Preparing Your Pantry and Meals in an Emergency
During this time of uncertainty, it has became clear than many of us are unprepared for an emergency. Many of us have simply never had to be prepared. As current events unfold, I have watched as people have flocked to stores to stock up on supplies, and I have seen many resources recommending various goods to buy, but not necessarily instructions on how to use these foods. Many recommendations ignore produce altogether, but there are some produce goods with a long shelf life! I’d like to provide a resource of recommended goods and resources that you can use when preparing for the future, whatever it may be.
If you are not currently prepared, please DO NOT buy more than two weeks of food at a time. While this seems counter intuitive and many of us are panicking, it is important to remember that folks who are living paycheck to paycheck, or perhaps rely on rides from others, are simply unable to buy food in large quantities or in a timely manner. If all of the food is gone, there will be individuals and families forced to go without food.
During this time of a true global pandemic, it is critically important not only to practice good hygiene, but good health. You must exercise, even if it is a few short walks a day in the sunshine. You must eat healthy. If you are in poor health, you are significantly more susceptible to getting sick and more likely to struggle to recover. When stocking up please plan for healthy, nutritious foods, but be careful to buy foods you like, because if you don’t like it you won’t want to eat it. Finally, even though we must focus on health, I still encourage you to get some snack items. There is no need to deprive us of things that give us joy, especially when we are encouraged to socially isolate ourselves. The least we can do is enjoy a tasty Oreo for dessert.
I also recommend buying some “sick foods” in the event that you do get sick, get some easy to eat foods such as pudding, jello, chicken broth, noodles. It’s better to be prepared than without. Of course, don’t forget essential medications and pet foods as well.
There are many items that have a long shelf life that are also considered fresh produce. Some of these can be kept in a refrigerator for up to a month and others can be safely stored without refrigeration for several months.
Items that store well without refrigeration, preferably in a cool dark location such as a basement, garage, cellar, or unheated pantry:
- Winter squash (acorn squash, honeynut squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, pumpkins, etc.)
- Potatoes (Red Chieftain, Yukon Gold, Burbank Russet, German Butterball, Yukon Gem, are all varieties prone to the longest shelf life among potatoes)
- Sweet Potatoes/Yams
- Whole, unpeeled onions (yellow onions are best if buying from the grocery store but there are many great heirloom varieties)
- Garlic (whole head, unpeeled)
Items that store for 1-2 months with refrigeration, but can also store well for 2-4 weeks in a cool basement, garage or cellar:
- Apples (Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Goldrush, Granny Smith, Honeycrisps, Ida Red, McIntosh, and Red Delicious are good storage varieties)
- Citrus (oranges, lemons, lime)
- Homemade fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, beets, chutney)
- Eggs (See my article on How to Store Farm Fresh Eggs for comprehensive information, if using farm fresh can be stored for no more than two weeks in cool location)
- Parmesan, unopened (can be stored in cold basement or cellar)
Non-Perishable Shelf-Stable Pantry Items
These items all store well, often for years, with no need to refrigerate. Many of these foods can also be prepared with minimal cooking, in the event of a power outage.
- Butter (yes, this is shelf stable but I recommend refrigerating)
- Rice (preferably brown for added protein, fiber, and vitamins)
- Corn meal & Corn Muffin Mix (Jiffy has been my BFF)
- Sugar, honey, molasses, and (when refrigerated) maple syrup
- Dried Milk (This is also great for that uh-oh moment when you realize the milk you need ASAP has spoiled!)
- Powdered eggs (good for baking)
- Instant mashed potatoes
- Vanilla extract
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, or whatever you prefer)
- Summer Sausages
- Pre-cooked bacon
- Dried or freeze-dried fruits
- Dried beans
- Pasta (preferably whole wheat)
- Ramen noodles (yes, I really said that)
- Salt (Kosher preferably because table salt contains iodine which has some undesirable interactions with preserving foods)
- Pepper, and your favorite herbs and spices (I recommend some taco seasoning)
- Bouillon cubes
- Boxed or canned broth/stocks
- Boxed milk (I prefer soy to dairy milk if going this route but it’s personal preference)
- Spaghetti or marinara sauce
- Canned tomatoes (get numerous varieties)
- Canned veggies
- Canned soups
- Canned chicken, tuna, and salmon
- Canned taco filling (yes, it’s a thing!)
- Canned beans
- Canned coconut milk
- Canned cream of “whatever” (cream of chicken, celery, mushroom, etc)
- Canned fruits (not my favorite due to high sugar content)
- Canned salsas
- Coffee/tea & and shelf stable creamers
- Apple sauce (individual serving sizes)
- Chocolate (I like a variety of snacking chocolate and chocolate chips for baking)
- Your favorite snacks, crackers, chips, etc
I am actually not a big advocate of keeping a large supply of freezer items available, especially if you do not have a back up source of power in the event of a power outage. I do not have a back up source of power, so I limited my frozen goods to only a week’s supply. In the event of a power outage, many foods are only safe for four hours if they were refrigerated. Foodsafety.gov has a complete list of foods that are safe to keep, or should be thrown out if you lose power. Many frozen foods can be kept for a day as they thaw, and can be cooked or preserved within that time frame.
- Bread (yes, you can freeze your bread, and in the event of a power outage, it would still keep for a couple of weeks)
- Shredded cheeses
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen fruit
- Frozen meat
- Pre-made meals that you enjoy (we all feel a little lazy sometimes)
- Ice cream or other tasty treats
Grow it Yourself
Here are some suggestions for growing things in a nice sunny window. We may not all have a garden, but most of us have a window with 4-6 hours of sunlight:
- Potted herbs (especially basil and cilantro which are quick and easy to grow but most any herb can be grown in a pot)
- Regrowing green onions
- Sprouted seeds/grains
- Lettuce (only if you have a lot of windows since this is a relatively low calorie item)
- Radishes (Radishes are one of the easiest, fastest growing veggies. They adapt very well to shallow, poor soil and can be ready to harvest in as little as three weeks)
Many, if not most recipes can be adapted in some way to a “pantry recipe,” but certainly some are better suited to the task than others. In addition to a few of my personal recipes, I would like to provide links to some of my favorite recipes. Many ideas range in difficulty from ultra-easy to kind of swanky.
- My favorite blog Budget Bytes recently published a blog post including 15 of her most adaptable Pantry Recipes for emergencies. Particular favorites that I have used on rotation are the Poor Man’s Burrito Bowl, Pumpkin (or butternut squash) and Red Lentil Soup, Simple Homemade Chilli, and Garlic Noodles with Beef and Broccoli.
- Tuna noodle casserole: This one of course is an easy classic many of us have grown up eating. It is easily adaptable, for example substituting dried milk and canned peas, or frozen mixed veggies, in place of fresh or frozen.
- Spaghetti with marinara sauce and meatballs: This goes without a recipe I think. I have several packs of store bought meatballs sitting in the freezer, but you could omit the meatballs or substitute summer sausage in a pinch.
- Homemade pizza: My favorite homemade crust is a No Knead Crust from Serious Eats. Many pizza toppings are very shelf stable, such as pepperoni, canned mushrooms, the sauce, etc.
- Salmon Patties: You could easily substitute powdered eggs for a 100% shelf-stable meal with a side of rice/quinoa/potatoes, and a veggie.
- Tuna Mac N Cheese: Mix canned tuna with a box of cooked mac n cheese. Stir in some peas for a nutritional bump.
- Tacos: If you have canned taco filling, frozen or refrigerated cheese, salsa and some taco shells, you’ve got yourself a decent meal. Throw in an apple for a side!
- Red Beans and Rice: This has been a pantry staple recipe for me for almost ten years. Celery can keep for a few weeks in the fridge, and I usually have frozen diced bell peppers on hand, but in an emergency you could skip both and still have a delicious meal.
- Snack lunch: Make a smörgåsbord of cheeses, dried meats, crackers, and sliced apples for an easy and delicious lunch.
- Vegetable Bean & Barley Soup: This is an extremely flexible recipe and a favorite of mine for a “pantry round up” day. Other veggies you could add are potatoes, kidney beans instead of white or pinto beans, peas, etc..
- Potato soup
- Black been and sweet potato soup
- Chicken noodle soup
- Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Soup
- 4 large or 6 small potatoes, peeled and diced
- 6-8 slices of uncooked bacon, diced
- 3 tablespoons reserved bacon fat*
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 1 large onion
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of salt, adjust to taste
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, adjust to taste
- 1/4 cup flour
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups milk, preferably whole milk*
- 1/2 cup frozen peas, optional
- Optional add-ins: sliced green onions, sliced chives, sour cream, shredded cheese
- In a separate skillet, fry diced bacon pieces over medium until crispy. Set aside roughly three tablespoons of bacon fat.
- Place reserved bacon fat in Dutch Oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrots and cook until tender (roughly 5 minutes).
- Add garlic, one teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook an additional 30 seconds. If needed, more salt can be added at the end of cooking.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onion, carrot, and garlic mixture. Stir.
- Add chicken broth, and stir until flour is well incorporated.
- Add potatoes and milk.
- Bring to boil and reduce to simmer, cooking until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork (roughly 10-15 minutes).
- If using, add in peas during the last 30 seconds of cooking.
- This is optional, but you can use an immersion blender to puree a portion of the soup. Taste for salt and pepper, adding more if needed.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and top with bacon pieces and any additional toppings.
- Serve with a side of cornbread or crackers.
*You can use pre-cooked bacon. This will mean skipping step one, which will not yield any bacon fat. Feel free to sub butter or oil for the bacon fat. For the milk, whole milk is preferred. If using dried milk, this is typically nonfat and I recommend doubling the powder to water ratio for a creamier milk.
Black Beans, Sweet Potato, and Kale Soup*
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-2 sweet potatoes, cubed (roughly 3 cups)
- 1 15-ounce can black beans
- 1 can Ro-tel, undrained
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 4 cups kale, torn into small pieces**
- 1 lime (optional but strongly encouraged; bottled lime juice is a good substitute)
- 1/4 cup minced cilantro (optional)
- 2 green onions, sliced (optional)
- Shredded cheese or sourcream (optional)
- In a large pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for roughly 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and saute an additional 30 seconds.
- Add spices and stir until incorporated
- Add sweet potatoes, Ro-tel, black beans, and broth. Bring to a boil, reducing to a simmer, and simmer for roughly 15 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender.
- Stir in kale and simmer an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Add in juice from lime.
- Ladle soup into bowls and top with any additional add-ins.
- Serve with a side of fresh bread, rolls, or corn bread.
*This recipe was inspired from one that I memorized a long time ago. I believe it had came from a vegetarian cookbook I pulled from my local library. It is not my intention to plagiarize it in anyways, but I could not find the original source.
** You could substitute fresh or frozen spinach, or sliced cabbage. If using cabbage, use roughly 2-3 cups and cook for an additional five minutes. In an emergency, this could be omitted entirely.
Chicken Noodle Soup
- 2 tablespoons butter, oil, or chicken fat
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil,
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
- 2-3 cups diced cooked chicken (I usually use leftover chicken, rotisserie, or canned chicken in a pinch)
- 1.5 cups egg noodles
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Parsley, minced (optional)
- In a large pot over medium-high heat heat butter or oil. Cook onion and celery and carrots for 5-6 minutes.
- Add garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
- Add thyme, basil, and oregano, and stir until incorporated.
- Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer for roughly ten minutes.
- Add chicken and noodles, bringing back to a simmer and cook until noodles are done according to packaging, usually 6-7 minutes.
- Turn off heat and stir in parsley and taste for salt and pepper.
Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Soup
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large onion, dinced
- 1 pound ground turkey or beef
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 16 ounces marinara sauce
- 1 cup cooked rice (preferably brown)
- 4 cups chicken or beef broth
- 6-8 cups sliced/shredded cabbage (for a shortcut buy a bag of cabbage for coleslaw)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, optional
- Minced parsley, optional
- Heat oil on medium-high heat.
- Add onions and cook roughly five minutes.
- Add ground beef or turkey and cook until 90-95% done.
- Add garlic and stir an additional 30 seconds.
- Add seasonings and stir until incorporated.
- Add marinara, cooked rice, cabbage, and chicken or beef broth.
- Bring to boil and reduce to simmer for roughly 15-20 minutes.
- Turn off heat and stir in lemon juice and parsley if using.
- Serve with some rolls or crusty bread.
Please feel free to comment with any questions or additional meal ideas. I would love to hear them! In the mean time, stay safe everyone. Wash your hands. Reach out to your loved ones and make sure they have everything they need and are doing okay.