Create your own emergency food kit

by Nick Rose, M.S.

This article was originally published in April 2016

A basic emergency kit provides peace of mind in stressful situations. An emergency food kit should provide enough food and water for your entire family without power or running water for at least three days. You can purchase an emergency food preparedness kit, or you can create your own, using everyday foods that you already purchase.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping on hand 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, so a family of four should have at least 12 gallons of clean water on hand at all times. You can purchase BPA-free plastic or glass bottles at PCC in various sizes (1-5 gallons), or you can reuse empty 2-liter bottles. Just be sure to wash and sanitize them first. Do not reuse plastic milk jugs because they’re hard to clean and aren’t made for long-term storage.

A quality water filter can come in handy, if you ever need more water than you are able to store. Tap water often is not safe to drink for several days after a flood or other emergency.


You’ll want to store foods that don’t require refrigeration, have a long shelf life, and don’t require much food preparation or cooking. Examples include peanut butter, canned tuna, nuts and dried cereal. Focus on energy-dense (high-calorie) foods, to get the most nutrition in the smallest amount of storage space.

Avoid salty foods that make you thirsty, such as pretzels and chips. High-water foods, such as canned fruits, provide both calories and hydration, making them a smart choice.

Many people rely on beans and rice as their emergency food ration because they’re economical, nutritious and can be stored for years. If this is your plan, make sure you have a way to cook them if the power goes out.

A propane camping stove allows you to boil water, heat up canned soups, and cook basic grains and beans even if you lose electricity. Always use your stove outside, to allow for adequate ventilation.

Canned foods can be eaten safely without heating (soup, beans), so even if you don’t have a stove, you still can eat any canned foods in your pantry.

When the power goes out, eat up whatever is in your fridge first then the freezer, and then turn to your pantry items. Your fridge will remain cold for approximately 4 hours after the power goes out and freezers can hold their temp for up to 48 hours. Keep the doors closed to maintain cold temps as long as possible.

When putting together foods for your emergency food kit, keep in mind any special dietary needs in your family (such as food allergies), or special foods for babies, the elderly and your pets.

Storing emergency supplies

It’s a good idea to assess your food kit every six months to check expiration dates and see what you might want to replace. Keeping foods in glass jars is ideal for long-term storage — flood water can ruin food stored in cardboard boxes.

Store emergency food and water together in a cool, dark part of your home. Make sure they’re safe from mice and flood water. Keep food in sealed containers and label and date each item.

How Much Food?

The most important nutritional consideration for your food kit is calories, and after that is protein. Adults require 50g of protein and at least 1,600 calories each day, so a three-day food kit should have at least 150g of protein and 4,800 calories per person.

Sample food kit (family of 4)

Food Amount Protein Calories
Canned tuna (4 oz can) 8 cans 250 1,135
Peanut butter (16 oz jar) 2 jars 224 5,500
Sunflower seeds (bulk) 1 pound 90 2,700
Crackers (6 oz box) 4 boxes 72 2,900
Per person, each day 53g 1,020*

* Additional foods such as dried fruits, cereals, honey and canned fruits/vegetables can help fill in the remaining calories.

Smart choices for your emergency food kit

Energy-dense foods:

Nuts, seeds, nut butters, mayonnaise, granola, candy bars, dried fruit

Shelf-stable liquids:

Organic Valley shelf-stable UHT pasteurized milk, protein shakes (Fuel, Balance), milk alternatives (soy, almond), fruit juice

High-protein foods:

Beef jerky, canned seafood/meat, nutrition bars, hempseeds, protein powders/meal replacers


Never goes bad, can serve as a sweetener, source of calories, and can be used topically due to its antiseptic properties

Instant foods:

Coffee, hot chocolate, soup, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, meals in heatable pouches, canned fruit

Sanitizing products for when running water isn’t available:

Cleansing towelettes, hand sanitizers, baby wipes, grapefruit seed extract

View the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) emergency supply checklist to see other non-food items you should have in case of an emergency.

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