Cheap Emergency Food Stockpile


There are two types of cheap emergency food that stand out when it comes to survival food. They make up the bulk of my short and long-term emergency food storage because they are readily available, inexpensive, and provide a safety net when hard times hit.

Cheap Emergency food to stockpile for short-term emergencies includes canned fruit, vegetables, and meat. For long-term emergencies, store inexpensive dry staple foods such as dried grains, rolled oats, pasta, white rice, beans, sugar, and salt.

Canned and dry foods aren’t your only option for survival food but they are the cheapest way to build a massive stockpile of food.

If you are interested in getting started with your year’s supply of survival food check out the Ready Squirrel article, “How Much Food to Stockpile Per Person.” The article covers the FDA daily calorie requirements and what a year’s supply of food looks like. It’s a good article so check it out when you get the chance.

If you are ready to get started building an inexpensive stockpile of food to protect your family, in times of emergency, read on.

Canned Food: 4 Advantages

1. Comparitavely Inexpensive

Canned food is relatively inexpensive when compared to freeze-dried and professionally packaged emergency food and you can purchase canned foods as a whole meal (Dinty Moore Stew, Canned Spaghetti) or as individual ingredients with side dishes like green beans, mixed fruit, and canned meat.

2. Ready to Eat

Canned food is ready to eat without additional action or ingredients. Most of us will want to heat canned foods, but it’s not necessary. If you do heat canned food, you can use a simple backpacker stove, alcohol stove, or Nesbit tablets. Much easier to heat a can than to cook dried rice or beans.

3. Shelf-stable

Canned foods are shelf-stable. This is a fancy way of saying that perishable foods are canned so that they don’t need refrigeration until they are opened. On top of that, they store for 1 to 5 years. As long as you rotate them you’ll always have emergency stock on hand.

4. FEMA 72 hour emergency kit

Canned Foods are excellent for short-term emergencies like FEMA’s 72-hour emergency kit. During a catastrophe or natural disaster, you may be without electricity, fuel, and running water. Canned food can be eaten without these resources.

Ready to start prepping on the cheap, check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Cheap Food With A Long Shelf-life.”

Canned Food: 4 Disadvantages

1. Rotation Required

Canned foods have a limited “best by date” where foods are at peak freshness in taste, texture, and nutritional value. The “best by date,” ranges from 1 to 5 years. Canned food should be rotated with First In First Out (FIFO), so you always have a fresh supply of canned goods.

Rotation is easier if you only store the canned foods you like to eat. This actually poses a problem for some.

My family eats mostly fresh perishable fruits and vegetables, so it’s challenging to rotate canned fruits and vegetables.

2. Refrigerate After Opening

Once opened, canned foods can’t be stored unless they are refrigerated. The only option is to eat the entire contents of an open can. Unless you have a big group to feed avoid getting the super-sized cans.

3. Heavy

Canned food is heavy. It isn’t ideal for moving around, so avoid using it for bugging out on foot, and limit how much you pack in a bug-out vehicle.

The best food for bugging out on foot is freeze-dried backpacker meals, but these meals are expensive. If you decide to go with freeze-dried meals make sure you have a backpacker’s stove, fuel, water, and a way to ignite the stove.

4. Best Buy Date

Commercially canned food has a “best by date,” which is somewhat controversial. The best by date does not indicate if food is safe to eat.

The “Best if used by date” is a suggested freshness date from the manufacturer. Preppers use the “best by date” or “best if used by date” to rotate their food with (FIFO), so they always have fresh, canned food stored.

The best by date indicates peak taste, texture, and nutritional value. All of these values decline over time.

High acid [canned] foods such as tomatoes and other fruit will keep their best quality up to 18 months; low acid foods such as meat and vegetables, 2 to 5 years. If  cans are in good condition (no dents, swelling, or rust)  and have been stored in a cool, clean, dry place they are safe indefinitely.

United States Department of Agriculture

Did that USDA quote just say that canned foods could be safe indefinitely? Yes, as long as they are stored in a cool, dry location and they don’t show any signs of damage, leaking, or bulging. When in doubt, throw it out.

Let’s take a look at the cost of common canned foods by the pound.

Chart 1: canned emergency food, price by the pound

The cost of food is constantly changing, but the following cost list will give you a general idea of the price so you can compare canned foods to the other types of emergency food.

Type of Canned FoodCost Per LBS
Canned Mixed Fruit90¢ to 2.05¢ (USDA.gov)
Tomatoes.91¢
Canned Green-beans.83¢
Canned Corn.86¢
Canned Pinto Beans.80¢
Bush’s Original Baked Beans$6.43
Olives$5.09
Canned Lima Beans$1.33
Canned Mixed Vegetables$1.12
Canned Black Beans.95¢
Canned Navy Beans.95¢
Canned Kidney Beans.86¢
Canned Green Peas.99¢
Canned Blacked Eyed Peas.93¢
Canned Carrots.77¢
Dinty Moore Stew$3.83
Starkist Canned White Tuna$4.66
Keystone Canned Beef$8.56
Canned Hormel Chili$2.76
Canned White Chicken Meat$3.98
Chef Boyardee Spaghetti & Meatballs$2.34
Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup$4.03
Campbell Chunky Beef n Veg$1.30
Spam Classic$3.25
Libby’s Vienna Sausage$4.40
American Easy Cheese (canned cheese)$7.76
Old Wisconsin Summer Sausage$8.54
Fruit and vegetable prices are from a study conducted by the USDA in 2018 (see resources at the end of this article). Prices for canned meats, stews, and chilis were taken from online retailers like Amazon.com.
Oats, Wheat, Macaroni, and Beans In #10 Cans
Hard-white-wheat-berries
Rolled Oats in #10 Can

Dry Food: The Cheapest Emergency Food

If you want to stockpile massive amounts of food inexpensively, there is no substitute for dry staple foods. I stored a little dry food at a time to build a stockpile of over 400lbs of wheat, white rice, and dry beans. It’s not enough, but it is a start, and hey, I’m not done yet.

Dry Food: 3 Advantages

1: Non Perishable

Dry foods are non-perishable, meaning they don’t have to be refrigerated before or after opening. Pretty handy if your power is out.

Storage of dry staples: Keep foods dry and protect them from bugs using sealed Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers.

2: Proven Over Time

Dry foods have a proven track record. Every major civilization in human history has survived on dry foods like wheat, dent corn, white rice, and legumes.

3: Shelf-life

The most popular survival grains and legumes will store for 30+ years if packaged or bought in oxygen-free packaging.

4. Sprouting

Wheat and some beans can be sprouted for produce under any condition. This is an excellent use of most hard grains (seeds) that are still viable. Imagine being stuck in a cabin in mid-winter, you could easily sprout wheatgrass at a time when no other fresh produce is available. I see this as a super survival tip.

Dry Food: 4 Disadvantages

1: Resources

To make dry foods “ready to eat,” you need fresh water and fuel to cook them. Dry food staples aren’t ready-to-eat like most canned foods.

Hand Milling Wheat into flour is hard work.

2: Processing

Some Dry Foods require processing.

For example, many grains like wheat are milled into flour before being used as an ingredient. Wheat berries (wheat kernels without the husk) can be boiled like rolled oats and eaten whole, but you can expand wheat’s usefulness by milling it into flour.

Storage Tip: You might be thinking of storing flour instead of wheatberries, but the shelf life is cut in half by doing this. Once a wheat kernel is busted by milling or grinding it, the nutritional value and shelf-life decline rapidly.

3: Basic Cooking Skills Required

Dry goods or staple foods have to be cooked. Basic cooking is a super important survival skill every prepper should master.

White rice and dry beans have to be boiled in water. Wheat can be boiled and cooked like oats, and it must be milled into flour for making bread and pasta.

Wheat and some beans can be sprouted for produce under any condition. This is an excellent use of most hard grains (seeds) that are still viable.

4: Repackaging Required

For maximum shelf life, dry staples need to be repackaged into oxygen-free storage. This not only prevents the oxidation of food it also kills bugs at all stages of life: egg, pupae, and adult within 2 weeks.

For oxygen-free storage of dry foods, you need food-grade buckets, Mylar bags, and oxygen absorbers. An expense, but well worth it for the amount of food you can store.

Warning: Only certain foods can be stored oxygen-free. Namely foods less than 10% in moisture and low in fat. Foods with a high moisture content should not be stored oxygen-free because there is a risk of botulism.

Foods high in fats or lipids (brown rice) should not be stored oxygen-free because fats will still go rancid, and shelf-life doesn’t increase.

To learn more about Oxygen-free packaging, check out the Ready Squirrel article, Long Term Food Storage Bags: The Secret Weapon of Food Storage, or check out the video below.

Video of storing wheat in Mylar with buckets and oxygen absorbers. The process applies to all dry foods less than 10% in moisture and low-fat, including dry white rice, dry beans, and wheat berries.

Dry Foods: price by the pound

The LDS cannery prices in this list are from 2021, and the FDA prices are from 2018, but you’ll get a general idea of how much food you get relative to the price of professionally packaged foods.

Compare the price of any other type of food in this article to the list below, and you quickly realize that dry foods are the cheapest emergency food you can store.

Chart 2: dry emergency food, price by the pound

Type of Dried FoodCost Per Pound
White Rice .71¢
White Rice *.68¢
Dry Macaroni & Pasta *.56
Rolled Oats *.48¢
Hard White Wheat Berries.84 (Montana Prairie Gold)
Hard White Wheat Berries *.91¢
Hard Red Wheat Berries$1.53 (Montana, Hard Red Winter)
Black Beans$1.40
Black Beans *.67¢
Navy Beans $1.48
Navy Beans *.60¢
Pinto Beans$1.09
Pinto Beans *.65¢
Lima Beans$2.22
Kidney Beans$1.69
Black Eyed Peas$1.61
Lentils$1.56
Non-fat dry milk *.31¢
Average Prices are from a study conducted by the USDA in 2018. * LDS prices are taken off of the LDS store website. I have purchased several orders from them, and I am not LDS. You don’t have to be to purchase from the store. Link to store

Chart 3: dry packaged side dishes, price by the pound

Type of Dried-Packaged-FoodCost Per Pound
Knorr Noodles$6.96
Knorr Rice Dishes$7.25
Kraft Mac & Cheese$2.16
Idahoan Instant Potatoes$3.47
Instant Rice/Minute Rice$2.12
Ramen Noodles$2.33
Instant Cup-a-soup$10.24
Meat and Vegetable Bouillon$6.40
Lipton Dry Soup Mixes$5.12
You can purchase these foods on sale and in bulk to get lower prices. This list gives you the ability to compare and contrast the “general price” of different foods to fit your cheap emergency food kit. Prices were taken from Amazon.com.

Sugar Treats: price by the pound

You might be thinking, “why would I buy candy for emergency or survival food?” The answer, quick energy and to boost morale. You can put whatever candy you want on your list.

Chart 4: sugar treats, price by the pound

Type of Sugar TreatCost Per Pound
Granulated White Sugar$1.66
Jolly Rancher Hard Candies$2.64
Hershey’s Chocolate Bar$11.19
Kit Kat Bars$10.04
Skittles$6.56
Worther’s Hard Caramel Candy$10.66
You can purchase these foods on sale and in bulk to get lower prices. This list gives you the ability to compare and contrast the “general price” of different foods fit for your emergency kit.

Chart 5: chips & crackers, price by the pound

Type of Sugar TreatCost Per Pound
Doritos$4.80
Pringles$7.20
Lay’s Potato Chips$5.60
Ritz Crackers$4.96
Saltine Crackers$5.28
Melba Toast$10.40 (Kosher up to $40.00 per pound)
Blue Diamond Almonds$9.60
You can purchase these foods on sale and in bulk to get lower prices. This list gives you the ability to compare and contrast the “general price” of different foods fit for your emergency kit.

“Not So Cheap” Emergency Foods To Consider

These emergency foods are “not” cheap but you should consider them as you create your emergency plan. These foods don’t need to be purchased at scale but they fit special scenarios like bugging out, and they can be much simpler to use. As you research your food storage you will find that most preppers have some of these foods for specific types of emergencies.

Freeze Dried Backpacker Meals

When I hiked the Vermont leg of the Appalachian trail, I ate Mountain House freeze-dried backpacker meals at the end of the day. They are quick, provide a warm filling meal, are super lightweight, and require boiled water to prepare. As with hiking long distances, there are times in an emergency where the simplicity of food preparation is important.

Freeze-dried Meals: 4 Advantages

1. Light-weight

There isn’t a lighter emergency food. Excellent for bug-out bags and scenarios where you are carrying all of your gear, including food.

Weight is important if you keep your pack weight below 20% of your body weight. When hiking long distances, I choose to filter water from a stream or lake and use freeze-dried meals for my main meal at night.

2. Easy To Prepare

Boil Water, pour water into the pouch, wait 10 minutes and eat. You can eat right out of the bag so you don’t need additional dishes.

My only eating utensil when hiking was a long-handled titanium spoon that fit down inside the bag and was super lightweight.

3. Full Meal

Freeze-dried meals allow you to make a full and satisfying meal that would be difficult to make in the field with minimum resources.

4. Nutritional Value & Quality

Freeze-dried food maintains 90%+ of its nutritional value, color, and shape. It is dried by a sublimation process, where super cold temperatures are used in a vacuum to remove most of the moisture.

With dehydrated food, moisture is removed with heat which reduces nutritional value and damages food. Dehydration also removes less moisture than freeze-drying which reduces shelf-life.

Freeze Dried Meals: 2 Disadvantages

1. Expensive

Backpacker meals are expensive. Freeze-dried food is expensive in general, but freeze-dried backpacker meals are the most expensive type of freeze-dried food you can buy.

These meals are best used in short-term emergency kits and as a staple in your bug-out bag. If staying in place, canned food is superior because it is ready-to-eat and doesn’t require additional water.

Once you get going with food storage and decide to make it a lifestyle, look into the Harvest Right Home freeze-driers. I don’t have one, but I want one. I love the concept of buying meat in bulk and freeze-drying it.

2. Resources Required

Freeze-dried meals require clean water and fuel to make edible. Cold soaking is not suggested. Freeze-dried meals are not meant to reconstitute with cold water. Cold soak them, and you will be eating cold, crunchy freeze-dried food.

Chart 6: Freeze-dried meals, price by the pound

Type of Freeze-Dried FoodCost Per Pound
Mountain House Freeze-dried Backpacker Meals (30-year shelf-life)$36.15
Wild Zora-Freeze-dried Meals to go (Paleo)$69.12
Backpacker’s Pantry-Freeze Dried Meals$16.80
Good To-Go Backpacker Meals (dehydrated-not freeze-dried)$31.10
Peak-Refuel Freeze-dried backpacking meal (5-year shelf-life)$37.22
Price Information is taken from Amazon.com.

Freeze Dried Ingredients

Freeze-dried ingredients have an excellent shelf-life. They maintain most of their nutrition, taste, and texture when freeze-dried and allow for flexibility in meal planning. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of freeze-dried ingredients.

3 Advantages

1. Shelf-life

Most freeze-dried foods have a shelf life of 20 to 30 years.

2. Nutritional Value & Quality

Freeze-dried food maintains 90%+ of its nutritional value, color, and shape because it is dried by a process called sublimation. Super cold temperatures are used in a vacuum to remove most of the moisture from food. This process is easier on food than dehydration.

With dehydrated food, moisture is removed with heat which reduces nutritional value and damages food. Dehydration also removes less moisture than freeze-drying which reduces shelf-life.

3. Flexibility

Freeze-dried ingredients give you access to produce that is out of season or unavailable—for example, vegetables and fruits in the middle of winter.

Freeze-dried ingredients also allow you to vary your diet by combining individual ingredients into different dishes. This will cut down on pallet fatigue and improve the psychological aspect of survival.

4 Disadvantages

1. Expensive

Freeze-dried ingredients are more expensive by the pound than any other emergency food. You can make freeze-dried food at home with a unit like a Harvest Right, but these units are expensive. The expense of the unit can be offset depending on how much emergency food you process.

2. Incorporating into a meal

Many freeze-dried ingredients are just that. They aren’t a ready-made meal but an ingredient to be added to a recipe of other ingredients- a strength if you can cook and a weakness if you can not.

3. Cooking Skills Required

As with dried ingredients, many freeze-dried foods are best used in a recipe, so basic cooking skills are required.

4. Resources

Freeze-dried ingredients require boiled water, so you need to store additional water and fuel to reconstitute. You can use cold water, but it takes much longer, and some ingredients will not reconstitute.

MREs

Meals Ready to Eat come two ways, 1. a military version that you can only get second-hand and 2. the civilian version. If you purchase MREs for a survival scenario, get the civilian version because you will know what you are getting and how it is stored.

What is an MRE?

An MRE (Meal Ready To Eat) is the U.S. Military’s current combat ration, a shelf-stable, self-contained, pre-cooked meal with accessories that do not require refrigeration. MREs are used to feed forward-deployed troops if cooked food is unavailable. Each MRE contains approximately 1,250 calories.

2 Advantages

1. Calories

Civilian MREs are based on the military version, a combat ration designed to nourish troops on the front line. Three MREs per day are considered a full ration. For most of us, 2 MREs or approximately 2400 calories daily is sufficient.

2. All-Inclusive

Everything you need for a meal is in the MRE package, main course, side dishes, drinks, and snacks. You will need a source of fresh water to use the heater and to reconstitute drink powders.

4 Disadvantages

1: limited shelf-life

MRE Shelf-life is relatively short with a maximum of 7 years compared to freeze-dried backpacker meals with a shelf-life of 30+ years.

MRE Shelf-life

Storage Temperature60°F70°F80°F90°F110°F
Approx. MRE Storage-Life7 Years5 Years4 Years30 Months5 Months
Armed Forces Pest Management Board Storage Temperature & Shelf Life

2: heavy

MREs include water weight, so they are not ideal when carrying days worth of food in a backpack. They are best used at a bug-out location or in a vehicle.

Chart: Weight of MREs

# of MREsWeight
1 MRE1.125 lbs to 1.625 lbs
3 MREs3.375 to 4.875 lbs
1 Case of MREs/12 MealsApproximately 21 lbs

3: expensive

Type of MRECost Per Pound
My Patriot Supply MRE-Entrees$32.65
Information Taken From Retail Websites

4: Questionable Origin

If you are purchasing Military MREs, they are resale. You can’t purchase them directly from the manufacturer so you won’t know how they’ve been stored, which can drastically affect shelf-life.

If you want to learn more about MREs, check out the comprehensive Ready Squirrel article, What is a meal ready to eat (MRE combat ration)

Survival Food Kits

Survival food kits are sold by multiple companies online. These are advertised as including everything you need to survive a certain number of days. You will need fresh water to reconstitute these food buckets and #10 cans.

Advantage

1. Convenient

Emergency survival kits are pre-packaged and ready to go.

Most Survival food companies sell kits based on the number of days needed, so there isn’t much thought involved.

3 Disadvantages

1. Additional Food Required

Many of these kits are low on protein and fats or provide less than the suggested FDA requirement of 2000 calories per day. Do a little footwork and know what you are getting before you purchase a kit.

2. Added Ingredients

Some survival food kits contain additives like MSG and use GMOs. Some companies offer products without these additives but expect to pay a higher price tag.

3. Pricey

When compared to cheap dry staples, food kits are relatively expensive. On the other hand, they are pre-packaged and ready to go. You will have to weigh the price against convenience.

Chart 7: survival food kits, price by the pound

Dehydrated & Freeze-dried Emergency Food KitsCost Per Pound
Augason Farms, Deluxe 30-Day Food Supply For 1$3.89
Ready Wise 30 Day Emergency Food Supply (Ounces of food unknown)Unknown
Mountain House 14 Day Emergency Food Supply For 1$18.71
My Patriot Supply 4-Week Emergency Food Supply$5.86
4 Patriots 4-Week Survival Food Kit (Ounces of food unknown)Unknown
Emergency Essentials 1-Month (30-Day) Emergency Food Kit$8.15
Legacy Food Storage- 72 Hour Emergency Food Kit$10.22
Information is taken from each companies website.

Resources

Economic Research Service: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fruit and Vegetable Prices

How to build an emergency kit, Official Website of U.S. government

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