Emergency Nutrition: Are You Prepared?

light, apple, tape, batteriesGiven the tornados in Oklahoma this year, and the fact that it’s tornado seasion, I thought nutrition for emergencies might be a timely blog article, even though this addresses emergencies that are more long-term in duration. This is considerably longer than most of my blogs, so consider it more of a reference to print or save on your computer for possible future use in an emergency situation.

This information is provided in the event of an occurrence, such as a flu pandemic, when you can’t obtain food, either because you are too sick to leave your home or the grocery stores are not open. Some of the food items require refrigeration; but, in the event that cold storage is not feasible, most do not. Some also may require heating and/or added water for reconstitution. Others do not, in case heating is not feasible and sanitary water is not available.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

So that a nutritious diet can be maintained, an attempt has been made to recommend foods that will provide the necessary amounts of each of the five food groups in MyPlate, as recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The amounts given in the table below are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, the reference diet used by the USDA. Those requiring more or fewer calories to maintain a healthy weight should adjust the number of servings accordingly. Extensive information about choosing a healthy diet via the USDA MyPlate can be found on the Internet at www.choosemyplate.gov.

 The Five Food Groups

Food Group





Meat & Beans



6 ounces (oz)

per day

2 ½ cups (c)

per day

2 c per   day

3 c per   day

5 ½ oz per


Per serving


1 c ready-to-eat cereal;  1 slice bread; ½ c pasta, rice;cooked cereal ½ c raw or cooked; ½ c 100% juice; 1 c raw leafygreens ½ c raw or cooked; ½ c 100% juice;   1 medium piece 1c milk or yogurt; 1½ oz natural or 2 oz processed cheese 1 oz leanmeat, poultry or fish; 1 egg; ¼ c cooked drybeans or tofu;1 Tbsp peanutbutter; ½ oz nuts or seeds
Food Source


Bread, cold & hot cereal, crackers, spaghetti, pasta, rice Dark green, orange, legumes, starchy, other and juice Fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice Milk, yogurt, cheese Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans & peas, eggs, nuts, seeds

Food and Beverage Storageemergency food storage

Be sure and store a variety of foods and beverages from each food group, so you’ll be able to eat a balanced, nutritious diet. Whenever possible, choose foods that you like and usually eat. Store these foods in a separate location, so someone in your family won’t accidentally use them instead of the items you have on hand for current consumption. If items do not have an expiration date, mark the date they were purchased, so you can keep track of how long you have had them. Include vitamin, mineral and protein supplements to ensure adequate nutrition. If activity is reduced, healthy people can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period, and without any food for many days. Food may be rationed, except for children and pregnant women.

Some things to keep in mind as you prepare to store your food supply:

  • Keep food in a cool, dry area, and out of direct sunlight, if possible. Canned foods should not be stored where they could freeze, because the cans can become damaged, causing food spoilage. Avoid swollen, dented or corroded canned food.
  • Store food where it will be safe from rodents, insects and potential flooding.
  • Foods packaged in cardboard boxes, thin plastic, or paper should be stored in metal, glass or rigid plastic containers to avoid insect and rodent damage and container deterioration.
  • Rotate and use food and water every 6 to 12 months, depending on the shelf stability of the particular item.
  • If storing in a freezer, use freezer wrap, freezer-quality plastic bags, or aluminum foil over commercial wrap on meat and poultry that will be stored for more than two months.
  • Choose small can sizes that provide just the number of servings that will be consumed at one sitting, as there may not be refrigeration available.
  • Keep manual can openers and disposable utensils on hand.

 Examples of Shelf-Stable Foods*





Meat & Beans

Crackers, drybread sticks,pretzels, melbatoast matzobread, chow mein   noodles, ready to eat cereals, granola bars, rice cakes, cookies, hardtaco shells, commercially canned bread, **instant cereal, **instant rice, **instant soup Canned vegetables, canned vegetable soup, canned vegetable juice, **instant vegetable soup, **instant potatoes, *sundried tomatoes, **other dried vegetables Canned fruit, fruit leather(rollups), applesauce, canned or bottled juice, dried fruits(raisins, prunes, apricots, etc.) Canned evaporated milk, canned pudding, processed cheese, snackcup pudding, boxed (shelf-stable) milk,   rice or soy milk (with calcium added) Canned tuna or sardines or salmon, canned chicken or turkey or other meat, canned chili (meat or bean), peanutbutter, canned beans, canned ravioli or spaghetti with meat, shelf-stable tofu, canned stew, nuts,   seeds, beef jerky

*No initial refrigeration required for foods listed, although some may need refrigeration if, after opening, leftovers are kept for future consumption (if so, they should be consumed as soon as possible).

**Requires water that is safe to drink, or can be made safe by boiling.

 Sample Three-Day Menu

The following three-day sample menu, although inclusive of all five food groups, relies on snacks to meet the nutrient and calorie requirements of most people. Please see the above chart titled The Five Food Groups to determine how many and what types of snacks you will need to eat to appropriately supplement the sample food menu described below.

 Day 1:

 Breakfast: Ready-to-eat cereal, *milk, **juice, coffee or tea

Lunch: Canned chicken/turkey/meat, toast or plain bread, applesauce, *milk

Dinner: Peanut butter, crackers, vegetable soup, milk

Day 2:

 Breakfast: ***Instant cereal, **juice, coffee or tea

Lunch: Canned tuna/salmon/meat, toast or plain bread, canned fruit, *milk

Dinner: Canned vegetable & meat stew, crackers, pudding, milk

Day 3:

 Breakfast: Peanut butter, toast or plain bread, **juice, coffee or tea

Lunch: Canned ravioli or spaghetti with meat, bread, canned vegetables, *milk

Dinner: Canned chili (meat and/or bean), crackers/melba toast, **juice

Snacks: Individual packages of nuts, seeds, or peanuts; cocoa, dried fruit, individual containers of juice, granola bars, pretzels, cookies, rice cakes, snack packs of processed cheese, crackers, snack puddings, canned fruit, beef jerky

*Rice or soy milk, with calcium added, may be supplemented for milk.

**100% fruit or vegetable juice

***Requires water that is safe to drink, or can be made safe by boiling.

 Water Storage

 Where to Get Water

Water, unlike food, should not be rationed. You should drink what you need, then search

for more. Water can be obtained internally from:

  • your hot water tank
  • pipes and faucets
  • ice cubes

Or externally from:

  • rainwater
  • streams, rivers and other moving bodies of water
  • ponds and lakes
  • natural springs

Making Water Safe

Untreated water can make you sick. Make it safer by:

  • Straining it. Pour the water through paper towels, a coffee filter or clean cloth to remove any particles.
  • Boiling it for at least 1 minute, let it cool then pour back and forth between two clean containers to improve the taste.
  • Chlorinating it. Use household bleach containing 5.25 to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite (see label on bottle) as the only active ingredient. Add 16 drops (1/8 teaspoon) per gallon to water in a large container. Stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. If it still doesn’t have a slight bleach odor, find another source of water and repeat.
  • Distilling it. Fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle of the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up inside the pot when the lid is upside-down without dangling into the water. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.

None of these methods is guaranteed to completely sanitize the water. It is recommended that you use all of them to remove the most contaminants possible.

Storage Tips

At least a three-day supply of water should be stored for each member of your family.

Tips on how and where to store water are as follows:

  • Store in a cool, dark place in your home, each vehicle and your workplace.
  • Use store-bought, factory-sealed water containers, or food-grade quality containers made for storing water (available in sporting goods or surplus stores). If you use plastic containers, such as soda bottles, they should be washed, sanitized (e.g. with liquid bleach) and rinsed. Avoid using containers that will decompose or break such as milk cartons or glass containers.
  • Store 1 gallon of water per person per day (2 quarts for drinking, 3-4 quarts if in hot climate, pregnant, sick or a child; 2 quarts for food preparation/sanitation).
  • Change stored water every six months.
  • Avoid using store-bought water past the expiration or “use by” date on the container.
  • Containers that can’t be sealed tightly.
  • Containers that have ever held any toxic substance.


Sources for document:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/American Red Cross @ www.redcross.org/preparedness/cdc_english/foodwater.asp

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service @ www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/foodnut/09310.html

University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service


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