Best Emergency Food: Cheap to Expensive

When you first start prepping, choosing the best food for a particular emergency or survival situation can be a little challenging. Following is a basic rundown of the best emergency food to fit a specific emergency. The bulk of my survival food stash is dry staples that I’ve packaged myself, but there are good reasons to store other types of food.

The Best Emergency Food

For emergency and survival situations, the best foods to stockpile are dry staples, including beans, rice, wheat, canned food such as soups, stews, fruit, and vegetables, and freeze-dried food of ingredients or whole meals. These foodstuffs are shelf-stable, with 2 to 30 years of shelf life.

Dry, canned, and freeze-dried foods are not the only foods you can store for emergencies, but they are the backbone of any good survival pantry.

Let’s dig a little deeper and look at the ups and downs of each food type.

Dry Staples: Cheap

Dry staples are the bulk of my emergency food supply because they are so cheap and it’s so easy to repackage for long-term storage. I have prepared hundreds of pounds of dry staples like black beans, long-grain white rice, hard white wheat with buckets, Mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers.

Staples are anti-starvation food for severe long-term events like food shortages and economic collapse. Learn more about inexpensive survival food. Read the Ready Squirrel article, “Best Emergency Food: Cheap to Expensive.”


Dry staples are best for long-term emergencies because they are inexpensive in bulk, and most of them have a twenty to thirty-year shelf life if properly stored.

On top of this, foods like beans, rice, wheat, and rolled oats are proven across generations and cultures to provide enough calories and nutrition to survive major catastrophes and food shortages.

Learn more about dry staples. Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “How much food for a year: Proven Dry Staples.”


Dry staple foods are not ideal for short-term emergencies such as a catastrophic hurricane where power and water are unavailable, and you’re walking through muck or expending a lot of energy to survive or clean up.

In a short-term survival situation, the last thing you want to do is stand over a stewing pot of beans all day.

Staple foods take a lot of preparation and resources to make ready.

For example, wheat or wheat berries are usually milled into flour, mixed with other ingredients, including water, and baked into bread. Beans and rice take a lot of time, water, and fuel to make ready.

For short-term emergencies, look to stockpile canned food.

Canned Food: Relatively Cheap

My family has a limited supply of canned foods because we don’t eat out of cans much. They are essential survival food that should be a part of any emergency pantry. Canned foods can provide nutrients that are hard to come by in a survival situation, such as fat, meat-protein, and fruits and vegetables out of season.

Upside: Canned Food

Canned food is outstanding for short-term emergencies with a loss of power, running water, and other services because it is ready to eat right out of the can. Canned foodstuff is the preferred food of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for their suggested 72-hour emergency kit. Learn More at

Canned foods don’t need to be refrigerated before eating them. You can eat out of the can, so you don’t need dishes, and they don’t need to be heated up to eat. In addition, you don’t need fuel, water, or much time to prepare them.

Downside: Canned Food

Canned food has a limited shelf-life of two to five years, so it needs to be rotated into your regular diet to ensure a fresh supply when required in a survival situation.

Canned goods are heavy because of the packaging and water weight included in the can. They can be used if you stay put in an emergency or limited supply if bugging out in a vehicle. Don’t plan to carry canned food in a backpack when bugging out on foot.

Learn more about one of the essential canned foods for survival, canned meat. Read the Ready Squirrel article, “Canned Meat: A Must-Have Survival Food.”

Freeze-dried Food: Expensive

I love freeze-dried foods, especially backpacker-style meals like Mountain House. I used these when hiking the Vermont leg of the Appalachian Trail, and it made the trip a lot easier because they are filling and so easy to prepare.

Upside: Freeze-Dried Food

Freeze-dried food, especially backpacker-style meals, is ideal for emergencies where reduced weight and ease of preparation are necessary, such as bugging out on foot.

Freeze-dried food is super lightweight and reconstitutes with boiled water within 10 minutes. So all you have to do is boil water to make a meal ready to eat.

Freeze-dried food maintains up to 97% of its nutritional value when processed, and it has an excellent shelf-life of 30+ years if packaged and stored correctly.

People often confuse dehydrated food with freeze-dried foods, but they are different. Freeze-dried food is more nutritious, is of higher quality, and has a longer shelf life.

Downside: Freeze-dried Food

Freeze-dried food is expensive.

Whether you make your freeze-dried food and package it at home or purchase it professionally, you will pay for it. Free-dried food is off the charts in price compared to dry staples, but it fills a need and should be considered emergency food.

Learn more about freeze-dried foods. Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “What is freeze-dried survival food?”

List of Hard Grains

Hard grains are the foods used to support entire civilizations since the dawn of time.

Once repackaged, dry foods can be stored in a cool, dry location and do not need rotation for decades.

My favorite foods from this list are: white-polished-long-grain rice, hard white wheat, and rolled oats. Repackage these staple foods into Mylar bags and food-grade buckets and treat them with oxygen absorbers for a 30-year shelf-life.

Grain TypeShelf-life
Oxygen-free Storage
Long-grain White Rice 30+
Jasmine Rice30+
Basmati Rice30+
Arborio Rice30+
Converted Rice30+
Hard White Wheat30+
Hard Red Wheat30+
Rolled Oats30+
Triticale 30+
Soft Wheat 30+
Ancient Wheat 30+
Grain Corn 30+
Dry Pasta30+
Shelf-life is for Grain stored oxygen-free in sealed Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers or purchased professionally packaged in #10 cans.

6 Soft Grains

My favorite food from this list is Rolled oats. Rolled oats are a soft grain you can repackage and store for up to 30 years, the preferred food of the Scotch Highlander.

Soft Grain TypeShelf-life
Oxygen-free Storage
Hulled Oats20+
Pearled Oats20+
Rolled Oats30+
Shelf-life is for Grain stored oxygen-free in sealed Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers or purchased professionally packaged in #10 cans.

List of 17 Dried Beans

Dried beans are the best survival foods at the top of my list. When combined with white rice, you’ll get a complete protein, and they will store for 30 years. Most of my stored beans are white navy beans and black beans because I can get them at a low price locally. Look at the top 17 beans to see what you have available in your area.

Bean Type
Oxygen-free Storage
Adzuki Bean30
Kidney Bean30
Pinto Bean30
Mung Bean30
Soybean Dehydrated 2
Split Pea30
Black Turtle Bean30
Black-eyed pea 30
Black Bean30
Navy Bean30
Lentils 30
Lima Bean30
Pink Bean 30
Garbanzo/Chick Peas30
Cranberry Beans (Roman Beans)30
Pigeon Peas30
Cannellini 30
Information Compliments of the USDA

Sugar And Salt

Sugar and salt last forever. These foods don’t just preserve and flavor food. And they are also outstandingly cheap food you can use for barter should hard times hit. Please put them in a food-grade bucket, seal the lid and forget about them. Oxygen-free storage of sugar and salt is not suggested or required.

The word salt stems from the Roman word for salary, salarium. Roman legions were paid in salt which was considered a priceless commodity known as white gold.


List of 38 Canned Emergency Foods

Following is a list of the best types of canned food(s) to store for an emergency. I would focus on whole meals like soups and stews in conjunction with fruits and vegetables for short-term emergencies.

  1. Evaporated Milk
  2. Meat
  3. Tuna
  4. Beef
  5. Chicken
  6. Turkey
  7. Spam
  8. Salmon
  9. Sardines
  10. Corned Beef Hash
  11. Vienna Sausages
  12. Ham
  13. Chili
  14. Stew
  15. Pasta Sauce
  16. Fruit
  17. Tomatoes
  18. Peaches
  19. Pears
  20. Mandarin Oranges
  21. Pineapple
  22. Vegetables
  23. Corn
  24. Green Beans
  25. Potatoes
  26. Peas
  27. Olives
  28. Pickles
  29. Sauerkraut
  30. Sweet Potatoes
  31. Pumpkin
  32. Asparagus
  33. Pinto Beans
  34. Black Beans
  35. Chickpeas
  36. Navy Beans
  37. Vegetable Oil
  38. Shortening

Looking for a comprehensive list of foods to stockpile for survival? Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Shelf-stable food: 193 Edibles.”

Freeze-dried Foods

Freeze-dried food is created by flash-freezing foodstuff in really low temperatures inside a vacuum, removing 95 to 99% of the moisture. Removing all moisture and proper packaging gives most freeze-dried foods an enormous shelf-life of up to 30 years.

Professionally packaged freeze-dried food is sold as individual ingredients like specific fruits, vegetables, and meats or pre-packaged whole meals like soups, stews, and pasta dishes.

Most of my freeze-dried food is in the form of Mountain House backpacker meals, but I do have freeze-dried ingredients in limited quantities. Following are some companies you can check out that offer freeze-dried food. Suppose you are on a budget. You probably want to focus on storing dry staples and canned foods. You can always invest in freeze-dried stuff down the road.

14 Freeze-dried Food Companies

Here is a list of some of the companies that sell and make freeze-dried foods

  1. Mountain House
  2. Backpacker’s Pantry
  3. Patriot Supply
  4. Lehman’s
  5. Honeyville
  6. Emergency Essentials
  7. Ready Hour
  8. Survival Frog
  9. Legacy Food Storage
  10. Ready Store
  11. Thrive Life
  12. Augason Farms
  13. Wise Food Storage
  14. 4Patriots

If you were a friend or family member, I would tell you to start stockpiling dry beans, long-grain white rice, and rolled oats. Reading the Ready Squirrel article, “Mylar bags for food storage: beginners guide, ” and learn how to package these foods for long-term storage.”

Then figure out your emergency water by checking out this Ready Squirrel article, “Cleaning emergency water for survival,” and “21 Emergency water containers for SHTF”

By storing dry staples and potable water, you will survive anything food-related that comes your way.

Keep on Prepping!