Cheap Food With a Long Shelf-life

The cheapest foods with the longest shelf-life are the best for long-term emergencies. When I’m picking backbone foods, I want two things the longest shelf-life without refrigeration and tried and tested. The twenty-seven foods below can be stored in a cool, dry root cellar or an air-conditioned closet.

27 Affordable Survival Foods With A Long Shelf-life

These are the foods of pioneers, ancient civilizations, and soldiers on the march. Each food has been proven over the long haul as a way of staying fed to stay alive.

Staple foods like white rice and dried beans don’t require refrigeration and are readily available.

Some of these foods are a little more challenging to find locally, so order them online or choose an alternate staple.

If you are interested in this article, check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Cheap Emergency Food Stockpile.”

#1 White Rice

The most popular carbohydrate in the world. When eaten with dry beans, white rice provides a whole protein.

What can you make with white rice?

Rice can be used as a bed for meat and vegetables mixed with butter, cheese, beans, or nuts. Use rice like a breakfast porridge and mix in peanut butter and fruit preserves, or honey, butter, and spices like cinnamon.

I eat white rice 3 times per week and put soy sauce on it or Tabasco.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 5 years

#2 Dried Macaroni

Dried macaroni is an excellent way to store wheat in long-term storage. Once cooked, it can be used as a base for any number of sauces, meats, and garden produce. Eat it cold or hot.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 20 to 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 2 years

#3 Dried Spaghetti

Dried spaghetti is harder to store than macaroni because it’s so long and awkward to store. Break it up to make it denser for oxygen-free storage, or use macaroni instead.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 20 to 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 2 years

#4 Dry Beans (Pink, Pinto, Navy, Black Eyed Peas, Chick Peas)

This is another food that goes back thousands of years, for good reason. Dry beans are dense in nutrition and protein. Because beans come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, they are a good way to build a little variety into your long-term food storage.

What can you make with dry beans? Stew beans, add them to soups or salads, mash them into sauces and dips, or mill for flour. Beans are a complementary protein with grains like rice and wheat for a whole protein.

In Japan, red beans make sweet bean paste called “Anko,” used in pastries. Anko is a mixture of table sugar and mashed red beans. It sounds a little weird, but I learned to love sweet beans when stationed in Japan.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 20 to 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 1 to 2 years

Learn how to store emergency beans like a Pro. Check out the Ready Squirrel article, Store Bulk Beans Like A Rockstar

#5 Lentils

Lentils are legumes (beans), but they cook much quicker. My family eats many lentils because they have a delicious nutty flavor and are easy to cook. Use lentils in soups, stews, and dips. An excellent base for produce from the survival garden. Lentils can also be added to cooked pasta.

Lentils add protein and iron to your emergency diet.

Lentils go way back to ancient Greece, almost 13,000 years ago, where they were cooked and eaten as porridge or soup with bread. In modern times many Canadians survived the Great Depression of the 1930s by eating lentils.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 2 to 3 years

#6 Split Peas

Split peas are often confused with lentils, but they aren’t lentils. Split peas are a type of field pea grown for drying and storage. You are missing out if you’ve never had split pea soup made with a ham hock and heavy cream.

What can you make with split peas? Bean dip, “split pea soup,” meat and bean stews, soups, and cold salads. Stew split peas with spices and pour over pasta or white rice. Stew and eat with leavened or unleavened bread.

In India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, split peas are used to make a comfort food called Dal, a blank slate for spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, hot peppers, and clarified butter. Often eaten on a bed of white rice, and meat can also be added.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 25 to 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 2 to 3 years

#7 Corn Meal

Cornmeal is ground dent corn.

What can I do with Cornmeal? Make cornbread, muffins, cookies, and thickener for soups, stews, and chilis. Use as a breading for deep-fried foods like fish, hushpuppies, stuffings, unleavened bread, or cornmeal mush for breakfast.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 10+ years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 1 year

Ready to learn more about Non-perishable foods? Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Non-perishable Emergency Food: Grub With The Longest Shelf-life.”

#8 Dried Dent Corn (grain corn, not sweet corn)

Dent corn is field corn treated like grain and used to mill cornmeal and masa flour for tortillas. Don’t confuse it with Iowa sweet corn boiled and slathered with butter. It is different.

If you’ve ever eaten a Dorito, Cheeto, or a hard taco shell, you’ve eaten dent corn.

If you have a heavy-duty mill that will handle it, storing whole dried dent corn is better for emergency food than cornmeal because you get a longer shelf-life—10 years vs. 30 years.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 1 year

Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Cheap Long Term Emergency Food Supply: Epic Dry Staples.”

#9 Hard Wheat

Hard red and white wheat have the most protein, also called gluten. They are the preferred wheat type for leavened bread. Hard wheat can also be used in unleavened bread, but the crust will not be as tender.

White wheat has the mildest flavor though it has less gluten than red wheat.

In the United States, wheat berries with the husk removed are stored in long-term storage. The husks are removed because they contain oils that cause rancidity and reduce shelf-life.

Wheat is a top 4 staple because it is so flexible. Mill it into flour for bread, pastries, and pasta, cook it whole as a porridge-like mush or sprout it for greens.

Roman legions relied on emmer and spelt wheat as a major portion of their diet on the march. Roman soldiers called Spelt “the marching grain.” It was boiled and eaten or milled into flour for leavened and unleavened bread.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 2 to 3 years

Interested in Stockpiling on the cheap? Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “Cheap Emergency Food: Stockpiling on a Budget.”

#10 Soft Wheat

Soft red and white wheat have the least protein and are the preferred wheat types for pastries and unleavened bread.

All-purpose flour combines hard and soft wheat, giving the best of both worlds, a good rise on bread, and a tender, chewy crust.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life store packaging: 2 to 3 years

#11 Amaranth

An ancient grain (actually a seed) that is still eaten in Mexico and Central America.

Similar to quinoa, it has saponins that cause a somewhat bitter flavor.

Cook and eat as a porridge, pop it like popcorn or mill it into flour.

Start storing a year’s food supply. Read the Ready Squirrel article, How Much Food For A Year: Proven Dry Staples.

The long-term shelf life of Amaranth in Oxygen-free storage is untested, so I can’t say it’s a cheap food with a long shelf life. I can say it’s a good food to grow in the survival garden. I grew Amaranth in my garden, and it grew like a weed.

Amaranth is a seed (pseudo-grain) that provides a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: Unknown*

Shelf-life Pantry: 4 months

#12 Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a seed that is used as a grain. It contains carbohydrates and protein.

As with other pseudo-grains, buckwheat can be cooked whole and used as a staple, or it can be added to soups, stews, hot or cold salads, or sweetened with honey or fruit preserves and eaten for breakfast.

Buckwheat is commonly used in Eastern European countries to make buckwheat pancakes and unleavened bread.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 25 years*

Shelf-life Pantry: 2 Months

#13 Sugar

Sugar has gotten a bad rap, but as survival food, it is an important energy source.

Table sugar has an indefinite shelf-life, meaning it lasts forever. Sugar is a food that doesn’t oxidize, so you don’t need oxygen absorbers. Keep bugs and moisture out of sugar by storing it in sealed Mylar bags and storing the bags in a food-grade bucket or a lidded plastic container for protection against physical damage.

What can table sugar be used for? The obvious answer is to sweeten everything from black coffee to baked goods, but sugar has other uses. It can also be used as a preservative and to kickstart fermentation.

The human brain requires 130 grams of sugar per day to function, and it can come in the form of glucose from table sugar or fruits, vegetables, or honey.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: indefinite*

Shelf-life Pantry: Keep bugs and moisture out, and sugar doesn’t go bad.

#14 Honey

Honey isn’t cheap if you purchase it at the store, but it is much less expensive if sourced locally. When saving on the emergency food bill, sugar is the better option.

What can you do with honey? Use it as a sweetener in baked goods, coffee, and tea, add sauces and salad dressings, spread on baked bread, or drop some in boiled grains like oats or wheat.

Honey is also used to make Mead, an alcohol-based wine.

Honey [has] an indefinite shelf life due to [it’s] resistance to microbial growth, including molds.

Brian Nummer, Food Safety Specialist, Utah State University Extension

Shelf-life: Pure honey has an indefinite shelf life as long as there are no additives or impurities. It may crystalize over time, but it is still edible.

#15 Table Salt

Salt was once used in place of money because it was so valuable in food preservation. During a long-term event like societal collapse, salt will be valuable again.

What can you do with salt? Salt is used as a spice to flavor food, a preservative, and a cleaning agent; you need it to survive.

The Egyptians were the first to realize the preservation characteristics of salt. Sodium draws moisture out of food, making it difficult for bacteria to survive—salt treatment allowed for the preservation of meat without refrigeration.

Shelf-life of Salt: Indefinite

#16 Baking Soda

Baking Soda acts as a leavening agent when added to a baked good with an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar, producing carbon dioxide bubbles and causing pastries to rise.

What can you make with Baking Soda? cookies, Irish soda bread,

Baking soda’s long-term shelf-life is indefinite (forever) if sealed in a 5 mil or thicker Mylar bag. Oxygen absorbers are not necessary.

Shelf-life in the pantry: 18 months (If not stored in a container that provides a moisture/oxygen barrier, baking soda will soak up the flavors and odors around it.)

#17 Rolled Oats

Rolled oats are an underestimated food in the survival pantry. They contain fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

What can I make with oats? Oats are cooked whole and eaten as porridge. Mix fresh fruit, fruit preserves, peanut butter, meat, or dairy products to make a healthy meal. Oats can also be added to baked goods like bread, scones, and cookies.

At one point in history, oats were the staple food of Scotch-highland warriors, known for their strength and stamina. Oats were mixed with water or made into a bannock flatbread and eaten with vegetables, butter, and occasionally wild game. Highland clans were paid in oats.

Shelf-life of Rolled Oats in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life of Rolled Oats in the pantry: 2 to 3 years

#18 Steel Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats, also called Irish oats, are whole oats chopped into pieces. They are superior to rolled oats in flavor and texture but take longer to cook.

Steel-cut Oats Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 25 to 30 years*

Shelf-life of steel-cut oats stored in the pantry: 2 years

#19 Barley

Barley is a grain used in everything from vegetable soup to beer brewing. It is high in protein and carbohydrates and offers up healthy fats.

What can I do with Barley? Make risotto-type dishes, add to soups and stews, use hot and cold salads, cook like oatmeal and add honey, butter, fruit preserves, and spices like cinnamon and brown sugar.

Barley was a staple crop in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Archeological evidence also suggests it was eaten by the Vikings and a staple crop in China, starting with the Han Dynasty from 206 BC.

Barley Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 8 years*

Barley Shelf-life stored in the pantry: 18 to 24 months

#20 Quinoa

Beware, quinoa has saponins that give it a somewhat bitter taste but are highly nutritious. You either love it or hate it. I’m not a fan.

As a side note, I accidentally purchased a 50lb bag of Quinoa at Costco Wholesale, and nobody in the family will eat it.

What can I make with Quinoa? Make quinoa salad, hot or cold, eat as a breakfast porridge, use as a meat substitute, add to stir-fried vegetables, add to soups or stews.

Quinoa has been called nature’s perfect food because it is high in protein and offers many amino acids. Mix Quinoa with wheat at a ratio of 25% Quinoa to 75% wheat for a bread that provides a complete protein. USA Emergency Supply

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 8 years*

Quinoa Shelf-life stored in the pantry: 2 years

#21 Couscous

Couscous is durum wheat formed into tiny beads. Think of it like pasta, and you are good to go. My favorite way to eat couscous is cooked with chicken broth and sprinkled with pine nuts.

What can I make with couscous? Couscous is simple but delicious. Add nuts, fruit, spices, and olives, eat it cooked by itself, and add meat stock or bouillon cube to the cooking.

Couscous comes from North Africa, specifically Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. It is traditionally eaten as a base for stewed meats and vegetables.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life of couscous stored in the pantry: 6 months

#22 Sorghum

Sorghum is a high protein grain popular in China and as an animal feed.

What can I make with Sorghum? Sorghum can be ground into flour and is considered “the most wheat-like” nongluten flour. Use it to make bread, or eat it like porridge or oatmeal with butter, fruit preserves, honey, and peanut butter.

Shelf-life of Sorghum in oxygen-free Storage: Unknown*

Sorghum Shelf-life stored in the pantry: 4 months

#23 Triticale

Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye that gives a high crop yield.

What can I make with Triticale? Use as a rice replacement. Boil in water or broth and eat whole or add to hot and cold salads. Mill into flour and used to make bread and other baked goods or used for malting and brewing.

Shelf-life of triticale in oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life of triticale stored in the pantry: 2 to 3 years

#24 White All-purpose Flour

White flour is available almost anywhere in the United States and is fairly inexpensive. If you are shooting for maximum shelf-life, store wheat berries instead and mill wheat as you need it.

What can I make with flour? Bread, pastries, meat pot pies, thickening agent for soups and stews

Whole wheat flour goes rancid quickly and isn’t worth storing as survival food. In oxygen-free or pantry storage, whole wheat lasts days, not weeks, because of the oils present. If you want post-apocalyptic whole wheat flour, store wheat, not flour.

Shelf-life of flour in Oxygen-free Storage: 10 years*

Shelf-life of flour in the pantry: 4 to 8 months

#25 Millet (Bajra)

You might know it as bird food, but millet is a popular eating grain in India and Africa.

What can you make with millet? Mill it into flour, make bread, brew beer, or cook it and eat like porridge. Toast it add water or stock, and throw in herbs like parsley or coriander.

In India, millet is used like rice and like wheat. Eating cooked and spiced whole, in other dishes, or ground into flour to make bread.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 30 years*

Shelf-life of millet stored in the pantry: 2 months

#26 Popcorn

Popcorn was a popular food in Canada and the United States during the great depression because it was relatively inexpensive and filling.

I haven’t tried it yet, but growing popcorn is supposed to be pretty easy—something to consider if you don’t have a lot of room and you want to grow grain. I’m thinking of the three sisters-popcorn, squash, and beans.

What can I do with popcorn: Pop it, mill it into cornmeal to make tortillas and cornbread.

Popcorn is similar to the flint corn used by colonists and Native Americans during the 18th century, it can’t be boiled and eaten, but it can be ground into coarse cornmeal.

Shelf-life of popcorn in oxygen-free storage: 15 to 20 years*

Popcorn shelf-life stored in the pantry: 12 months

#27 Rye

Rye is a popular grain in Germany and Europe like Poland, Germany, Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

What can I make with Rye? Mill it into flour to bake bread, and use it in the brewing or distilling process.

Shelf-life in Oxygen-free Storage: 8 years*

Shelf-life of Rye stored in the pantry: 6 months

*Shelf life when unopened and stored in a cool, dry location. Keep away from heat sources and out of sunlight at temperatures between 55° and 70° Fahrenheit. Oxygen-free foods should contain less than 10% moisture content and be low in fat to avoid botulism food poisoning.


A Guide To Food Storage For Emergencies, Brian Nummer, Food Specialist, Utah State University PDF