72-hour kits – Food


When we put together our 72-hour kits two years ago, I wanted to include food in them.  So I printed out a list from the internet and followed it exactly.  Turns out it wasn’t a good fit for our family.  I’ve since made some changes to that menu and I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

1.  Make sure you have enough calories per day. 

When it came time to change the food from that first menu, I had the brilliant idea to try actually living on it for 3 days.  It didn’t take us much longer than the 2nd meal to realise that would be impossible.   There’s this idea out there that the food in a 72-hour kit is just to keep you alive.  But if you are in a real emergency, you probably won’t be sitting around doing nothing.  You’ll probably be doing hard work, like cutting up trees or whatnot.  You need sufficient calories or your body will shut down.  Since that first time I’ve tried to make each day’s calories add up to between 1800 and 2000 calories.  It’s not enough for my husband and it’s too much for my 2-year-old, but it’s about right for me and my boys.  I figure my husband can just eat what the 2-year-old doesn’t.  It’s surprisingly difficult to get it to add up using only non-perishable food, but your persistence will pay off.

2.  Avoid excess sugar and sodium.

After only a few meals from the fist menu I tried I was feeling terrible.  Not only were there not enough calories, it had WAY more sugar than I normally eat, and I could feel it.  Things like fruit snacks and Jolly Ranchers may give you quick energy, but it’s gone just as quickly and leaves you worse off than before.  Instead choose foods that have naturally occurring sugars, such as dried fruit or unsweetened applesauce, and not too many of them.  As for sodium, in an emergency your water supplies might be low and having to eat extra sodium will make you thirsty and miserable.  Add to that the fact that many shelf stable foods are high in sodium, and you have a problem.  There are a few things you can do to mitigate it though.  Rinse or drain any canned veggies.  If a seasoning pack is included (ie. Ramen), use only half of it.  Look for products that are labeled low sodium, but be careful because some will have extra sugar instead.

3.  Use “real” foods as much as possible.

What I mean here is minimally processed or refined foods.  This past year I included some microwave meals in our kits, thinking they would be easy and the kids might enjoy them.  When it came time to replace them and we had to eat them, I could barely choke it down because all I could taste were the preservatives.  Blah.  And after all that my kids didn’t like them either!  Lesson learned.  It’s hard to find non-perishable foods that are minimally processed, but I’ve come up with a few ideas that I think will be good.  I’ll share them later in this post.

4.  If you have children, include some kid friendly choices. 

In an emergency, your kids will probably be the most stressed out.  Having some of their favorite comfort foods will help them cope.  Only you can decide what will be the most comforting for you children.  For my kids that includes cereal for snacks, mac and cheese, and ramen.  They’re excited to see them because I never buy those foods for them normally.  And I’m okay eating those foods (though I don’t love them) because they were foods I ate as a child.  Don’t forget about your comfort as well!

5.  Rotate the food regularly.

There’s no set time limit.  I personally like changing out the food in our kits every year.  Some people prefer every 6 months.  It’s really up to you, but don’t go longer than 2 years!  The more frequently you rotate your food, the more options you will have in what you store.  Just be sure to check expiration dates on your food and make sure they will last until your next rotation, or longer.

6.  Avoid temperature extremes when storing your food.

Don’t store your food in a place that gets really hot or cold.  Even the best canned/non-perishable food can’t withstand that.  That means not in the garage (unless it’s climate controlled) or the trunk of your car.  Of course you want it in an easy to get to place if you have to leave your home quickly.  Perhaps a coat closet by an exit will work for you.  Also, try to keep everything together as much as possible. 

Another consideration is what to store your food in.  I’ve packed mine in a reusable grocery bag I had on hand.  It’s easy to grab and I know it’s food and not something else.  You could also use a spare backpack or a large bucket with a lid.  I’ve organized mine so each day’s meals go in individual labeled zip-top bags.  If I want breakfast for the first day, I find the appropriate bag and we’re good to go!  I also include a printout of the menu in the grocery bag to help me remember what we’ve got.  There are other ways to organize it, use what works best for you!

Here is an example of a menu I’ve put together for 1 day for 1 person.  What you choose to put in your 72-hour kits is really up to you, but hopefully this will give you some ideas.

Day 1: Breakfast

  • 1 packet flavored instant oatmeal
  • 1 packet plain instant oatmeal
  • Canned milk
  • 2 gummy vitamins

 Day 1: Lunch

  • Single serving microwave Mac & Cheese
  • Dried fruit
  • 1 can veggies


Day 1: Snacks

  • 1 packet trail mix

I was amazed at how many calories were in one packet of trail mix (425 cal); almost enough to count as a full meal!


Day 1: Dinner

  • 2 servings boil-in-bag rice
  • Beef jerky
  • Canned tomatoes (preferable low/no salt)
  • 1/2 can baked beans

This is my ‘homemade’ meal.  I haven’t actually tried this yet so I don’t know if it will be tasty, but it will be nutritious and low in preservatives and sodium.  The idea is to prepare the rice as directed but boil the jerky in the same water to remove some of the salt.  Drain and stir in the tomatoes.  Serve the beans as a side.  If you want to add more flavor, you could include a salt-free seasoning pack (ie Mrs. Dash) in your kit and add some to this meal.

Day 1 calorie total = 1764 calories (only 40 calories short!)

Bonus: Dinner idea for day 2 (serves 4-5)

  • 1 lb package whole wheat penne or rotini pasta
  • 1 package sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
  • 2 6 oz. cans of salmon (wild Alaskan prefered)
  • 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

Cook the pasta as directed and toss with the rest of the ingredients.  Add salt-free seasoning, if desired.

There you have it!  I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how to go about assembling food for your 72-hour kit.  And if you have any ideas or experiences with 72-hour kit food, I’d love to hear them!

Next week:  Book review – “Radical Homemakers”  This book will change your life.  Read it and leave me your comments!


3 responses »

  1. I’m gathering the stuff to ‘refurbish’ our 72 hour kits, and you’ve inspired me to include something other than canned fruit and granola bars. Thanks!

    • It’s a valid question. The idea is if you quickly have to evacuate your home (hurricane Irene, for example) you will have the things you need to survive for 3 days ready to grab and go. Like a fire drill, it’s just another way to be prepared in an emergency. Read my first post on this subject here where I talk about other essentials to pack. Or you can google “72-hour kit” you’ll find a lot of other ideas out there as well. Hope that answers your question!

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