Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Many people see stockpiling food as a wise decision. Whether they’re storing food to prepare for a local disaster or a more significant threat varies, but having food in reserve makes sense in uncertain times.
Unfortunately, food stockpiling can be a luxury for some. In an environment where many families are living paycheck to paycheck, adding costs to a weekly shopping trip is a difficult if not impossible task.
Some people create their food storage stockpile with a massive purchase of long-term foods but that can cost hundreds if not thousands. The simple fact is that buying foods for survival in the event of a disaster can be a financial challenge. The result is procrastination and the hope that someday we’ll get around to it.
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Best Practices from the Rest of the World
Food storage doesn’t have to be a significant investment. In cultures around the world, people have subsisted on rice and beans as a primary food source. That’s not to say that our whole idea is to fill your basement with rice and beans, but it’s a start.
What may be important to consider is that this doesn’t fall into the category of high-end, haute cuisine. There are plenty of ways to make these foods taste good, but it’s not about buying the best cuts of beef with a lobster on the side. It’s about understanding the basics of nutrition and making purchase decisions that align with those nutritional guidelines.
We’re going to do a brief analysis of fundamental nutritional needs and then identify survival foods that are the best value pound for pound. Our barometer for value will be the cost per 100 calories, although we’ll look at other components related to vitamins, minerals and types of calories as well.
Here’s the telegram. We all need a certain amount of calories per day to maintain body weight, energy levels and our immune system. How many calories has a lot to do with our metabolism, activity levels, age and gender.
The general recommendation is that adult men should consume at least 2,500 calories a day, and adult women should consume at least 2,000 calories a day. The amounts vary for children depending in their age and weight but average from 1,000 to 1,500 calories a day. For this reason, we’re going to keep an eye on inexpensive foods that offer sufficient calories.
It’s also important to keep an eye on proteins, vitamins and minerals. All of the foods we’ll list have these nutritional components to varying degrees.
It makes sense to put together a list of survival foods you want to buy (and we’ll do that), but the key if to find those products for the best price. One way to do that is to go slow. Don’t try to buy everything at once.
Make every shopping trip a time to spend a percentage of your grocery budget on some of these emergency foods. In time your food storage will grow and you’ll feel a bit of relief if stocking survival foods have been weighing on your mind.
Here are some basic tips on finding the best value for a food stockpile:
Buy Store Brands
They used to be called “generics” but now they show up with names that sound like a national brand but are always less expensive than their big brand counterparts. Kirkland is a good example. It’s a Costco brand that is usually sold in larger, bulk sizes and are comparable in taste and quality to well-known national brands. Most importantly, they cost less.
But it’s not just about Costco. Most grocery stores have store brands and they’re easy to find. Just look for a brand name you don’t recognize and a price that’s less than an established brand. They usually show up next to each in a shelf spacing and usually offer the same quantity and taste as a national brand.
Shop the Warehouse Stores
Speaking of Costco, that’s a good place to shop. You may have to buy in bulk or get a size that’s larger than you would usually buy, but you can always split the difference and use some for everyday foods while you store a few extra cans or servings for emergencies. Besides, buying in bulk always saves you money. Sam’s Club is another option.
ALDI is not a warehouse store but they also have good prices on canned foods and other items that can make a few purchases for your emergency storage easier. One thing to always look for are their very good prices on white sugar and flour.
Dollar stores are another option but look closely. Sometimes you can find cheaper items at a regular grocery store. Also, keep a close eye on expiration and best-by dates. Dollar stores sometimes pick up products towards the end of their shelf-life. You can find great prices but you have to take a moment to make sure it’s the best value in terms of what you’re getting.
Shop the Sales
Many of us do this as a matter of course. Who doesn’t look for sales? But when you see a sale either as a markdown, loss-leader to pull you in, or featured with one of those “digital coupons” – stock up. If there’s a limit of 2 on a great deal, put one in the kitchen pantry and the other in your emergency food storage.
This gets back to taking your time to stock your emergency food pantry. Think of it as erosion. You have a shopping list for survival foods and over time you’re going to erode that list patiently and persistently.
We’ve included some links to bulk sales on Amazon. Many are a good value. The place where Amazon doesn’t meet our value equation is for packaged goods. The cost for food products in bottles, cans and boxes are often better at grocery stores. You can still find good values on Amazon, just make sure you shop around if you can.
The High Value Foods
Value is defined as what you get for what you pay. What we want to get are foods that provide the most calories with some degree of other nutritional attributes for the best price. Many of these foods also serve as the base or foundation for numerous recipes. Combining them offers added nutrition and calories and most importantly, taste and variety.
Some foods aren’t included that have good nutritional value. We included canned tuna because the pricing often trends low, but canned salmon tends to be 3 times as much so it didn’t make the cut. Obviously this list is not final or exhaustive but it does give you a benchmark for the best value foods for survival.
In the chart below we’re going to list many of the high-value survival foods you can buy at a variety of locations. Here are the attributes we’ll explore:
- Food type defining basic attributes of the food or its packaging.
- Nutritional value defined significant attributes
- Notes highlighting any unique values or characteristics.
- Calories per dollar so you can see how much food you get.
Here are the foods that traditionally are sold for a low price that also have good if not exceptional shelf-lives for survival food storage. The calories per dollar are based on average prices in the United States in the summer of 2023.
|FOOD||NUTRITIONAL VALUE||NOTES||CALORIES PER DOLLAR|
|Black beans||High protein and fiber||Easy to add to numerous recipes||551|
|Garbanzo beans||very high protein and calories||A base for hummus||421|
|Kidney beans||High protein and fiber||A standard addition to chili||417|
|Lentils||Protein and fiber||Can be added to any soup or stew||449|
|Mac & cheese||Calories and calcium||Always buy the store brand||489|
|Pancake syrup||Calories from carbohydrates||Buy store brand||990|
|Pasta||High calories||Classic base for multiple recipes||1067|
|Peanut butter||Excellent protein and calorie source||An excellent survival food||1003|
|Peanuts||Protein and calories||Most economical nuts||851|
|Pinto beans||High protein and fiber||Another all-purpose ingredient||436|
|Ramen noodles||Calories||Always cheap. Great base for soups||441|
|Red winter wheat berries||Grains and calories||Exceptional shelf life. Requires milling||413|
|Rolled Oats||Calories and fiber||A great foundation for breakfast and baking||1038|
|Saltine crackers||Calories and fiber||Saltines always cheapest cracker||444|
|Split peas||Protein and fiber||Adaptable to many recipes||1159|
|Vegetable oil||High calorie||Base for recipes and cooking||2802|
|White flour||Grains and calories||Best all around for all manner of baking||1087|
|White Rice||Calories from carbohydrates and a staple food for 50% of the world’s population||Excellent base for meals and recipes with long shelf-life||470|
Think of this chart as a starting point for cheap survival food options. If you see an item on sale that has a good shelf-life and it’s not on this list – you should obviously buy it. We did our best to find the best prices. You can probably do better with a little shopping around and hunting the sales.
You should also add things that suit your tastes and interests. This could include candies, powdered drink mixes, spices, baking supplies from baking powder to baking soda and any other item you might need that not only offers a good shelf-life, but that you can buy at a good price.
Other Cost-Saving Options
- You can always grow your own. Menard’s will often sell vegetable seeds for 25¢ a package and you can supplement any emergency foods from your home garden or planters.
- You can also harvest your own seeds from your garden and save them for the following season or do some succession planting to get more than one crop a year.
- The ability to preserve foods will give you the option of canning or preserving your own fruits, vegetables and even meats and fish.
- With a little more time and effort you can make jerky from meats and fish or even turn tough and inexpensive cuts of meat into a meat powder. Meat powders are easy to add to many recipes and deliver protein and flavor.
- Join a food co-op. The idea is that a group of people pool their money to place large bulk orders for extreme value and divide up the purchase.
Some Things Will be Easier
A standard mantra in preparedness is to eat what you store and store what you eat. That can sometimes be difficult when you have exotic and specialized survival foods. With the foods we’re looking at here, it all a lot easier.
These are everyday foods with everyday packaging so making them a part of your everyday diet is not as challenging as cracking open a #10 can and using it – every day. Just remember to restock any items you “borrow” from your food storage.
Stick With It
Take your time but stick with it. Always try to put a little bit aside for your emergency food stockpile. Eventually your survival food storage will increase to the point that you feel some reassurance about your preparedness.
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