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Contemplating natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires may suppress your appetite, but we must eat to live, and gathering food supplies is an important part of being prepared to survive catastrophic events, as we’re reminded with Hurricane Dorian threatening Florida. 

We have the benefit of early warning systems for many natural disasters, and most of us have the option to stock up well beforehand too—yet many of us don’t, despite knowing how mobbed grocery stores will get when trouble is on the way. You don’t have to take it to doomsday prepper levels, but it’s a good idea to have some essentials on hand just in case the worst does come to pass. Even if you’re short on space, you can find a corner of your closet or room under your bed for a small box or bag of emergency supplies and rations.

Here are a few basic tips:

1. You should have a first aid kit, of course, and material supplies like flashlights, extra batteries, a utility knife, hand sanitizer, and so on. Here’s a full list of things to pack in advance.

2. It doesn’t hurt to have a portable charger for your phone, and there are even mobile apps that are helpful to install on it ahead of time.

3. As for your food stores, you want to focus on nutritious, high-protein items that don’t require cooking or refrigeration, and while canned items fit that bill, it’s good to have lighter options you can carry too in case you need to leave your home.

Here’s a list of suggested staples to keep on hand, whether you’re expecting a natural disaster or not. Better to be as safe and as ready as you can be.

Bottled Water + Water Filtration Device

You can last a long time without food if you absolutely have to, but water is essential. While it’s smart to keep a big supply on hand in the form of bottled water, if you end up needing to leave most of your things behind, make sure you have a water filtration device with you when you go. Be sure to check the directions well ahead of time to make sure it’s ready to use when you need it, too. Remember that you might need water for sanitation as well, and for your pets if you have them.

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Coffee and/or Tea

If you’re used to your daily cuppa, it’s a good idea to stock instant versions of coffee and/or tea; caffeine withdrawal won’t help you in a tough situation, and being able to enjoy a little bit of routine amid upheaval helps you feel better too. If you won’t have a way of heating your water (maybe get some solid fuel cubes in advance), you may be even more disgruntled by the prospect of cold brew, but in that case, you could always try caffeinated gum instead.

Canned Tuna, Salmon, Sardines, Chicken, Ham

Canned meat or fish lasts a long time, and can be eaten by itself for a quick hit of protein, or mixed with some of your other staples. You might want to buy lower sodium versions since they’re healthier and also won’t make you quite as thirsty—and pop tops when you can, in case you lose track of your can opener.


In the same vein of thinking ahead, since you probably have a stash of single-serve condiment packets (say, ketchup and hot sauce in your glove box from your fast food drive-through visits, or soy sauce and mustard from Chinese delivery), add those to your stores too, so you can inject some extra flavor even in dire circumstances. They’re little and light, so you can carry them without taking up much space—and they can make a pouch of plain tuna a much tastier prospect.

Peanut Butter

A classic protein powerhouse, peanut butter can last a long time on the shelf, even once it’s opened (three months under optimal conditions). Ditto other nut and seed butters.

Crackers or Crispbread

While a loaf of bread is good to have around as a vehicle for other foods, crackers or crispbread will last a lot longer and be more portable.


They may be a last resort, but MREs and freeze dried meals intended for backpackers are perfect to store away in case of emergency. Some companies provide literal buckets full of just-add-water meal options, which helps take the stress out of figuring what to buy, at least.

Cereal and Granola

Dried cereal and granola are good lightweight snacks you can tote along with you, but choose whole grain and low sugar options to maximize the nutritional value, which is also important to consider.

Dried Fruit

The shelf life for some fresh fruit, like apples and oranges, is quite long, but a lot of other produce is rather delicate and not great for storing, so dried fruit is a good choice in an emergency. Raisins, pineapples, figs, mangoes—you can buy pretty much any fruit in dried form (and do it especially economically from bulk food sections), and they’re great to have on hand for on-the-go energy.

Dehydrated Vegetables

Canned vegetables are a great choice for your pantry and will be much appreciated in an emergency, but if you need to take food with you, dehydrated produce is a lot lighter and easier to pack.

Powdered or Shelf-Stable Milk

Both conventional and non-dairy milk can be found canned or boxed, hence not requiring refrigeration. The powdered variety will be more portable, but requires water to reconstitute, so plan accordingly.


Canned beans are healthy and hearty and suitable to eat alone, or mix with other ingredients. If you purchase precooked beans in pouches, they’ll be easier to pack should you need to leave home, and while they may be best warmed up, they don’t require any additional cooking.

Precooked Rice

Similarly, precooked rice can come in handy if you find yourself without a way to boil water. You don’t have to heat it at all in order to eat it.


Nuts provide protein and healthy fats on the move or otherwise. Trail mix is another option, though you’d be best served staying away from ones with high levels of sugar and preservatives.

Protein Bars

Lightweight, easy to pack, and quite healthy if you buy the right kind, protein bars are a no-brainer for your bug out bag.


Chocolate has historically been a part of military rations, but the kind designed to give soldiers a quick energy boost is not quite the same variety you’ll find in the candy bar aisle. Still, chocolate can also be good for morale, and you should plan to give yourself whatever comfort you can, so stash a few fancy bars in your emergency rations.

Pet Food

Not for you to eat (although if you’re entirely out of other options, you certainly could), but if you have pets, you’ll want to make sure they’re well supplied too. It’s a good idea to have extra portions of their accustomed food on hand just in case; even if you can find them food in a pinch, if you switch their normal formula abruptly, it could cause gastrointestinal upset, which is the last thing either of you needs in an already stressful situation.


If you’re sheltering in place and it looks like you might lose power, or if you have enough time to safely prep food before evacuating, cook your perishables in advance—hard boil your eggs, grill or sauté your meats, steam or roast your fresh vegetables, and eat those foods first. Then turn to your shelf-stable options, and hang in there as best you can.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jen is an editor at Chowhound. Raised on scrapple and blue crabs, she hails from Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Portland (Oregon) for so long it feels like home. She enjoys the rain, reads, writes, eats, and cooks voraciously, and stops to pet every stray cat she sees. Continually working on building her Gourmet magazine collection, she will never get over its cancellation. Read more of her work.
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