It’s late Saturday night and your belly is grumbling, demanding something good to eat. So you take a stroll to the local burger joint. “What am I going to order?” you think to yourself. “Fries? A burger? How about both?” Just as you arrive, bam! You realize that they’re closed, permanently. Not only are you disappointed to find that the place is closed, but you realize that every other place is shuttered, too. Oh, yeah, you almost forgot—the world was turned upside down earlier today and you’re stranded in a postapocalyptic existence sans tasty burgers. You’d kick yourself for not storing some grub under your bed, except, as of this writing, this scenario has not yet occurred, so you still have time to create a stockpile of food.

Stash Spot

Before you rush out to buy food, you must first designate a place to store your life-sustaining eats and then figure out just how much space you’ll need for your grub. Ideally, you want a cool, dry and dark environment to store food, such as a basement. This will help extend its shelf life. In times of strife, expect the unexpected, so be sure to place your stock in a secure location. You will you have to worry about scavenging mice and other animals stealing your grub, but possibly scavenging people, too (they can pry your Twinkies from your cold, dead fingers).

Calculating Space

How much space will you need? That depends on how long you want your supply to last, but most preppers try to maintain a year’s supply of food. If you consider that an average adult should consume 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day—and sometimes more if strenuous activity is involved—you will need to do some math based on the number of people in your party and how many days you plan to have this supply. As you can imagine, this is a considerable amount of food, so you will need to sit down and think about your plan of attack.

Container Store

Once you’ve chosen a storage place, you’ll need food-grade storage containers for your stash. These containers will protect your food from those pesky small animals and help prevent damage from falling walls or objects (ain’t nobody got time for crushed Twinkies). Though the cost might be higher, waterproof bins will also protect your stock from water hazards such as floods (soggy Twinkies give no joy either). Sealed food-grade plastics bags are also effective at keeping moisture away from your food. When you are ready to fill your containers, consider these four important factors about the type of food to stock—longevity, variety, nutrition and convenience.

Menu Selection

Assuming that civilization as we knew it no longer exists, most other modern conveniences will have gone kaput as well. This means you can’t count on having fridges and freezers, so your selections at the market are limited. The first items you need to stock up on are canned goods. Longevity-wise, these will last beyond a few years. You can take your pick from a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans, soups, meats and much more. With that many options, canned goods provide a broad range of essential vitamins and nutrients that can make up a balanced diet (Twinkies notwithstanding). Most canned foods are edible right out of the can, making them very convenient. Though you should not expect your dining fare to receive any Michelin stars, canned foods do retain a lot of their flavors.

Another form of preserved food is the dry variety. Dried meats, fruits and vegetables are very tasty and can be stored from several months to years (Twinkies FTW). The shelf life of dried food really depends on how well it was processed and how much moisture was taken out of the food. Most manufactured store-bought bags of dried food will have an expiration date. Similarly, foods can be freeze-dried, which can make them last for several years. Several commercial manufacturers of freeze-dried food cater mainly to the backpacking community. These small pouches of food are great to have in your cache and come as full meals in an assortment of flavors ranging from beef stroganoff and Mexican chicken and rice to pad Thai. Freeze-dried foods do require you
to add hot water to the packages, so they are only convenient if you have a reliable source of hot water on hand.

One clear advantage of all dried foods is that they are very portable. They are usually packaged in weatherproof plastic bags and are relatively light, so you can carry a good amount of them over a long distance without considerable strain.

Grill It With Fire

For those who wish to do a bit of cooking over a fire, here are the staple foods you’ll need: rice, pasta, crackers, dried beans, grains, sugar, flour and salt. These staples provide crucial carbohydrates, while the beans will add protein to your diet. You can combine these with canned or dried foods to make some creative dishes (don’t forget Twinkies for dessert). All of them can last for quite some time and be stored in bulk containers. Be wary of the possibility of water contamination for these items, though, because moisture can ruin your entire stock if unnoticed.

If you cook, don’t forget to have some type of cooking oil and an assortment of dried spices to make your meals more palatable. But before you decide to stock up on these, ask yourself whether you want the hassle of preparing and cooking food during trying times. Cooking requires fire, and fire requires a fuel source, which may not be readily available. Cooking also might create a stronger aroma that may attract unwanted guests. The convenience of canned or dried foods may serve you better by allowing you to invest your time in other things.

Nuts and prepared energy bars should also be on your list. They are packed with essential proteins, sugars and fats that your body will need for physical activity. If you are a nut fan, sneak some peanut butter into your collection.

Variety Is Balance

Though it’s easier to stock up on several bulk items, it will benefit you to aim for variety and balance. This means when you buy beans, get an array of different beans, and if you purchase canned meats, get some beef, chicken, Spam and fish. Balance will help you maintain the correct nutrition (ahem, Twinkies). Too much of one item will not provide the required nutrients to survive the long haul, which brings us to one item you should store for this very situation.


Make sure you have a cache of multivitamins in any form, whether it’s tablets, powder or gummies. It is hard enough to deal with the strains of surviving after a disaster, and proper eating can often be ignored. Multivitamins can supplement your diet to stabilize your daily intake. Pharmacies make multivitamins for several different groups, including children, men, women, pregnant women and the elderly. Make sure you buy the ones that are appropriate for your family.

Stock Up

As you build up your food supply, start an inventory list that includes the amount, location and any expiration dates on all of the stockpiled food. This helps determine how many months or years your supply will last. It’s also smart to check this inventory list regularly to see whether you will need to dine on any foods that are close to expiring. Then you won’t lose the value of the food.

Food is one of the essential items that you will need to survive, so you must invest time and effort to plan your food storage. Planning your reserve can seem daunting, but building the proper food collection will pay off in the long run. You never know what the future holds, so you might be “living to eat” one day while “eating to live” the next.

This article was originally published in the BALLISTIC™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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