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How Much Emergency Food Do You Need?

Avatar for Jodie Weston Jodie Weston  |  Updated: July 3, 2019
How Much Emergency Food Do You Need?

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The key word in that question is the word “need.” The word “need” implies that you have a goal. Is your goal to:

    • Lose weight?
    • Survive for a long period – say a month or longer?
    • Power your body so that you can do more?
    • Sustain your current weight?

The reality is that the amount of food we need changes based on what our goals are. In modern prepping the line between what we need and what we store is blurry. Just because a can of dried fruit has the words, “Emergency Food” on the label does not mean it is the type of food you need in an emergency. In fact, the word “food” is completely wrong for this conversation. A better way to start this question is not to talk about food, but to discuss calories. Calories are what you need in an emergency.

Start with Your Caloric Needs Before an Emergency

So, how many calories do you need to consume on a typical day that does not involve an emergency? In this case, your calorie goal is about obtaining enough nutrition to meet your body’s daily needs. To make this more confusing, there is no true blanket answer. We each have different needs and should plan accordingly for daily caloric intake.

Use a Calorie Counter to figure out a base number of calories that fits your lifestyle. Two calculators that work well are:

  1. Calorie King
  2. net

Once you know how many calories you should consume, find out what the ideal caloric intake is for each family member. This gives you the food and calorie target for “normal” living. It helps you better plan your emergency food stores that represent those times when:

  • Regular access to food is disrupted, such as a flood, road closures, etc.
  • You must bug-out for a specific time.
  • A non-emergency situation when your caloric needs do not change.

Calories are One Thing, Nutrition is Another

A cup of sugar has 773 calories, yet we cannot survive for long by just consuming raw sugar. Our body needs vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for its many systems to function. Yet, many processed foods have too much sugar, too much salt, and too much fat while not enough healthy nutrients.Backdoor Survival Percentage of RDA Brand Comparison

Case Study: Emergency Dried Meals

Honeyville Rotini with Meat Sauce – Serving Size – 59 grams -Sodium 750mg or 18 percent of your RDA.

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff Pouch – Serving Size 1 Cup – Sodium 800mg or 33 percent of your RDA.

Hormel, Dinty Moore Beef Stew – Canned – Serving Size 236 grams – 984mg or 41 percent of your RDA.

Frito-Lay – Doritos Nacho Cheese Single Serving Bag – Serving Size 1 ounce or 11 chips – Sodium 210 grams or 9 percent of your RDA.

  • RDA for most nutritional labels is for a 2,000-calorie diet. The percent of RDA changes based on your recommended daily caloric intake.

Prepping for an emergency is planning. If we are going to prep for the big “What if” then shouldn’t we consider health because our overall fitness plays a role in whether we CAN survive an emergency.

What is the Difference Between Daily Caloric Intake and Emergency Caloric Intake?

Runner’s World helps show us the difference in caloric consumption between walking and running. They used a 156-pound person who walked a mile in 18.36 minutes and who ran a 10-minute mile.

Calories burned:

  • Walking: 88.9
  • Running 112.5

They also include something that many of us probably don’t think about and that is the number of calories that we burn after exerting energy such as after we walk or run.

After-burn Calories:

  • Walking 21.7
  • Running 46.1

The new total for walking or running a mile is:

  • Walking 110.6
  • Running 158.6

What this illustrates for us is that there is a difference in caloric burn between everyday living and emergency living. Calorie intake should match calorie burn to maintain your weight. Consume too many calories, and you gain weight. Take in too few calories, and your body loses weight. That ratio is different for each of us, which is why you should start with understanding how many calories it takes to maintain your current weight.

In an emergency, we burn way more calories than we would if we just ran or exercised. Emergency situations involve massive amounts of emotions such as stress and worry. Our bodies undergo changes such as the production of insulin and adrenaline. It becomes difficult to sleep. Our pulse rate increases. We are tense. All those events take energy and energy is caloric intake.

Therefore, understanding the difference between emergency food types is important. That understanding helps us understand how much emergency food we need. Not every emergency is the same. Not being able to go to the grocery store and having to rely on emergency food stores is very different from having to march for ten miles to escape a wildfire. Those two situations require two different types of emergency food. In short, what we are discussing is the role that simple and complex carbs play during difficult situations.

Simple vs Complex

The key bit of information when you discuss nutrition is bioavailability – how fast the food you eat is available for your body to use it. The bioavailability of simple carbs is quick. The bioavailability of complex cards tends to be longer. It sounds simple enough; sadly, it’s a little more “complex” than just storing up a bunch of simple carbs for the next time you must outrun a bear.

One of the key points about carb intake involves the duration of the carb as a fuel. Our body has a store of energy for short periods of time – fight or flight. The exact length of time that carbs last depends on our health, fitness, and overall diet. If you have not gotten off the couch in ten years and you are 40-pounds overweight chances are you are not going to run a mile no matter what’s chasing you. Your body is simply not going to endure.

Simple carbs tend to burn quickly while complex carbs tend to burn slowly and for longer periods. If you must force-march for ten miles which type of carb is best? When the duration of what you face is long, then complex carbs, are good, but they may not be enough. Energy bars are a mixture of both simple and complex carbs.

They are in fact, two types of energy – short and long. The sugars in an energy bar act quickly to supply our body with fuel. The nuts and whole grains are complex carbs, and they become bioavailable after our body burns the simple carbs. This mixture works well because it helps our body overcome low blood sugar or sugar crashes following exertion.

Energy Bar Emergency Food Survival Prepper

Make Energy Bars a Way of Life

There are lots of recipes online energy bars. Many of the recipes are simple, and you can customize them. If you grow fruit, then consider dehydrating it and adding to the energy bar recipe that you use. If you make energy bars at home, choose a recipe that freezes well. A good tip is to make them part of your food rotation plan. Energy bars make a great addition to lunches or for snacks. They literally power your day.

Emergency Food Includes Drinkable Water

Do you have a plan to address the need for potable water?

Under normal conditions, most adults should consume 64-ouces of water per day. In an emergency, your body might require more water. There are many ways to make water potable. FEMA does a good job of outlining how to handle your emergency water supply and how to collect water and treat it. Food and Water in an Emergency – FEMA

The Difference in Emergency Food

When we discuss emergency food, it is important to put its context into the conversation. There is a difference between emergency food – those meals that are meal replacements – and survival food – food that powers us through a crisis. There is no denying that preppers blur the lines between these two types of emergency foods. What is important is that those of us who plan for an emergency consider the types of emergencies that we might face and then plan accordingly.

It is also important to take into consideration the needs of growing children. As children grow, they require more food. Teenagers especially need a higher intake of food because their bodies are already using an increase in energy to promote healthy growth and physical changes as they approach adulthood. These kinds of considerations mean the difference between just getting by and being prepared to do more than just survive.

Final Word

In highly complex emergencies you may face one crisis after another. How you prepare for those events impacts your ability not just to survive but the quality of your life during an emergency. Hard times need not be made harder by the lack of resources. That is what prepping is – the creation of resources that help you overcome difficult situations.

As a prepper, do you prepare for different types of food emergencies? What are some of the things that you’ve thought about and included in your emergency food plan?

David is an active prepper and freelance writer. He lives in rural Northern California in the shadow of an active volcano. He hunts and fishes as a means of providing. He brings a science background to his writing and discusses botany, biology, geology, and weather as they apply to living, growing your own food, and surviving. He is a master gardener and understands food production, storage, and preserving. He lives five miles down a single-lane road and he deals with power outages, wildfires, earthquakes, flooding, and crazy pot growers, raiders, medical emergencies, law enforcement and the potential of that volcano.


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5 Responses to “How Much Emergency Food Do You Need?”

  1. I am always confused and hate the words associated with dieting and weight loss. It was over a year now when I stopped dieting and counting calories, adding protein, taking in this amount of fiber etc etc. No matter how I deprive myself from eating I don’t see a noticeable change with my weight. So I did otherwise, I started eating small meals throughout the day (6 to 7 small meals a day) and as the saying goes “we are what we eat”, I started eating only healthy all natural whole foods. I changed my lifestyle too. I see to it to have enough rest and sleep every night, In the morning I would walk/run around the village.I added some physical activities such as biking and as simple as taking the stairs instead of elevator or escalator . After 2 months I noticed a big drop on my weight and the rest is history. I am now at 110 pounds from 165

  2. Ive never enjoyed counting calories and checking in my numbers. Ive started controlling my portions through military diet and its been effective so far. Thanks for sharing this informative post.

  3. You need to think “holistically” about survival food.

    In a crisis you may or may not be very active..

    Your production of waste products or non production can be a serious issue.

    When MREs where initially created one of the issue was the nature of waste product output. They want a “Low Waste” product. Not always such a good thing.

    While trying not to be “Graphic” this issue is very important.

    MREs for example work fine when one is pounding down the water and very active.. I was with some of the early units to have them issued…I made a point of being well hydrated before eating MREs.. I started out 10 years before with C-Rats IMO much better in many ways (No small number of educated idiots do not realize Fat is a very good thing for survival/combat rations) nonetheless I also made a point to drink at a minimum 1 quart of water with that meal as well if I did not have the water.. I would not eat. This issue was known and addressed even in C Rats.. the famous Chocolate “Ex Lax” Cookie” which functioned like a “Bore evacuator” was an important part of the meal. Not a very healthy way to get things done however.

    So … Now concentrated calorie foods and inexpensive food (Like Beans) are good, Beans and Rice being better .. (With a little over 3/4s of the Americas from North to South making it their Staple meal).
    Eliminating the waste by product in an efficient and tolerable manner is also very important.

    Consuming Psyillum or some similar bulking material is important and incorporating it into your daily intake can be critical, especially in times of crisis.

    Trust me .. It is something that needs to be a part of any serious Short or Long Term food storage program.

    You already know.. Not properly treating the most minor cut.. not caring for feet can both be a death sentence..

    Not caring for your insides.. to include becoming accustomed to your survival staples.. and knowing the water consumption requirements and making provisions there.. Will have the same unhappy result.

  4. Excellent article! I have only recently begun to take into account the caloric value of my stored food. It’s good to be reminded of how necessary it is to do so.

    • I began my prepper journey by buying the cheapest “a month’s worth of food in one bucket, good for 20 years” emergency supplies. I had collected a year’s worth before a couple of facts dawned on me:
      1) The serving size portions in these buckets might meet your caloric needs if you were 18 months old, but each bucket would, realistically, provide sufficient calories to last an adult about 10 days at best.
      2) The entire food supply in each bucket was a mixture of cheap simple carbs and sugar. It might provide calories, but it would not take long to become sick if this was all you ate. Bo proteins, fruit or vegetables.

      I still have those buckets, but now have purchased a lot of freeze dried meats, vegetables, and fruits to add to the meals, plus stocking up on dried milk and eggs and other things to round out the nutrition. Have also purchased a number of Mountain House “Just in Case” buckets – they last a long time, require only water to reconstitute (unlike the other products which need to be cooked for 20 minutes), and can be cooked and eaten right in the package. Plus, they are lightweight to grab and go in an emergency – you are not going to be able to walk very far with those heavy one month buckets! Also have a few cases of MRE’s, but they are not the mainstay of my emergency food supplies.
      Also remember, while the basement may provide the conditions that will promote the longest shelf life, putting all your preps down there risks losing everything if your basement is flooded with sewage. It is best to distribute your food and water supplies around your house, on different floors and rooms if possible.

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