Disaster Prep: Food Stocks

A stock of ring-pull cans, ready for anything.

Although popular culture typically depicts the human race prepping for disasters of unimaginable proportions (zombies in the streets, virulent pathogens, asteroid crashes and huge monsters), most of the troubles you'll likely face are either naturally-occurring (as in weather or earthquake-related), or civil disturbances that suddenly escalate.

The first urge of a human-faced with either of these situations is to head home and make sure that loved ones are safe and secure. As such, you have to prepare for the natural or man-made siege by planning ahead.

The Problem

If you’re like most of us, you probably don’t have a pantry that’s stocked with what you would need if you had to rely on yourself for any extended length of time. Sure, you can get fresh water out of the toilet tank, but there’s no magic receptacle for food available until Star Fleet finally gets around to making replicators commercially available.

In most cases, if any stores are open during a disaster, the shelves will quickly go barren of any goods, whether purchased or carried off by looters. And yes, the ideal situation is to have a garden, some fruit trees, and animals that can provide milk, eggs, and meat in trying conditions. But since most people live in an urban environment, getting milk from ol’ Bessie isn’t an option, and if disaster strikes in winter, your food stock may not be active.

So, in most cases, it’s imperative to make sure that you have at least a three day to a week’s supply of food and water available if you would like to ensure that your loved ones can survive for the period it takes your world to return to normal.

The Checklist

There are a few major questions you need to answer first: are you going to be able to cook any of the food you store? Do you have a can opener that you know how to use and can easily find? Do you actually have food that your family likes to eat and will provide proper nutrition?

Be prepared to improvise if the answer to any of those questions is “no.”

Your Basic Needs

True disaster prepping takes a long-term outlook, suggesting that you have a six-month to one-year supply of food on hand. That’s not usually practical if you’re an apartment dweller, so we’ll focus on things that you can easily accomplish.

The most basic needs can be met with a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Ideally, you would have canned goods and dry mixes that can be eaten directly without extensive cooking, water or other preparations. Most people need about a gallon of water per person per day, so be aware that a lot of canned goods have extra salt. Look for salt-free, whole grains and canned foods that have a high liquid content. With your storage, make sure you include eating utensils.

Some items you should have on hand are protein or fruit bars, canned tuna/chili/pasta/beef stew/beans, powdered milk, powdered juice, beef jerky, hard candies, peanut butter, trail mix, canned beverages, and infant food.

It’s okay to have a few comfort foods, too, as long as they’re not going to make you excessively thirsty or bouncing off the walls with caffeine. And yes, stressful times call for the magic balm of alcohol, so it’s okay to have some on hand.

It’s also a good idea to have some vitamins on hand, just in case your temporary stay is a bit longer than anticipated. And don’t forget the toothpaste, candles, toilet paper, and some hand wipes.


While that sounds like a lot, the idea is simply to hold fast and wait out whatever is going on while keeping in the best health possible. The average adult needs anywhere from 2,000-3,000 calories per day.

Keep your food in a dry location without excessive temperature differentials. It’s also a good idea to check on the food periodically to make sure that it’s still wholesome and hasn’t developed any obvious problems. (Bulging cans = problems.)

Following the above rules will likely allow you to ride out whatever conflagration has temporarily made life as we know it go off the rails. At the least you’ll avoid having to leave your home and desperately seek food and water like your neighbor Joe, whose incessant door knocking will soon be driving you crazy.