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.
If you are ready to build an inexpensive stockpile of survival food to protect your family in times of emergency, read on.
Canned Food: cheapest survival food
We can’t talk about the cheapest survival food without mentioning canned foods like canned meat vegetables and fruit. Take a look at the pros and cons of storing canned food for survival down below.
4 Pros of canned food for survival
#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 want to heat canned foods, but it’s unnecessary. You can use a simple backpacker stove, alcohol stove, or Nesbit tablets if you heat canned food. Much easier to heat a can than to cook dried rice or beans.
Canned foods are shelf-stable. This is a fancy way of saying that perishable foods are canned, so 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.”
5 Cons of canned food for survival
#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 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.
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.
#5 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 date to rotate their food with (FIFO), so they always have fresh, canned food stored.
Also, the best-by date indicates peak taste, texture, and nutritional value of the food because 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 price by the pound 2022 to 2023 (canned food)
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 Food||Cost Per LBS|
|Canned Mixed Fruit||90¢ to 2.05¢ (USDA.gov)|
|Canned Pinto Beans||.80¢|
|Bush’s Original Baked Beans||$6.43|
|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¢|
|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|
|Libby’s Vienna Sausage||$4.40|
|American Easy Cheese (canned cheese)||$7.76|
|Old Wisconsin Summer Sausage||$8.54|
Dry Food: The cheapest food to survive on
If you want to stockpile massive amounts of food inexpensively, there is no substitute for dry staple foods like white rice, dry beans, wheat and rolled oats. I stored a little dry food at a time to build a stockpile of over 600 lbs of wheat, white rice, and dry beans. It’s not enough, but it is a start, and hey, I’m not done yet. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of staples as survival food.
3 Pros of staple food for survival
#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 Famine Proof
Dry foods have a proven track record. Every major civilization has survived on dry foods like wheat, dent corn, white rice, and legumes.
The most popular survival grains and legumes will store for 30+ years if packaged or bought in oxygen-free packaging.
#4 Edible Sprouts
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.
Lets’ take a look at the cons of staples as survival food.
4 cons of staple food for survival
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.
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. 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 must be repackaged into oxygen-free storage. This prevents food oxidation and 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.
Dry Staple Foods
I guarantee you that by the time you look at the chart below prices will be higher. Still, the list will give you a general idea of cost compaired to other foods and it will be an interesting look at the inflation of food prices. Take a look at the chart below for the general price of staples by the pound.
Chart #2 Price by the pound 2022 to 2023 (dry staple food)
|Type of Dried Food||Cost Per Pound|
|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 *||.67¢|
|Navy Beans *||.60¢|
|Pinto Beans *||.65¢|
|Black Eyed Peas||$1.61|
|Non-fat dry milk *||.31¢|
Next up, compare the price by the pound of boxed foods to the cost of dry staples. It is mind-blowing how much you can save. Look at the cost of white rice compared to Knorr rice dishes, as I write this the difference in price between the two is $6.54 per pound. Said another way you could purchase 10.21 pounds of white rice for the price of 1 lb of Knorr rice dishes.
Packaged Side Dishes
Compare the higher price of the packaged food in chart #3, considered by many to be the cheapest food to survive on to dry staples like rice and beans. Let’s check out the chart below.
Chart# 3: Price by the pound 2022 to 2023 (dry packaged food)
|Type of Dried-Packaged-Food||Cost Per Pound|
|Knorr Rice Dishes||$7.25|
|Kraft Mac & Cheese||$2.16|
|Idahoan Instant Potatoes||$3.47|
|Instant Rice/Minute Rice||$2.12|
|Meat and Vegetable Bouillon||$6.40|
|Lipton Dry Soup Mixes||$5.12|
Learn how to store rice in long-term storage. Check out the Ready Squirrel article, “How To Store Rice In Long Term Storage: By The Numbers.”
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 storage list but first do a price comparison. Raw sugar might be the way to go because it is the cheapest you can get and it stores indefinitely.
Chart 4: Price by the pound 2022 to 2023 (sugary foods)
|Type of Sugar Treat||Cost Per Pound|
|Granulated White Sugar||$1.66|
|Jolly Rancher Hard Candies||$2.64|
|Hershey’s Chocolate Bar||$11.19|
|Kit Kat Bars||$10.04|
|Worther’s Hard Caramel Candy||$10.66|
Chips and Crackers
Check out the prices below and compare them to a substition with cheaper dry staple foods like wheat or rice. Chips and crackers are great survival food for short-term emergencies but for longer-term dry staple foods are a no brainer, especially when you consider how much longer the shelf-life is on grains like wheat and rice.
Chart #5 Price by the pound 2022 to 2023 (chips and crackers)
|Type of Sugar Treat||Cost Per Pound|
|Lay’s Potato Chips||$5.60|
|Melba Toast||$10.40 (Kosher up to $40.00 per pound)|
|Blue Diamond Almonds||$9.60|
Learn more about the top emergency food at the right price. Read the Ready Squirrel article, “Best Emergency Food: Cheap to Expensive.”
Economic Research Service: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fruit and Vegetable Prices