Natural disasters are a fact of life that many of us have to live with. Floods, tornadoes, fire, earthquakes, and blizzards are commonplace in many parts of the world and when these natural disasters hit it behooves us to be prepared.
One of the most basic preparations that we should have made in readiness for such an event is to ensure that our family can get by until such time as electricity and other services are restored.
On top of needing to have your shelter sorted, food and water are the most important things that need to be in place, so it makes sense to have the basics of an emergency pantry to call upon when needed. With such a pantry in place, you will be in good shape to get through the ordeal when a natural disasters hits.
In stressful times it is not such a good idea to have only junk food or foods with little calorific value to eat. In these circumstances, more than any other, your body will need healthy foods that have the calories that you need to get you through dealing with whatever Mother Nature has hurled at you, so don’t be tempted to set up an emergency pantry stocked with biscuits and chips!
Lets have a look at the type of food you want to include in your emergency pantry. A balanced diet requires that we eat some food from a number of different food groups. The quantities of each group and the specifics from each group will depend on the size of your family and any specialized dietary requirements you may have, whether they be due to religious, medical reasons or whatever.
You also need to consider how long you think you might be eating from your emergency store. Here we will cover the main food groups, with some suggestions of what you can incorporate.
This group incorporates a wide variety of foods including meats, legumes, fish, and nuts. Fortunately, many of these food items come conveniently packed in tins, or dried; ready made for your emergency pantry.
Many of these items can be extremely high in salts and sugars which will give you ‘empty’ calories or provide a sugar high, and after a short time, you will be left feeling hungry again. Read the labels and do your best to find examples that are not high in salt, sugar, and preservatives.
Canned fish is extremely high in omerga-3 fatty acids as well as providing essential protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Try to purchase small tins as you will, most probably, not have electricity so keeping the food from spoiling once a tin has been opened will be impossible. Individual servings are an ideal size.
These are some of the items that you could include:
- Canned meats – there are a large variety of canned meats ranging from the most common such as SPAM, hams and a wide variety of other meats such as meatballs or sausages. These often come combined with pasta.
- Canned fish – examples include tuna, sardines, and salmon. To make things a little more interesting, you could also consider clams, oysters, mussels, and crab, all of which will allow you to ring the changes at dinner time.
- Canned lentils, chickpeas, and beans. These are excellent sources of protein and can form the basis of many tasty meals. Baked beans are a family favorite in many households!
- Quorn and Soya. Do not discount these sources of protein as they can provide healthy alternatives and allow you to make something different for the family. Both come in dried form that will keep well.
- Nuts and seeds. Again a wonderful source of vegetable protein. Nuts can lift most meals and provide a healthy snack. Keep several packets of mixed nuts, as well as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and any other seeds that your family enjoys. In addition to protein, nuts such as cashews, pecans, walnuts and almonds provide both fiber and healthy fats. In addition to packs of nuts consider including peanut butter which will provide the same benefits.
- An alternative to canned meat is dried meat or jerky. This is meat that has been preserved with vinegar, salt and spices and then air dried to preserve it further. It can make a tasty snack and can be incorporated into your emergency packs very easily.
Fruits and Vegetables
Here there are a wide variety of foods available to you. Fruit and vegetables are important as they provide fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants which are all important from a health point of view.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are high in fiber and relatively low in calories, which help to keep you feeling full, but as we will not be storing fresh products you must read the contents on the can label very carefully to ensure you are not buying products loaded with salt and sugar.
- Canned fruit and vegetables are readily available. Remember, read the contents and select those products that are as low in added sugar, salt, and preservatives.
- Dried fruits such as raisins and prunes are a wonderful source of energy and fiber. Don’t restrict yourself to just these two, look around and find apples, bananas, peaches, apricots, and pears. All are available in dried form.
- Look for shelf-stable fruit juices. Do not be tempted to buy the larger bottle, which may be cheaper, as you will find it impossible to keep them fresh once opened. Rather, look for small individual servings that can be consumed at one sitting.
- If you are lucky to have a farmer’s market close to where you live, you may find bottled fruit and vegetables which will be an excellent alternative to the commercially canned variety.
Milk and dairy products
Milk and dairy products are important as they provide us with calcium, protein and several important vitamins such as A, D, and B12.
- Shelf stable or long life milk has been ultra-pasteurised so that it can be stored without refrigeration for a considerable length of time. This milk will have the closest taste to fresh milk, but again, look for the smallest package available as you will not be able to keep it fresh once opened.
- Boxed or canned milk will not taste the same as fresh milk so unless your family likes this type of milk, better to steer clear of them.
- There is a range of alternative types of milk available that you can incorporate in your emergency store. These include coconut, almond, rice, and soy.
- Don’t forget to include some treats made from milk such as custard.
- Cheese will keep well if it is a very hard cheese such as parmesan or you can look for cheese wedges that do not require refrigeration.
This group includes all the starchy foods such as oats, rice, pasta, and couscous as well as crackers and breakfast cereals.
Carbohydrates provide energy, and some B vitamins as well as calcium and fiber, and in some cereals you will find additional iron. Look for whole grain cereals wherever possible.
- Crackers are a good staple. Look for packs that contain smaller packets inside, so you are opening a few at a time rather than the entire pack in one go.
- Pasta, rice, and couscous are all valuable carbohydrates and can form the basis of many tasty emergency meals.
- Breakfast cereals are an excellent addition to your pantry as they can be eaten at any time of the day. Many are fortified and provide additional minerals and vitamins.
- Rice is another emergency staple that can form the basis of simple one-pot meals that will be nutritious, filling and quick to prepare.
- Include a few granola bars. These are sweet treats that are better than chocolate bars and will provide a healthy alternative.
Fats and Sugars
You should receive sufficient amounts of this group during the course of a normal day, but there is nothing wrong with including some chocolate bars and other sweet treats for the family. In addition to sweets, you could include cool drink cordials that can be mixed with water or jams to spread on crackers. In addition, include a bottle of olive oil and perhaps sunflower oil for cooking purposes.
This is not a standard food group, but in an emergency situation you will not be able to rely on the water from your taps, and with no electricity, you may not be able to filter your water. Better to be safe than sorry, so ensure you have a good supply of bottled water that you can use for drinking and cooking.
Be sure to include small packs of the condiments that are enjoyed by the members of your family. Mustard, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, herbs, and spices are all important in making your meals tastier.
If you live in or close to a major metropolitan area, any emergency is unlikely to last for more than a few days, but rural communities may find themselves cut off for some time. If you fall into the latter group, consider packing a few multivitamin packs to boost those nutrients that have been lost in the processing of the food you will be eating.
There is little point in organizing a balanced emergency pantry only to find you cannot open the cans nor cook or warm up the food.
Buy a few sturdy carry bags and keep them close to your emergency store. If the emergency means that you must leave your home, you will need to pack your food store in a hurry so keep your carry bags close by so the packing is not delayed.
In a sturdy box or bag place these items:
- A manually operated can opener.
- A couple of sharp knives
- Mugs, plates, dishes, knives, forks and spoons for each member of the family.
- A small camping stove with its gas fuel canisters
- Matches (waterproof)
- A couple of small pots and a frying pan.
In addition to the food, place these items close by as they will also be required:
- A sturdy flashlight with spare batteries.
- Candles and matches
- A first aid kit
- Emergency blankets
If you are concerned about getting caught in an emergency in your car, such as getting caught in a blizzard, then put together a small pack to keep in your car. Include items such as granola bars, beef jerky, packets of crackers, bottled water, nuts and dried fruit. Don’t forget to include a couple of blankets.
Electrical failures can trigger an emergency, and they are reasonably common occurrences in many parts of the world. If you live in an area where electrical failures are commonplace, consider investing in a small gas-powered electrical generator. This can be used in emergency situations to keep your refrigeration appliances running thus saving you from possibly having to throw away the contents.
Some tips for dealing with an electrical emergency:
- Keep your refrigerator door closed. The food in the fridge should be fine for at least 2-3 hours. If you believe that the electricity will soon be restored, you can transfer the food to a cooler and pack it with ice to extend its shelf life.
- If the temperature of the food you are trying to keep cold rises above 40˚F or 4˚C for more than 2 hours, the food may well begin to go off as bacteria starts to grow. In these circumstances, throw away all the perishable foods.
- Keep the lid of the freezer closed. After 48 hours with no electricity, the freezer will begin to defrost, though this is dependent on the amount of frozen food in the freezer. If the freezer is full, it may well remain frozen for a while longer, especially the food at the bottom should remain frozen. When the electricity returns, check the condition of the food. Any that has defrosted should be discarded.
An emergency pantry is a valuable resource to have, and like any resource, it needs to be managed. Cans and bottles have a shelf life, and your pantry will have to be reviewed on a regular basis. Check the ‘best by’ dates on all your items and rotate those coming near to their expiry dates, taking them out of your emergency store and into your regular pantry, using them before the ‘best by’ date expires. You can then purchase new items for your emergency store.
When disaster strikes, your family, and perhaps your neighbours, will be extremely grateful that you took the time and trouble to set up an emergency store. Keep it current, and when trouble knocks on your door, you will be ready to face the worst.
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