A Guide to the Best Survival Foods

Take Food Preservation Methods a Step Further into Emergency Preparedness

A Guide to the Best Survival Foods

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Emergency survival and preparation is a hot topic right now. You’ll find many articles online regarding what foods should be on your survival items list. Some are better for long-term storage while others have a shorter shelf life. Combined, they cover a lot of your survival food needs.

Short-Term Survival

Some of the best-tasting foods won’t last longer than a few months in your pantry. But these are also the foods you’re more likely to purchase and consume on a regular basis. Keep a one-to-three-month supply of these survival foods on hand but don’t buy enough to last a year unless you have a plan to use and rotate them.

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Bottled Water: Good, pure water lasts longer than a few months. But single bottles of water are better for short-term storage because of how we consume them. One single serving bottle can only be reused so many times before the thin plastic cracks. Bottled water is also difficult to stack and store. Keep several cases around for emergencies where you may be unable to draw clean water from a faucet for a few days.

Granola and Protein Bars: Prepared for athletic or camping needs, snack bars don’t need to be heated before consumption and come in easy-to-open packaging. They are also lightweight and designed to offer most of your short-term protein and carbohydrate needs, so they’re perfect for your bug out bag list. The healthiest bars spoil fastest because they have a higher amount of natural fat and no preservatives.

Canned, Prepared Meals: Ravioli, chili, and soups are high in sodium and won’t last much longer than the date stamped on the can. They do provide tasty and welcomed survival food during hard times. Enduring a week without electricity definitely warrants breaking into the canned meals. Purchase a case or two when these foods go on sale and stack them in a cupboard. Write the expiration date on the box with a bold marker. Use and replace before the foods expire.

Pastas: To keep pests out of your pastas, vacuum-seal them then store in a freezer or rigid box. Pasta can last for a couple of years if stored correctly, though nutritional value and flavor decline with time. Use and rotate your pasta regularly.

Bottled Sauces: Match each box of pasta with a jar of heat-and-serve sauce. If you can’t make it to the store for food, you have a single meal for up to four people just by combining and cooking these two items. Though spaghetti sauce won’t last a decade, it’ll often make it into the next year.

Fresh and Frozen Meats: Uncooked meats aren’t on the long-term survival food list because they require constant refrigeration. Freezers break or the power may go out. But six months of frozen meat cares for your protein needs as long as the electricity holds out.

Dried Fruit: Fresh fruit doesn’t last long. Dehydrated or freeze-dried versions retain many vitamins and can last years if dry-packed with moisture absorbers. Purchase raisins or dry your own fruit in a dehydrator, vacuum-seal it, and write the date on the package with a permanent marker. If the package is air-tight, your fruit will last up to a year without a moisture absorber.

Nuts and Seeds: Due to their high fat contents, nuts and seeds go rancid too fast to last long-term. But they provide essential nutrition during the time they are good and can often be eaten several months past the printed date. Storage life can be doubled in the refrigerator or tripled in the freezer.

Frozen Veggies: Stay nourished while you can. If you can’t garden or make it to the supermarket, frozen vegetables are the second-best option. Consume within six months for best quality, though vegetables stored at 0 degrees F stay safe indefinitely.

Condiments: Ketchup and mayonnaise can cheer up a dull dinner during hard times. Purchase many smaller containers and don’t open bottles until you need them. Mind the expiration dates and rotate supplies frequently.

Flours: From oat, rye, flaxseed meal, coconut flour, to wholegrain wheat, keep a good supply for baking. Wholegrain flours have a lower shelf life because of the fat content within the germ. Increase shelf life by dry-sealing it then keeping in your pantry. Increase further by freezing.

Leavening Agents: Yeast, baking soda, and baking powder don’t seem like critical survival foods. But though they are crucial for rising baked goods and soaking beans, their shelf lives ranges from two months to two years. Store in the freezer to keep good longer.

Best for Long-Term Storage

Not all food has to be rotated regularly. Emergency essentials are difficult to keep in check if you have to constantly replace items. Keep foods with a long storage life in case your disaster continues past a few months.

Distilled Water: Why distilled? Because it’s the purest source of water you can find: Just hydrogen, oxygen, and a couple minerals that made it through processing. Distilled water is less likely to develop algae or other issues while in storage. It also comes in containers ranging from one gallon to 55, which are stackable to save space.

Honey: One of the best survival foods, honey can last thousands of years. It only changes color, flavor and consistency. If your honey crystallizes, heat within a saucepan or double boiler until it is once again liquid.

Dried Legumes: If they are correctly stored, legumes sit for millennia in a clay vessel, survive an archaeological dig, and sprout when introduced to water. Pack in an airtight container with a moisture absorber. Commercially packed cans of legumes already contain what they need for long-term storage.

Hard Wheat: Use it for sprouting, grinding, or starting your own crop when the snows clear. Wheat can last 30 years if properly stored. If you intend to grind the wheat once it’s opened, include a grinding implement with your survival foods.

Salt: It flavors food, preserves it, and balances other nutrients for proper muscular and neurological function. A #10 can of salt goes a long way.

White Rice: Though brown rice is healthier, white lasts substantially longer because most of the oils have been removed. Increase shelf life by vacuum-sealing it with a moisture-absorbing insert and storing in a cool, dry location. Or purchase pre-packed cans of rice from food storage centers.

Vinegar: Pickles last for years because of the vinegar. It doesn’t mold if the acidity is high enough and can ensure the safety of other foods. Purchase sealed bottles to keep in your long-term survival food supply.

Jams and Jellies: Even home-canned jams last years because of the high sugar content. And jam is a welcome treat during survival situations. Be sure your jams and jellies have been canned using proper procedures.

Hard Alcohol: Bottles of vodka can help you survive even if you don’t drink. Strong alcohol kills bacteria. And vodka does not spoil within a tightly closed container.

Picture by Shelley DeDauw

Best Foods You Can Grow Yourself

If you have a little land and a green thumb, you can produce much of your survival food storage.

Winter Squash: Acorn squash last a couple months and hubbard lasts up to a year. Pressure can to preserve it longer. Squash is high in healthy carbohydrates and carotenes.

Garlic: Once it’s dried, garlic lasts months. Mix it with salt to make it last years. A delicious flavoring for boring meals, it also boosts the immune system.

Sweet Potatoes: A perfect survival food, civilizations have called sweet potatoes a “food that ends famine quickly.” Orange varieties have exceptionally high levels of vitamin A and purple roots have more anthocyanins. Because sweet potatoes are a living organism, they last for months if stored in a cool, dry place and can be used for planting next year’s crop.

Herbs: Parsley, one of the healthiest of all plants, is packed with vitamins, nutrients, and cancer-fighting elements. Grow it from summer to fall then dehydrate and store for a year of longer in airtight containers. Most other herbs can be grown then dried for medicinal or culinary use.

Kale: Brassicas are full of goodness but not all store well. Kale can be washed then dehydrated for dry storage. Sprinkle dried kale into soups to revitalize this dark green, leafy vegetable and take advantage of its nutrients.

Grinding Corn: Corn on the cob is a treat but it can only be frozen for a few months before it loses flavor. Grinding corn such as Indian varieties contain more nutrients and can last for years if stored correctly. It’s also available in colors ranging from near-black, bright crimson, pink, and dark green, which indicate different nutrients. Storing ground corn in the freezer can retain the goodness for a few more months.

Potatoes: Easy to plant and maintain, potatoes are a valuable crop for self-sufficient living. As long as the soil and plants are healthy and free of blights and viruses, you can save seed potatoes for planting next year. Potatoes don’t have much protein but are high in carbohydrates.

Legumes: Peanuts are high in protein, peas contain green goodness, and drying beans last forever. All can be saved as seeds for next year. Grow legumes during the spring and summer then dry and save the seeds in airtight containers.

Tomatoes: You cannot grow too many tomatoes if you know the right food preservation techniques. They can be dried, ground into powder for soups, frozen, and canned into sauces. Tomatoes can also be opened and included in recipes from all over the world.

Apples, Peaches, and Pears: Old-world sailors proved that vitamin C is crucial for nutritional balance. Even if scurvy is no longer a danger, it’s smart to include fruits in your pantry. Apples, peaches, and pears can be dried, made into fruit leather, canned, or frozen. They can be used for desserts or replacing the fat source in batter breads.

Best Foods for Nutrition

We want to stay healthy, especially in tough situations. Don’t rely on hardtack or jerky to get you through. Many survival foods retain their nutrients when stored correctly.

Dried Herbs: Nutritional powerhouses, herbs provide vitamins, medicinal qualities, or safety to other dishes.

Dried Greens: Spinach, kale, mustard greens, or sea vegetables retain a lot of nutritional value even if the plant has stopped growing. Store in airtight containers away from sunlight for best storage life.

Peanuts and Peanut Butter: Though you can’t store it for years without converting it to a powder, peanut butter provides protein, fat, and calories. Purchase smaller containers so you only open what you need and pay attention to expiration dates.

Canned Meats: It’s said meat will give you 80% of what you need in a situation where you need survival food. Canned meats such as tuna or Vienna sausages provide protein and last several years. Rotate canned stock and discard any products with bulging lids.

Brown Rice: Which do you store: brown rice or white? Store both but depend on brown for the most nutrition.

Whole Grains: Like brown versus white rice, other whole grains contain more nutrients because the hull and germ is still intact. Unfortunately, this also shortens the shelf life. Store whole grains in cool, airtight containers. Stock up on wheat for sprouting, rolled oats for baking, flaxseed or barley for other meals.

Canned Fruits and Vegetables: They’re not as good as fresh but they do offer vitamins even if they’ve been canned in syrup. Don’t throw out the liquid, especially if you’re running low on clean water.

Fats and Oils: Certain vitamins, such as A and D, need fat for absorption. Fats also facilitate brain function. As you build your survival food storage, remember that 30% of your daily calories should be from fats for proper nutrition. Sealed vegetable oil lasts much longer so purchase smaller containers and only open what you need. Rotate stock regularly.

Vitamins: Plan for situations where fresh produce may not be available. Purchase vitamins and supplements with longer shelf lives, such as dry tablets, and store in airtight containers. Use and replace to keep vitamins most effective.

For your most prepared pantry, focus on a combination of short-term and long-term survival foods. Lean on nutritional value and grow what you can. A little planning can prepare you for even the smallest disasters.

2 thoughts on “A Guide to the Best Survival Foods”
  1. Marissa, this was a very good article, full of good information. I just have a few quick comments. First, So long as the cans aren’t damaged or bulging commercially canned goods are perfectly fine for years after the “Best By” date. Those dates are set my salespeople or lawyers, not nutritionists, to get you to buy more product. Even home canned meats and vegetables are good for at least two or three years–provided they are stored properly. While it’s true nutritional value declines with time the products remain safe to eat so long as they aren’t otherwise contaminated.

    Second, M&M’s, whether plain or peanut, will also last for years if frozen. They will even last for many months unfrozen, though if you have kids around they won’t last all that long. Hard candies last for years even without freezing.

    Third, why no mention of freeze dried foods or MRE’s. Both last for years if not decades.

  2. As a professional home economist, I found your information to be very correct and very well written. Thank you for helping others.
    A couple of things I have found is that commercial cereals keep well in the freezer and foods that are vacuumed sealed and wrapped in freezer paper keep the best and longest in the freezer. If some items are freezer burned, cut the burned part off to save the food item. Use it in a dish that has other flavors that are strong and will mask slight freezer burn. Nutritional value should still be there.

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