Many prepper channels, blogs, and social media groups suggest an endless number of food items to keep on hand in case of emergency, also known as food staples. And while it’s nice to imagine shelves upon shelves of varied foods and supplies, the reality is we all must start somewhere! And even for the long-time preppers, the goal is usually to prepare as much as possible for as little time, space, and money as possible.
In this article, we want to give you a breakdown of the most efficient foods to keep in your disaster preparedness supply. We’ll be evaluating the food prepping staple categories by:
- Shelf life
- Effort to prepare
- Cost (calories per dollar)
- Caloric density
- Nutritional value
Let’s get started…
White Rice and Pasta
Representing half of the classic all-star team for food preparedness, white rice and dry pasta check a lot of the boxes that make for an efficient, sustainable inventory. These items are extremely budget-friendly and are eaten regularly by most of the world’s population.
There’s also a good variety to be found – rice can be found in many varieties, including long, medium, and short-grain in the forms of arborio, basmati, jasmine, sticky, and more. Dry pasta can also be a relief from food fatigue, and while the flavor is generally the same, variety can be found in mixing up spaghetti, rotini, macaroni, shells, sheets, tubes, bowties, and more (although spaghetti and sheets are the most densely packaged).
Rice and pasta also allow endless variety as they add satiety and substance to endless soups and sauces – these are prepping staples for a reason!
Here’s how this item measures up with our criteria:
- Shelf life – According to a study by Utah State University, the shelf life of properly stored white rice is up to 30 years. (Note that brown rice retains the oily outer bran layer that makes it much less shelf-stable than white rice.)
- Storage – Rice and dry pasta can be stored in many different ways, including in food-safe plastic buckets, glass or plastic jars, or mylar bags. These items expand after being cooked, which means they store smaller than the food they actually provide.
- The effort to prepare – These items must be boiled, but only for a short time. They can be cooked a little at a time, making it possible to totally avoid waste.
- Cost – Based on prices monitored with our Prepper Deals service, rice currently clocks in at 700+ calories per dollar, which is quite a bit higher than many other food categories. Pasta averages within the 500-700 range, but can be as high as 1,200 calories per dollar, based on today’s prices.
- Calorie density – A five-gallon bucket of rice in a mylar bag contains approximately 36,000 calories, and a five-gallon bucket is approximately 1,140 cubic inches (assuming a couple of inches of headspace at the top), so caloric density is about 26 calories per cubic inch.
- Nutritional value – Rice and pasta are great for energy, as they are high in carbohydrates. Rice is also a good source of calcium, iron, thiamin, pantothenic acid, folate, and vitamin E (Source). Pasta also contains folic acid and is low in sodium and cholesterol, making it possible for those consuming it to control their intakes (Source).
Dry Beans / Legumes
Welcome the other half of the all-star prep food stash: dry beans and legumes. These team perfectly with rice and pasta, and are a powerhouse of nutrients while taking up minimal space.
This food category contains a massive variety, including black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), northern beans, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, pinto beans, split peas, and more.
Here’s how they measure up:
- Shelf life – Dry beans that have been packaged in #10 cans or mylar bags have a shelf life of 30 years – or more! It’s best to make sure they are stored without exposure to oxygen, heat, or light to achieve this.
- Storage – Dry beans don’t require any moisture or air to store, so they are extremely efficient. Beans expand when they absorb water, so this is a very efficient food to store dry. Beans are commonly stored in Mylar bags and five-gallon buckets, but can also be stored canned, which takes up quite a bit more space.
- The effort to prepare – Dry beans are one food you will need to really plan ahead to use in a meal. Dry beans must be picked through, soaked, and boiled. (Check out The Prepared’s guide to preparing dry beans.) Other legumes like lentils tend to cook up faster but still require some planning ahead. However, many beans and other legumes are available canned and could be eaten straight out of the can. If you have lots of space and are concerned about your ability to cook, canned beans could work for you.
- Cost – Assuming an average price of $2 per pound, dry beans currently clock in at about 500 calories per dollar, which is definitely a strong number compared with other food categories.
- Calorie density – Approximately 24 pounds of dry beans can be stored in a mylar bag and five-gallon bucket, with an average of around 25,000 calories total for that volume. Given that a five-gallon bucket is approximately 1,140 cubic inches (assuming a couple of inches of headspace at the top), caloric density is about 22 calories per cubic inch.
- Nutritional value – Dry beans are a nutritional powerhouse, packing the highest protein of any plant source. They contain almost all the amino acids, as well as fiber, starch, and several minerals and vitamins.
Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Another basic item your inventory needs is vitamin-carrying fruits and vegetables. These can have quite a long shelf life if stored properly and can introduce endless variety into your prep supply. Tomatoes, peaches, pickles, and many other potential ingredients can be stored in this way, and are important for any well-rounded supply.
Take a look at how they fit our criteria:
- Shelf life – According to HealthyCanning.com, you should plan for your home-canned foods to expire after about one year. In a perfect canning situation, food would likely last much longer than that, but it’s not a guarantee. Professionally canned food can last much longer.
- Storage – Canned fruits and vegetables are easy to stack, store, and inventory. If you are prepping in a very small space, consider whether canned foods are a better choice than dehydrated foods. However, canned foods pack a double punch of both nutrition and hydration, as they will contain water.
- Effort to prepare – These are the most convenient to consume, as many of these can be consumed straight out of the can or jar and don’t even need to be cooked. If you are concerned about a power failure or no ability to cook food, make sure your canned food supply is in good shape.
- Cost – Since this is such a broad category, it’s impossible to provide averages that would be meaningful. However, upon reviewing the calories per dollar of products in this category, according to our Prepper Deals service, canned corn is by far the most cost-efficient canned vegetable to prep (at up to 400+ calories per dollar), and canned fruit in syrup looks to be about 150-200 calories per dollar.
- Calorie density – Again, being such a broad category, it’s not possible to provide guidance here. In the future, we plan to enhance the Prepper Deals service to provide this information live, right on the deals page.
- Nutritional value – Many, many fruits and vegetables can be canned, which means the foods you select for your supply can provide you with a multitude of various vitamins and minerals. This is also a great place to make sure to stock up on foods your family likes, and that will help avoid food fatigue.
A thorough and varied prep inventory will have many more foods in it than the three listed here, but these are the most important to start with. When building your supply, considering these factors is crucial, and the more you do it, the better you will get at it.