How to choose which type of emergency foods to store

One of the first steps of preparing your family for a long term disaster, is to store some extra food. Which type of foods should you choose? Should you purchase canned foods? Cases of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)? Freeze dried foods, dehydrated foods, or a combination? These questions haunted me when I first started preparing for natural disasters. In this article we will learn how to choose which type of emergency foods to store.

Choosing the right type of emergency food to store can depend on several factors, including your personal preferences, dietary restrictions, storage space, and budget.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing which type of emergency food to store:

  1. Shelf life: Consider the shelf life of different types of emergency foods and choose those with the longest shelf life. This will ensure that they will be safe to eat when you need them.
  2. Nutritional value: Make sure that the emergency foods you choose are nutritious and provide a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
  3. Taste and variety: Consider the taste and variety of different types of emergency foods. You may get bored with eating the same thing for an extended period of time.
  4. Convenience: Consider the convenience of different types of emergency foods, such as whether they require cooking or additional water. Are they easy to transport?
  5. Allergies and dietary restrictions: Consider any dietary restrictions or allergies you or your family members have when choosing emergency foods.
  6. Space and storage: Consider the storage space you have available and choose emergency foods that are compact and easy to store.
  7. Cost: Consider the cost of different types of emergency foods and choose those that fit within your budget.

It’s best to have a combination of different types of emergency foods such as canned, dried and freeze-dried, MREs, etc. this way you have a variety of options and can rotate through different types of food to avoid boredom and also make sure you have a balanced diet.

How to choose which type of emergency foods to store

Those are some basic guidelines. In this next section, I will talk about how long the food will last within each method and how to figure out which method will work best for you. While preppers love variety and options, I am going to focus on the most practical and effective methods.

Which type of food to store? Freeze Dried vs. Canned vs. Dehydrated vs. MREs

Preppers often start by storing lots of freeze dried foods. This is neither the best method nor the most affordable option. There are many different options and types of emergency food to store. If you understand the benefits and drawbacks of prepping with each different category, you can save time and money.

How to choose which type of emergency foods to store

Types of storable food:

  • Freeze Dried Foods: This category of emergency food is known as “backpackers food.” Backpackers and hikers favor this type of food because it is extremely lightweight and easy to pack. Each pouch has a complete meal inside that is easy to prepare (usually just add boiling water and stir.) These foods also have a respectable shelf life around 7 years or more.
    Cost is the biggest downside to freeze dried food because it is relatively expensive per calorie.
  • Canned Foods: are by far the easiest to acquire and store and they are available at your local grocery store. Canned goods typically last 1 – 3 years, but it can be longer as long as the can itself is kept in good condition.
  • Dehydrated and Dry Foods: This option is popular because it can be prepared at home and also has an exceptionally long shelf life (often 20 years or more if stored correctly.) This is the cheapest option per calorie. One major drawback is that it typically limits you to storing basic ingredients as opposed to complete meals (dried fruits, rice, beans, etc.)
  • MREs (Meals Ready to Eat): Each MRE will provide you with an entire meal! Sometimes an MRE will even have a chemical heat which means your food will be piping hot. These will last around 3 years if stored around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If stored at a cooler temperature, the shelf life could be longer. This option is pricey and heavy if you plan on carrying your food in a backpack.

I think that it is best to take a varied approach when it comes to preparing for a disaster and ensuring that your family is comfortable. You want to be prepared for any disaster whether it’s financial collapse, a hurricane, earthquake, civil unrest, pandemic, super plague, or flood.

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Which type of emergency food should you choose for your family?

You should choose the type of food to store based on your habits. Do you normally eat a lot of canned food and would you remember to regularly rotate through your supplies? If so, then focusing on canned foods and rotating through your stock may be the best approach. If you are good about rotating through your stored supply, then the shorter shelf life won’t be an issue.

My family doesn’t eat a lot of canned foods (except the cats, but they go through their food at a consistent rate.)Also, it is unlikely that we would create a schedule and rotate the cans on a consistent basis. I really needed an option that would allow me to store the food and forget about it. This is why I chose to focus on a combination of dehydrated and freeze dried foods. These can often last over 20 years if stored correctly.

How to choose which type of emergency foods to store
How to choose which type of emergency foods to store

Urban Areas

If you live in a larger city or any environment that you would need to evacuate when disaster strikes, you may need to be extremely mobile. In that case, it would be logical to store MREs or backpacking food (freeze dried and dehydrated). This type of food can be easily consumed on the go and has a respectable shelf life (5-7 years depending on storage conditions.)

These factors are important to consider when you are trying to decide what is best for your specific situation and needs. No matter what option you choose, it is important to somewhat diversify your sources. For example, there may be times when you need to swiftly evacuate the city and other times when you will need to shelter in place. If the need to shelter in place arises, it might be useful to have at least 5 gallons of dried food (like rice) hidden away in your closet. That way you can save your more costly MREs for when you finally have a safe window to flee.

How to ensure the longest possible shelf life

There are basic factors that affect the longevity of food that is stored for extended periods of time. This will help you decide where to store the type of food you choose and also which type of food is best to store for your family.

These are the basic factors that will affect the shelf life of the food you store:

  1. Temperature
  2. Light
  3. Moisture
  4. Oxygen

The basic rule is that you want to keep each of these factors to a minimum. Exposure to those factors will affect the growth of bacteria in the food. Temperature should generally be kept as low as possible. Forty degrees Fahrenheit would be optimal.

Light should be non-existent or minimal. It is important that the food remain as dry as possible (this is why dry and dehydrated foods last so long.) A study showed that reducing moisture content (in most foods) by as little as 1% can double the shelf life. Additionally, bacteria requires oxygen to survive. Eliminating or reducing the oxygen in packaged food will drastically help to prolong the shelf life.

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The Bottom Line: Which type of food should you store?

I recommend that you store some food from each category (dry/dehydrated foods, canned foods, MREs, and freeze dried foods.) That way your food sources will be diversified and you will be ready for any situation. I suggest a 40/30/20/10 percent split on food (you can easily remember this as the “4-3-2-1 Rule”.) This split ensures that you will have a little bit of each type of food stored for an emergency.


This should be the bulk of your emergency food and should be the type of food that you determined is best for your specific situation. This is the type of food that will be the easiest for you to store in large quantities.


This should be the second best option for your family. At this level, you should consider more than how many calories the food provides and how long it lasts. Choose food that tastes good. This will be the food that makes your family’s life a little better during a disaster and lifts the mood when morale is down. Don’t be afraid to store some treats that will cheer everyone up.


This is the food that you will store away so that you’re food sources are diversified and ready for any situation. For example, if you planned to shelter in place and your first category consisted of mylar bagged buckets of rice and beans, this category should consist of light weight and easily mobile foods. Including MREs or freeze dried foods.


This is the last type of food and at the bottom of your priority list. While you might have determined that this type of food isn’t the best for your situation, it is important to store a small amount of it anyway. Situations can suddenly change and they seem to do so most abruptly following a disaster. This is an investment and any good investor will tell you to diversify.


Remember that some preps are better than no preps. Don’t get overwhelmed and worried about getting the right types of foods to a specific percentage. This was meant to be a basic outline. It shows what works well for me when I’m preparing for an emergency.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of foods you’ll be able to decide which type of food is best for your family. Make a list and number each type of food as Option 1 – 4. Option 1 (highest priority) will be the option that makes the most sense for you and Option 4 (lowest priority) will make the least sense. From there you can apply the 40/30/20/10 formula to figure out how much of each type of food you should store.

Don’t be afraid to deviate and customize the guidelines to make them work for you. These are just general guidelines to help you get on track. If you have questions please comment below and I will do my best to help.

See you soon!

-Spicy Prepper