At minimum, the Red Cross recommends a minimum supply of 2 weeks’ worth of food. Many people choose to prepare with more, building up to a stockpile of months or even years’ worth of food to rely on in case of an emergency. But what type of food is the best to keep on hand?
Thing is, not all food is created equally – especially in the context of a survival situation. Welcome to our survival food showdown!
Today we're taking a look at key differences between true blue emergency food and grocery store staples, including their shelf life, packaging, ease of preparation, nutritional content, and cost-effectiveness. Let's dive into these different food options to help you understand why and when you might choose one over the other.
We'll start by weighing the pros and cons of storing each category.
Stocking Emergency Food: The Pros and Cons
True emergency food, like freeze-dried food, certain canned goods, or Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), are designed specifically for survival situations. They have an incredibly long shelf life, often lasting for 25 years without any spoilage or decrease in quality. This makes them ideal for hedging against potential future needs.
These foods are often pre-cooked and require minimal preparation – usually just adding water before you heat and serve. This means that even in situations where you have limited resources, you can still have a hot meal.
They're often calorie dense, with many survival food kits designed to provide you with 2,000 + calories per day, and they focus on macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fat – to give you energy and hit all the bases that'll sustain you through a long-term crisis.
That being said, they're also usually fortified with vitamins and minerals – your micronutrients – to give you a boost of nutrition in tough times.
However, there are some downsides. One of them being, while these foods are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals to meet nutritional needs, they will not provide the same nutrient content as digging into a garden-fresh salad.
They may also not provide the same taste or texture experience as fresh food, or even non-perishable grocery staples. They also tend to provide a rotation of the same meals multiple times. So, their limited variety and pre-packaged nature might leave you craving the flavors and textures of fresher ingredients.
On the plus side of these emergency and survival food kits is they’re convenient to store and come in robust packaging – they’re often packaged in stackable plastic buckets that protect them from storage enemies like sunlight and pests and that also save space.
Another con is they can be more expensive on a meal-by-meal basis compared to grocery staples. Thing is, though, while they may be pricier per serving, the peace of mind they provide and their lengthy shelf life packs them with value, making it worth the up-front cost.
Stocking Grocery Store Staples: The Pros and Cons
On the other hand, grocery staples like dried beans, rice and pasta, and canned fruit and vegetables have the advantage of being more familiar and versatile. They're foods we're used to cooking and eating, which can provide a sense of comfort in stressful situations.
The shelf-life of these items (with some notable exceptions including white rice and honey which keep basically forever), while not in the same ballpark as freeze-dried survival food or MREs, is still pretty long. Most canned goods you'll find at the grocery store can last between 2 and 5 years if stored properly.
Certain grocery store staples, like canned soup or chili, are even easier to prepare and require less resources than their freeze-dried counterparts.
That being said, many grocery store staples DO require a fair amount of preparation and resources. For example, dried beans and rice will need to be soaked and boiled – which means you'll need a heat source and clean water.
So on the plus side, grocery staples like dried beans, rice, and canned goods are easily accessible (until a crisis hits) and offer versatile and familiar ingredients. They’re also cost-effective, making them convenient for everyday use and short-term emergencies.
On the negative side of the equation, grocery staples have a shorter shelf life and require regular rotation and replacement to maintain freshness.
Emergency Food Vs. Grocery Staples: The Final Score
Now, the burning question: how do you decide which option is best for your home? Here's a quick-hits rundown of factors to consider – and what type of food wins.
Shelf-Life: Emergency food hands down has the edge and sweeps this category. They're the ultimate "set it and forget it" option.
Convenience and Ease of Preparation: They're neck and neck here because it really depends on the specific meal in question. Tie.
Packaging: Emergency food takes the cake here, offering durable and easy to store containers. Plus, even when you're looking at the same food – let’s say freeze-dried banana chips bought from a survival company vs. those bought at the supermarket – keep in mind that while grocery stores often carry freeze-dried foods, they may lack the crucial oxygen absorbers and durable packaging provided by specialized survival food brands that ensures their shelf life. Same with survival versions vs. grocery store bought varieties of foods like mac and cheese.
Nutritional Content: While grocery staples may not offer the same level of vitamin and mineral fortification you'd find in specially designed emergency foods, they're likely higher in naturally occurring nutrients that are more bioavailable. Tie - with a slight head nod in favor of grocery staples.
Cost-Effectiveness: Grocery staples should win this one because you can get more bang for your buck with these everyday ingredients. However, when you take into account the value of having food around that will still be good 25 years for now (and at today's prices), we're calling this one a draw.
Taste: While many emergency foods and meals are actually downright and surprisingly tasty, you just can't beat the flavors of a real deal homecooked meal. This point goes to grandma and the home (cooked) team. Plus, there's the added flexibility of creating diverse meals.
So the bottom line is...BOTH genuine survival food and grocery staples deserve to be part of your emergency food supply. Savvy preppers stock both.
Diversify Your Survival Food Supply
Your choice between emergency food and grocery staples will depend on your specific needs and circumstances. Emergency food may be a better choice if you're preparing for potential disaster scenarios where resources become scarce. They're also a good option for outdoor adventures where you need lightweight, easy-to-prepare meals.
Grocery staples, on the other hand, are a more cost-effective choice for everyday consumption and shorter-term emergency situations. They also offer the comfort and familiarity of the foods you're used to that you know you enjoy.
The fact of the matter is, there's no definitive answer to which is “better.” It's about understanding your needs and preparing accordingly. Both emergency food and grocery staples have a place in a well-rounded survival plan. Diversify your stockpile by including a mix of both.