How to Stockpile Food for an Emergency

Published April 6, 2020
Food supplies for quarantine period

Learning how to stockpile food for an emergency like a global pandemic or natural disaster could save you money and save your life. Follow these simple steps to starting your emergency food stockpile so you're prepared, but not wasteful.

Step One: Examine Your Food Storage Capabilities

Shelf stable nonperishable foods need to be stored at room temperature away from extreme temperature fluctuations for safety purposes. They also need to be protected from water and critters.

Good Places to Store Your Food Stockpile

Unfinished basements and attics or rooms without regulated temperatures are not good places to store foods. Look for someplace that's out of the way, but meets all the food storage guidelines.

  • Do you have a cupboard or cupboard shelf you're not using in your kitchen or a closet?
  • Do you have a storage bin big enough to hold your stockpile?
  • Do you have space to store the food out of the way, but off the ground?
  • Do you have a space in your main living area where the food could be stored?

Choose Your Storage Space

Once you have considered factors like temperature, water, and access, you'll have to pick a spot where you plan to keep your stockpile. Measure this area and write down the measurements so you can always be reminded how much space you have to work with. Take a photo of the space and keep it on your phone so you can remind yourself when you're out shopping.

Step Two: Figure Out How Much Food You Need to Stockpile

Stockpiling food for emergency situations takes careful and reasonable planning. If you hoard a bunch of foods you'd never eat, they'll just be a waste of money and resources.

Man shopping at grocery store

Gather Family Food Data

Before you can figure out how much food you'll need, you need to figure out how much food everyone eats on a normal day. You'll also want to note what kinds of food your family regularly eats.

  • Make a list of each family member's typical meals, snacks, desserts, and drinks for one normal day. Note amounts and specific items.
  • Right down any special dietary restrictions.
  • If others would use your house as a safe place during an emergency, like grandparents, make sure you account for their needs too.
  • For any perishable foods on your lists, replace them with a nonperishable substitute, like boxed milk instead of cold milk.
  • If there is not a suitable nonperishable substitute, cross the item off the list.

Do the Math

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security shares tips on food stockpiles at They recommend having a 3-day supply of nonperishable foods that will feed your entire family, or all the members of your household. The Red Cross and FEMA suggest having a two-week supply on hand.

  • For each family member, make a list of the specific foods and drinks they consume in a day, or their acceptable nonperishable substitutes.
  • Write the number of servings consumed in a day for each item on the list.
  • For a 3-day supply, multiply each serving number by 3 and write down that number. This is how many servings that person needs of each item for a 3 day supply.
  • For a 2-week supply, you'd multiply by 14 instead of 3.
  • Repeat this process for each household member.
  • Make a new master list of foods. If multiple family members eat the same item in a day, write the total number of servings they all need by adding their serving totals together.
  • If possible, note how many servings are in one container of each specific food by looking at the serving size information on the can, box, or jar.
  • Remember, your data shows how many servings you need, not how many cans or jars. You'll need to do the math to figure out how many jars you need to get your desired servings.

How to Make a Bigger Stockpile

If you choose to stockpile food for a longer timeframe, divide your master list totals by 3 to get the number of servings the whole family needs for one day. Multiply this number times the number of days you're stockpiling for. Say you're planning to stockpile for one month and you know your family needs 3 servings of peanut butter per day, you'd multiply 30 times 3 to get 90, the number of servings of peanut butter your family needs for 30 days.

Step Three: Decide Which Foods to Store

You now have a master list of what your family eats in a day or in three days, but that doesn't mean you have to stockpile all these foods.

Shopping for preserved vegetables

Figure Out Which Foods Your Family Needs

Look at your list and determine which items have the most nutritional value and which are true necessities. You should definitely stockpile these items if they fit in your storage space.

  • Anything with a high salt content is not recommended as it can make you thirstier and you might not have a lot to drink.
  • Choose one "want" item per family member to boost morale during an emergency.
  • Stock only nonperishable items that come in cans, jars, bottles, or sealed boxes.
  • The American Public Health Association (APHA) suggests you include at least one gallon of water per person for each day.

The Best Foods You Need in Your Stockpile

You don't need to cook most of these foods, and most will last between one and two years in storage. Cans are the best packaging options for stored foods, and meats and vegetables last the longest. Use this emergency stockpile checklist as a guide to help you see what foods are best for an emergency stockpile or survival food kit.

  • Bottled water
  • Canned or boxed milk
  • Canned meat
  • Packaged dried meat like beef jerky
  • Canned fruit in juice or water, not syrup
  • Canned vegetables in water
  • Canned low-sodium soup
  • Protein bars
  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Canned pasta
  • Boxed pasta and jarred sauce
  • Dried fruit
  • Dry cereal
  • Unsalted nuts
  • White rice

Foods You May Want in Your Stockpile

Keeping a few "luxury" food items in your stockpile can help families deal with stress and keep a positive attitude during the actual emergency.

  • Cookies
  • Powdered drink mixes
  • Instant coffee mix
  • Instant tea mix
  • Instant hot cocoa mix
  • Hard candy
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit snacks
  • Specialty crackers

Step Five: Purchase a Few Items at a Time

Creating an emergency food stockpile does not have to include one giant shopping trip. In fact, many stores have limits on the number of essential items you can buy in one trip, especially if something like a pandemic has already started in nearby areas. That's why it's important to start your stockpile when there is no emergency. One easy way to stockpile food on a budget and in a social responsible way is to buy two or three items on each regular grocery trip.

Step Six: Organize Your Food Stockpile

As you acquire stockpile items, you should sort them in an organized manner in your chosen storage spot. Keep items with the soonest expiration dates at the front or top of your pile so they get used first. The best way to sort items is to keep all of one item together in order from earliest to latest "use by" date.

Why You Should Create an Emergency Food Stockpile

Global pandemics and quarantines, natural disasters, and states of emergency or shelter in place orders are not regular occurrences, but they are possible in your lifetime. When these things happen, you may not be able to get to stores, stores may not be able to get ample supplies, or your electricity might be out rendering your fridge useless. Having a plan before these emergencies hit can help you weather any of them, because you won't get advance notice they're coming.

Stockpiling Success

Managing an emergency food stockpile is not a one time action. It can take days, weeks, or even months to create your stockpile. Once it's created, you'll need to check on it every 6 months to make sure foods aren't about to expire and they haven't been ruined. Make sure you keep a manual can opener and some eating utensils with your food stockpile so you have everything you need for emergency meal times in one place.

How to Stockpile Food for an Emergency