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The emergency fund you can eat: Stocking your pantry

A well-stocked pantry can help you survive a

A well-stocked pantry can help you survive a natural disaster or extended blackout, get through a stretch of unemployment, experts advise. Credit: Getty Images / CatLane

Cash can help you survive an emergency, but saving as much as financial planners typically recommend — three to six months’ worth of expenses — can take years.

You can build an edible emergency fund a lot quicker.

A well-stocked pantry can help you survive a natural disaster or extended blackout, get through a stretch of unemployment, ensure you always have something tasty for dinner, and save you money, if done correctly.

The key to doing it right: Store what you eat, and eat what you store.

Here’s how to start:

  • Create a two-week menu. Write down what you would feed your family for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for 14 days. Don’t forget side dishes, drinks and desserts. It’s OK to repeat meals if that’s what you do in nonemergency situations. Don’t forget to include water: at least a gallon per person per day.
  • Stress-test the menu. How many of the meals could you prepare with ingredients that don’t require refrigeration? Perishables — fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy — may not be available. What shelf-stable ingredients can you substitute? Some foods you find at the supermarket have long shelf lives, such as rice, dried beans and canned foods. Others such as eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit and meat are available in dried or freeze-dried form from companies that specialize in emergency foods, such as Augason Farms and Mountain House.
  • Think about how you’d prepare each meal. If the gas and electricity are out, you’ll need some way to heat meals such as a camp stove or a grill. (Always cook outside; it’s safer.)
  • Create an ingredients list. Once you’ve settled on your final list of meals, list every ingredient for every meal and how much you’ll need of each. One serving of oatmeal is half a cup, for example, so you’ll need two cups each time you serve four people — plus another two cups of milk substitute, eight tablespoons of brown sugar and four little boxes of raisins or whatever fruit you plan to serve.
  • Don’t forget the treats. Comfort foods and familiar flavors can help you through tough times. Coffee and tea drinkers will want an ample supply, but everyone might appreciate hot chocolate, sweeteners, condiments, spices and hard candies.
  • Use what you have. Once a week or so, use some of your stockpile. You don’t have to create the emergency meal or cook it outside; you just have to use the ingredients for one of the meals, starting with the stuff that’s closest to its expiration date.


When creating a pantry of emergency food, decide which shelf-stable substitute foods you can actually tolerate. Powdered milk is an example of something that’s great in theory, but which some people find revolting. My family uses it to bake with, and we keep shelf-stable almond milk around to drink.

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