Having spent most of my life in Florida, I’m more than familiar with hurricane season. Thankfully, we’ve never had to personally experience anything more than a few days without power and having to clean up debris and mend some fences. Still – a few days without power in the Florida summer heat (especially with young children), can be a big deal! So, as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I wanted to share my list of non-perishable hurricane food staples, as well as a few additional strategies, to help be a little more prepared for a natural disaster.
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Hurricane Food List
I go into more detail about water below, but plan for one gallon per person, per day.
2. CANNED VEGETABLES
Go for a variety of vegetables – anything you enjoy and see yourself eating (even if it’s just room temp green beans straight from the can). Think of vegetables you can eat as is, like canned green beans and canned carrots, and others, like canned corn and canned tomatoes, that would pair well with canned beans for a pot of chili on a grill or camp stove.
3. CANNED FRUIT
Choose fruit canned in 100% juice. Not only is it a more nutritious choice, but the juice can provide an additional source of hydration (and nutrients) if water is limited. Other processed fruits like applesauce are also a good choice, just try to choose unsweetened if it’s available.
4. DRIED FRUIT
Select dried fruit that doesn’t contain added sugars (the sweetness and flavors in dried fruit are already concentrated from the dehydrating process!). This can be an easy, quick source of energy and nutrition. Pair a dried fruit like raisins with some peanuts or sunflower seeds and Cheerios or rice chex for a family-friendly snack mix.
5. CANNED BEANS
If you’re in an emergency situation it may be harder to drain and rinse your beans, so try to find canned beans that say, “No Added Salt”, “Low Sodium”, or “Reduced Sodium”. Beans can be great on their own, added to canned soups, or added to instant rice packets from the store.
6. CANNED FISH
Any type of canned or packaged fish will work (i.e. tuna, salmon). If you’re choosing a flavored fish packet, try to limit excess Use with shelf-stable condiments to create a tuna or salmon salad.
7. CANNED CHICKEN
Same deal as canned tuna or salmon! Try adding canned chicken to a can of vegetable soup for some added protein or mixing with any type of shelf-stable condiment to create a chicken salad for crackers or bread.
8. LOW SODIUM CRACKERS
There are tons of crackers on the market that can fit many kinds of dietary needs. Try looking for crackers that are lower in sodium and higher in fiber, like those made with whole grains, seeds, or nuts. I personally love Simple Mills crackers (my favorites are their Farmhouse Cheddar and Original Sprouted Seed Crackers, or you can try their cracker sampler!).
9. NUTS, SEEDS, & NUT BUTTERS
From peanut butter to sunflower seed butter to different nuts and seeds themselves, there are tons of options on the market that can help provide healthy fats, fiber, and micronutrients. If using whole nuts and seeds, choose raw or dry roasted that are either unsalted or lightly salted.
10. SHELF-STABLE MILK
Milk can provide calories, nutrients, and hydration. Shelf-stable options include powdered cow’s milk or soy milk, along with ultra-pasteurized, shelf-stable individual cartons of cow’s milk, almond milk, flax milk, and soy milk. It may be a little more packaging, but in an emergency situation, if you can find and afford shelf-stable individual cartons of milk, it can help you only have to use a little at a time and you can avoid having to use your rationed water to reconstitute powdered milk.
11. WHOLE GRAIN CEREALS
Cereals are a great shelf-stable option. Whole grain cereals can provide more fiber (which can help digestion) and micronutrients. They can be great to munch on a handful, great for kids to snack on, and can be used as part of a homemade trail mix along with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
Bars can help provide shelf-stable snacks to full-blown, high protein meal replacements. A variety of bars that I and/ or my clients like include: Larabars, Health Warrior Chia Bars, EPIC Bars, Zing Bars, Clif Bars, Go Macro Bars, ONE Protein Bars, Raw Rev Glo Bars, 88 Acres Gluten-Free and Nut-Free Seed Bars, and Perfect Bars (*note on Perfect Bars: they’re typically sold refrigerated but they are shelf stable up to 7 days. I kept a stash in my backpack when my son was in the NICU!)
13. ELECTROLYTE REPLACEMENT DRINKS
When you have no air conditioning and are having to spend time in the hot sun cleaning up debris from around your house, dehydration can sneak up on some a little more easily. Electrolyte replacement drinks are not essential (water is), but they have their place and may help. You can use ready-to-go drinks like Gatorade and Pedialyte, or try electrolyte replacement tablets (like these from nuun sport) that dissolve in your water.
14. FRESH FOODS THAT DON’T NEED REFRIGERATION
Shelf-stable doesn’t have to just be limited to canned foods. Foods that are fresher but don’t require refrigeration can be a great way to eat foods you already have on hand and keep your diet a little more interesting. Try foods like bread, tortillas, apples, carrots, oranges, bell peppers, bananas, and whatever else you enjoy.
Note: refrigerating foods can slow the ripening process for some foods (like apples and avocados), so note that if these items are at room or warm temperatures, they will likely ripen faster than you’re used to.
If you have access to a grill, camp stove, or don’t mind eating cold soup, canned soups and chilis are a great way to get a variety of foods and a potentially more balanced meal. Just be mindful of the sodium content!
16. SHELF-STABLE CONDIMENTS
Whether you have shelf-stable condiments in your pantry or collect individual condiment packages from restaurants, a little bit of dressing, barbecue sauce, or salsa can go a long way in jazzing up a meal from canned goods that may be a little lacking on flavor.
Recommended Emergency Food Supply Needed
The kind of “gold standard” from several disaster relief organizations is that individuals should have two weeks of emergency food supplies stored.
That said – sometimes that’s just not feasible or practical for you and your family. If that’s the case, try to ensure you have at least three days of emergency food supplies stored up.
Recommended Emergency Water Supply Per Person
FEMA recommends storing one gallon of water per person, per day.
Generally, active healthy adults need a half gallon of water per day. However, you may need more if you’re one of the following groups:
- Those very active or in hot environments
- Breastfeeding moms
- Pregnant women
You can buy gallons or bottles of water at the store, but bottled water tends to be one of the first things that sell out the second a storm is approaching.
HOW TO AVOID BUYING BOTTLED WATER
If you can’t find bottled water (or don’t have the time to wait in lines for stores rationing out water), fill any and all containers you can find around your house. When Hurricane Irma hit and I wasn’t able to find enough bottled water, I ended up just filling all water bottles, tupperware containers, pots, pans, and even gallon-size ziplock bags with water.
FREEZE EXTRA WATER
A few days before the storm hits, fill your freezer with containers and bags of water. Having your freezer fully packed will help it maintain frozen temperatures longer. If unfortunately lost power has gone on long enough that your freezer contents are unsafe to consume, you’ll at least have more drinking water available then.
DRINKING WATER VS HYGIENE WATER
The reason FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person, per day instead of the half gallon of drinking water most active adults need per day is to account for water for food preparation and hygiene.
You can always separate drinking vs other water. Try things like filling a clean tub or large buckets with water that can be used to flush toilets and sink/ sponge baths.
HOW TO BOIL WATER
If you can’t find bottled water for purchase and you need sterilized water for certain populations (i.e. to mix with formula for infants), you can boil water before the storm to store for later. The World Health Organization states that a rolling boil is sufficient to inactivate pathogenic bacteria, viruses and protozoa.
- If water is cloudy, try to let it settle and filter through a clean cloth or coffee filter.
- Bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute (three minutes for high altitude).
- Turn off heat and let water cool on its own (don’t add ice).
- Store water in clean containers with covers.
If you lose electricity and run out of water after the storm, you can also try boiling water on a grill or camper stove.
SPECIAL EMERGENCY WATER CONSIDERATIONS FOR BABIES AND CHILDREN
If your baby is formula-fed, be sure to have enough formula and bottled water on hand to keep your baby nourished safely. If you’re able to access ready-made, shelf-stable formula, that’s considered the safest option in emergencies. If not, prioritize bottled water to prepare powdered formula, then boiled water as a last resort.
If your baby is breastfed, it may be a good idea to keep one or two containers of formula on hand, just in case. A nursing mom’s milk supply can be impacted by her hydration status, stress levels, and her own health.
I know the topic of formula vs. breast milk is a very charged topic for many (I’m a registered dietitian, a former lactation consultant, and a currently nursing mom, myself), it’s important to approach emergencies with practicality and preparedness over emotion. It’s better to end up with unopened containers of formula that can be donated to a friend, food bank, women’s shelter, or WIC than even chance the remote possibility of not being able to provide for your baby.
With food, whether you plan on offering your baby pureed baby foods or more baby led weaning age-appropriate foods from your emergency non-perishable food stash, just be sure you have enough safe supply to meet the needs of your child.
Special Dietary Considerations
If you or a family member has special dietary considerations, you may want to stock up on more of any specialized foods you require. Common shelf stable food items donated and/ or available through disaster relief organizations and food banks often contain wheat/ gluten, peanuts, and truly any allergen – just depends on what’s available. If you have food allergies or require any type of special dietary considerations, try to have a few more allergy-friendly foods available for yourself.
Also, before the storm comes while pharmacies are still open, make sure you fill prescriptions for any medications you’re low on, including insulin and EpiPens.
Choose Lower Sodium Foods
Convenient, packaged foods can often contain higher sodium amounts. One problem with really salty foods is that they often leave you feeling a lot thirstier, which can be an issue when there is no running water and water supplies are limited.
Do your best efforts to choose food items with no salt added or low or reduced sodium.
Calories are Important
If you’re in an emergency situation and you’re unsure where your next meal is coming from, do not skimp on calories. Calories are energy. When you have the opportunity for a meal in a time of food scarcity or insecurity, try to get substantial energy from your meal.
Emergency Supply Kitchen Tools
With all of these canned goods, don’t forget a can opener! Set aside these kitchen tools with your emergency supplies:
- Can opener
- Disposable plates, bowls, and utensils (I know this can be wasteful, but this is for a temporary, emergency time. If you don’t have running water, it’s better to ensure enough reserved water for drinking over washing dishes.).
- A pot and/ or pan that can be used on a grill or camp stove.
- Utensils for makeshift cooking (a sheathed knife, spatula, tongs, etc. – keep it basic)
- Cups or water bottles
- Paper towels and/ or napkins
- Kitchen towels
- A lighter and/ or matches
- Trash bags
- A food thermometer
- Baby bottles (make sure all that you have are clean and sterilized before the storm in case you’re unable to clean and sterilize the bottles well for a few days)
- Any special child cups, utensils, or feeding equipment (i.e. sippy cups, bibs, special utensils, etc.)
- Hand sanitizer
- Cleaning solution/ wipes to help keep food preparation surfaces clean, especially with no running water or no hot water.
- Dish soap & sponge
- Ziplock bags
Emergency Food Safety Tips
- Make sure your fridge is set at or below 40 degrees and your freezer is set at or below 0 degrees. If possible, place a thermometer in both your freezer and refrigerator so when power comes back on you can see the current temperature to better assess if it’s safe to keep your food.
- Freezer refrigerated items you may not need immediately (i.e. cheese, milk, fresh meat, etc.). Getting your freezer fully loaded and frozen can help maintain frozen temperatures longer, and this may help prevent some food waste.
- If power is out for more than four hours, transfer any necessary fridge items to a cooler, along with pre-made ice packs that are able to be easily and quickly accessed in your freezer.
- In a power outage, if your refrigerator remains unopened, it should remain cool for four hours. If unopened, a fully stocked freezer can remain frozen up to 48 hours and a partially stocked freezer up to 24 hours.
- After a power outage, if frozen foods are at or below 40 degrees or still have ice crystals, they are safe to be refrozen or used.
- Food is no longer safe to even be cooked if it has been above 40 degrees for over two hours.
- Discard food in damaged cans, as they are no longer safe.
This may be an unnecessary step, but when Hurricane Irma came and several projections were predicting a direct hit where we lived at the time (up until an hour or two before the storm landed) I actually loaded all of my supplies and hurricane safe food in a couple large plastic bins. This way, in case something happened and water came inside my house, my supplies would be protected. Plus, if we had felt at any point that we needed to evacuate, we’d be able to quickly take supplies with us.
Non-Perishable Hurricane Food Menu Ideas
While you certainly won’t be focusing on creating gourmet meals, I did want to share some ideas for ways to pair some shelf-stable foods that you and your family may enjoy:
- Mix together canned black beans, canned corn, and salsa for a filling. If you have canned chicken, you can add that, too, if you want. You could also add some nuts or seeds (like chopped walnuts or pumpkin seeds) for more texture, crunch, and more healthy fats. The salsa will add some flavor, but if you have access to your pantry and spices, you can also season with garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, and paprika. Serve inside tortillas or taco shells and alongside canned fruit.
- Drain canned chicken and combine with barbecue sauce. Serve on bread to make barbecue sandwiches. Don’t have bread? Use crackers to dip into barbecue chicken. Serve with a variety of canned vegetable and canned fruit.
- If you have canned chili you can eat that, or try creating your own chili over a grill or camp stove. In a pot, combine a couple cans of kidney beans with a can of corn and a couple cans of diced tomatoes. If you have seasonings available, try adding flavor with chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, or even in a pinch, add salsa. Serve with crackers or bread, canned vegetables, and canned fruit.
PEANUT BUTTER BREAKFAST SUSHI
- This can make a fun breakfast for kids. Spread the inside of a tortilla with peanut butter (or any nut or seed butter). Place small slices of fruit (i.e. canned diced pears, sliced banana) or dried fruit (i.e. raisins) on the nut butter. Feel free to add anything else you have for more nutrients and fun, like crushed nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, and even mini chocolate chips. Roll tortilla up into a log and cut into one-inch slices for “breakfast sushi”. Serve with any additional shelf-stable fruit and shelf-stable ultra-pasteurized milk.
SNACKY LUNCH PLATE
- Snack plates are perfect to use a variety of somewhat random ingredients in one finger-food friendly plate. Try to add a variety of food groups and nutrients. Think like: sliced carrots or canned green beans, nuts, crackers, dried apricots, chickpeas, low sodium jerky, granola bars, etc.