-month supply is 186,000 calories.
Once more, just multiple your daily requirement by the length of the situation to find your supply target number.
Of course, these are just averages and some people may need more or fewer calories than these numbers suggest.
The best way to figure out how many calories you need is to talk to a doctor or nutritionist if you want to truly nail down a precise figure.
Alternate Method for Calculating Food Requirements
If calculating calories sounds like too much work, you can determine your food requirements by pound. Before you start, yes, this method is very coarse.
Naturally, some foods are very calorie dense by weight, whereas others are nutrient-dense by weight.
That being said, this method has the advantages of being quick and easy to figure out and also makes determining the useful “uptime” of bulk foods like beans, rice, cereals and so forth pretty easy to do on the fly.
In short, an adult human needs around 4 pounds of food per day. Kids need between 2 and 3 pounds.
If you have a family of four and plan to eat well, you’ll need about 14 pounds of food (on the high side) per day.
If you plan to ration your food, then you’ll need more like 2 or 3 pounds per person per day or 10 pounds per day on the high side for your family.
Again, these are just estimates. The best way to figure out how much food you need to stockpile is to sit down and make a plan based on the metrics that are most important to your circumstances.
Consider how much food you or your family eats in a day to feel satisfied; that is a good baseline.
Now consider how much you could get by on without being totally miserable. That will provide your “rationing” supply.
Assembling Your 3 Month Supply Step by Step
Below you’ll find an outline for assembling your 3-month food stash in easy, achievable, and most importantly meaningful increments: you won’t be buying food and random ingredients haphazardly in quest of an arbitrary amount.
Instead, you will buy a well-rounded and all-inclusive supply of food that will get you through a survival situation with no hiccups and then build upon that core logically and comprehensively as resources permit.
Using this methodology, you’ll be ready for an emergency or disaster situation as early as your next trip to the grocery store! Keep reading for all the details.
The 3-Day Supply
Assuming you are starting from zero, and you don’t have the money or time to go out and buy a frankly enormous amount of food, you should begin your 3-month food stockpile by assembling your 3-day Supply.
The 3-day Supply is exactly what it says, enough food to last you and anyone in your family or group 3 days of typical calorie intake.
This is entirely achievable for the average person simply by supersizing your next grocery trip and then setting aside the chosen items as an untouchable reserve.
A 3-day Supply is only a grand total of nine meals for each person, breakfast lunch, and dinner.
You should also know that a 3-day supply of food is what such distinguished agencies as FEMA recommend all citizens have on hand, just in case.
Once you have your 3-day Supply in hand, it is time to reach for the next rung on the ladder of food preparedness.
The One Week Supply
Next up is a one-week food supply. This should be enough to tide you over in case of a short-term disaster that is likely to happen, be it something like a tornado striking your town or being cut off from typical food supplies because of a relatively minor regional disaster.
There are two ways to approach the simple one-week supply. Either you can double your 3-day Supply and add a little bit extra, or begin by making a list of all the meals that you normally eat in a week.
If you usually eat out or order in, consider how you would prepare those same meals at home.
Then, make sure you have all the ingredients on hand to make those meals according to the method of your choosing and then put them away in your stash.
I have noticed that it is at this level of food prep where most people start to regularly pilfer the stockpile for a needed ingredient that was forgotten at the grocery store, for snacks, or for other reasons.
Try not to give in to this mentality, but if you do choose to partake of it as a convenience option you must ensure that you replace the taken item at your earliest convenience. Otherwise, you won’t have a stockpile at all!
Once you have assembled your one-week supply, pat yourself on the back as most people won’t even get close to this level of food readiness. Trust me, your family will thank you or at the very least you’ll be glad you have it when the time comes.
The Two Week Supply
Once you have your one-week food supply assembled, it’s time to start thinking about a two-week food supply.
This is where things can start to get more complicated, as you will need to factor in things like expiration dates and food rotation if your goods aren’t possessed of long shelf lives.
When it comes to filling out the menu for your 2-week supply, I would recommend one of three approaches.
If you or your family are not particularly in need of a diverse menu, all you need to do is double the ingredients and foods you have for your one-week supply.
An alternate method is to start bulking up your menu with staples like rice, dry beans, cereals, simple bread, and the like. That is definitely a quantity over quality approach but is simple and affordable.
Alternately, for those who are just not willing to eat the same thing weekend and week out you can create a second, week-long menu, determine the ingredients needed for it and then buy those so long as you are hitting your calorie requirements established above.
Keep in mind that more diversity means keeping track of items that need rotation and a greater logistical burden in general. This must be weighed carefully against the personalities and requirements of your family.
With your two-week food supply safely in storage, you have reached a significant prepping milestone.
There are precious few people in your town who have even gone this far, so you definitely deserve some congratulations for that. However, your work isn’t done and your next major milestone is soon to come.
The One Month Supply
Now that you have a two-week food supply, it’s time to focus on creating a month-long supply. This is where things can really get tricky, as you need to make sure you have enough food to last you an entire month.
To do this, you will need to carefully plan out your meals, make sure you have all the ingredients on hand, and dedicate an extra room to food storage requirements.
You will also need to pay more attention to expiration dates and make sure you are rotating your food so that nothing goes bad.
The one-month food supply is definitely the point where I recommend the average person start stockpiling calorie-dense, easy-to-store staples: beans, rice, grains, flour, honey, salt, stuff like that.
Together, though perhaps making only uninspiring and relatively plain fare you’ll be saving a ton of room, money, and logistical burden by the calorie.
Starting out with a one-month supply that is so equipped with these long storing staples you’ll have options from the get-go.
Do you make more substantial meals starting out in an event and then taper down to your basic fare as time goes on, or do you pad your menu with basic fare every other meal, stretching your more fulfilling ingredients?
This is the point where most Preppers buckle down and focus on raw calories for the long haul.
Your menu might get basic or highly repetitive, but if you are forced to depend on a one-month or longer food supply you’re going to be in quite a pickle regardless.
The Three Month Supply
Once you have a month-long food supply, it’s time to start thinking about a three-month supply.
This is the gold standard when it comes to emergency preparedness, as it will give you enough time to weather almost any event that is plausible.
A 3-month food supply represents a substantial investment in food above and beyond what you might normally buy at the grocery store, and frankly purchasing this outright is beyond the reach of most people in a single pay period unless you are quite wealthy.
That being said, the best way to assemble your 3-month food supply is by assessing your one-month supply and then tripling it. Simple as.
Look at the ratio of food you have, from genuine meal ingredients and basics in your canned goods like meat, veggies, and fruits, and then your bulk staples like beans, rice and flour.
Once you figure out that ratio, all you’re going to do is replicate it twice more. If you have a fairly comprehensive menu that can last a month, you should be just fine repeating it on a monthly basis.
Only the pickiest of eaters require that much diversity in their food, and if you are dealing with someone like that and your family it is time to check their expectations.
Your other major problem is storing all of this food. Unless you have a dedicated room for storage in your home or a gargantuan walk-in pantry, you’re going to be stashing food in all sorts of places.
It will be in closets and food-grade buckets, under beds in tubs, and squirrel away in the tops of closets. Whatever you have to do to get it on hand, do it.
But once you have, take a big step back and give yourself a round of applause. You have achieved the gold standard in food readiness!
The Importance of Rotating Your Stockpile
Alright! You did it! You assembled your 3-month food supply. Time to kick back and bask in the accomplishment of the achievement, right? Yes, but also no: you have plenty more to do!
You need to constantly stay on top of rotating your food stash. Food goes bad over time. That’s just a fact of life.
Even the most heavily preserved and stable foods will eventually spoil, with precious few exceptions.
If you neglect this critical element, you could be pulling out food that is dangerously degraded or, at best, disgusting when you need it the most!
How to deal with this problem? Easy. You rotate it. Rotation is the process of using the oldest food in your supply in the course of every day cooking before it expires and then replacing the used item with another one that you purchase.
This process continues from oldest to (then) freshest, ensuring you constantly have viable, dependable food in your supply while minimizing waste.
This is sometimes called “first in, first out” among preppers. (FIFO). As long as you are constantly replenishing your stores with fresh food, you’ll never have to worry about eating bad food except for the odd and one-off “bad” portion.
There are a couple of different ways to go about organizing your food stores for rotation.
The first and most basic is to just have a designated “prepper” shelf in your pantry where you keep all of the foods that will make up your long-term supply.
This can work fine, especially if you don’t have an abundance of space to dedicate to prepping or if you are just getting started.
A more sophisticated method is to invest in a food storage system that allows you to see at a glance what foods you have on hand and how long they’ve been in storage.
This can be anything from plastic tubs with labels to a fancy computerized inventory management system.
In any case, every single item you store, whether it comes packaged or you package it yourself, must be marked with the “use by” date in a permanent marker, and preferably the date you purchased it or packaged it as well.
No matter what route you go, just make sure you have a system in place that works for you and your family.
Extending Shelf Life for Certainty and Ease of Upkeep
All that being said if this sounds like a lot of work you can further cut down on the requirement of rotation by extending the shelf life of your stockpile by enhancing proper storage techniques.
For instance, many grains can be stored in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers to keep them fresh for 20-30 years.
This same technique can be applied to beans, rice, sugar, salt, and a host of other items as well.
If you have the space and are willing to put in a bit of extra effort upfront, this is an excellent way to reduce the workload associated with maintaining your stockpile while ensuring you have a dependable and high-quality food supply.
A few other things you can do to increase the longevity of your stockpile include:
- Store foods in a cool, dark place
- Use enhanced packaging as appropriate (vacuum sealing, mylar bags, freeze-drying, O2 absorbers, desiccant, etc)
- Avoid storing foods in a way that is susceptible to moisture or pests (this is why you don’t want to store flour in its original bag, for example)
- Inspect your stored foods regularly for signs of spoilage or pest infestation; “a bad apple ruins the whole bunch!”
Be sure to check out our other articles on food storage for many more tips, tricks, and ideas!
With a little bit of effort, you can ensure that your food supply is not only dependable but also high-quality. Don’t let your hard work go to waste by neglecting this critical element!
3 Months of Good Eating
Building a three-month food supply may seem like a daunting task, but with careful planning and execution, it can be done. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can rest assured that you and your family will be well-fed in case of an emergency.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.