Some people think they need to buy specially marketed “survival food” for when disaster strikes but this isn’t the case; you can find all the food you need to survive right at your local grocery store. In fact, you should buy your survival food at the grocery store because it’s cheaper than that specially made stuff.
The top survival foods you can find in your grocery store are:
- Fruit (Canned or Dried)
- Canned Vegetables
- White Rice
- Meat (Canned or Dried)
- Canned Beans
- Nut Butter
- Comfort Foods (i.e., coffee, cookies, candy)
When you are done reading this article you will have a complete list of everything you need in your survival pantry, and I promise you can find everything you need at your local grocery store. There are many more items you should have in your prepper pantry besides the ones listed above. Keep reading and I’ll share with you the specific items that will help you survive and can be found easily.
While In the Grocery Store Look For Food With These Characteristics:
Food That Is Calorie Dense
Choosing foods that are high calorie is more than just about having the energy to say, travel on foot somewhere. On an average day at a resting state your brain alone consumes about 20% of your energy. The brain is a very expensive little machine to run! Decision making, especially in a stressful environment, is very energetically taxing.
On average, women need between 1,500- 2,400 calories a day, and men need 2,000-3,000 calories. This varies according to your size and diet, but regardless, be sure to include foods that are high in calories when you’re looking for survival food at the grocery store.
Food With High Nutritional Content
The benefits of nutritious food speaks for itself (but I’ll speak a little for it anyway). Having nutritious food helps keep your body running properly. When you’re selecting food for your prepper pantry be sure to choose a wide variety; don’t just choose the same meat and potatoes meal every day.
Food That Is Relatively Easy to Prepare
Your emergency is not an episode of Master Chef, so go ahead and stick with meals that require simple methods to make. My favorite method: open a package. Or, open a package and heat. Thankfully, practically every grocery store in America has a large proportion of ready-to-eat food available.
Food That Stores Well at Room Temperature
Choose dry goods with long shelf lives and canned goods; any normal grocery store will be packed full of options in this category. Remember that in a survival situation you likely won’t have power on at your house.
List of Foods Found at the Grocery Store, Divided by Type
Now that you know the guiding principles behind the types of food to choose, I’ll go through my list of top items to snag, divided by type.
Having a way to store fruit for your emergency will be one of the top ways to improve the nutrition value of your pantry. Thankfully, both canned and dried fruit are plentiful at any grocery store.
You can buy pre-dried fruit, which sometimes is a little pricey, or you can buy fresh fruit and dehydrate it yourself. I prefer to dehydrate my own fruit as it is cheaper and tastes so much better, but in a pinch, the pre-dried items will still work just fine. I can usually find dried fruit either with the nuts or on the end caps in the fresh fruit section of the grocery store.
- Raisins: Raisins are a no brainer. They are good by themselves as snacks and have a good punch of iron and fiber. They also can be added to oatmeal, cold cereal or quick breads, and are in every grocery store.
- Fruit leather: Try to avoid fruit roll-up type fruit leathers and go for the more natural varieties if you can. They have less sugar and more fiber, and can be readily found at health food grocery stores.
Canned food items hit many of the key characteristics I listed above: there is always a big canned fruit section in grocery stores, they store well at room temperature, they are easy to prepare (usually you just open a lid), they can still be quite nutritious, and an added benefit to canned fruit is that it is usually quite cheap.
Canned fruit is often stored in some kind of sweet syrup, which can be hydrating and also give you a quick energy burst. Below are my top picks for canned fruit that are staples in any grocery store.
- Canned peaches
- Canned pears
- Canned pineapple
- Applesauce: Applesauce can also be used as a substitute for sugar in baked goods.
- Jams/Jellies: These tend to be quite sugary, but are basically an essential duo with any nut butter, so go ahead and grab your favorite jelly.
Aside from fruit, vegetables will be your other powerhouse for nutrition, and just like canned fruit, are cheap and store well for long periods of time. Canned vegetables are also an easy find at the grocery store. The shelf life of canned vegetables depends on how acidic the vegetable is. Tomatoes are actually quite acidic and will therefore last a bit longer than say, canned spinach. Regardless, any canned vegetable is still probably good to eat 1-2 years after the “best by” date. These items can be eaten as a side or combined to make stews.
- Canned green beans
- Canned carrots
- Canned tomatoes (whole or crushed)
- Canned beets
- Canned corn
- Canned asparagus spears
- Canned mushrooms
- Canned artichokes
I have never had trouble finding any of the above items at a normal sized grocery store.
There are lots of great grain options to purchase that are dry and will store for a long period of time. Your grocery store should have all of these items, and I would suggest looking for brands that are packaged in plastic, as these will resist insect infestations better.
- White rice: Although brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, choose white rice over brown rice as it has a longer shelf life—up to 10 years! Additionally, rice is incredibly cheap and can be purchased in large bags at regular grocery stores.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is more expensive than rice, but has more protein. I have run into a few rural stores that didn’t carry quinoa but most major stores should carry it.
- Cornmeal: This is a great ingredient to have because it takes fewer ingredients to make cornmeal than it does bread. Cornmeal can also be used as a breading on meat.
- Old Fashioned Oats: Low in fat, high in fiber and long shelf life.
- Pasta: Pasta is very cheap, cooks quickly and is loaded with carbohydrates. Just be sure to purchase some accompanying pasta sauce if you put this in your prepper pantry.
- Flour: White or wheat flour can be used in a huge number of ways and is available in any store.
- Baking Agents: Technically these items could be in their own category, but I include them here because they are directly related to your flour supply. Be sure to include these items so if you want to bake, you can:
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
Starches are a great source of energy to the body because once they are broken down they turn into glucose. Starchy foods are also good sources of folate, iron and B vitamins. The only one of these items that might be slightly difficult to find in a grocery store is the potato flour, but again, a large store should have it.
- Potatoes: Fresh potatoes will not store for more than a few weeks to months, unless you have a cool, dark root cellar. If you want to store fresh potatoes or yams just be sure to rotate out your stock regularly.
- Instant mashed potatoes: These are a more shelf stable form of potatoes, are very cheap, and are readily available in stores.
- Potato flour: Potato flour may not be a super common item in your pantry, but I would purchase some as it is a great gluten-free flour option, can be used to thicken soups or as a breading for frying.
- Canned yams or sweet potatoes: Yams and sweet potatoes are filling and a great source of vitamin C, so toss some in your cart as well.
A source of protein is one of the most important food items in a survival situation. Thankfully, there are tons of ways to get protein into your diet, even without meat, and they are all regular items in a grocery store.
- Beans (canned and dried): Beans are an excellent source fiber and calories, and when combined with a grain, form a complete protein. Dried beans will store for a long period of time when kept cool and dry, but I would prioritize canned beans. This is because dried beans take a lot of energy to prepare. Not only do they need to be soaked in water (which might be scarce in a survival situation) but then they have to be cooked for a long time as well. Canned beans are an easy find at the grocery store, and are cheap too!
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Pinto beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Nut butter: Nut butters are a great source of fat (energy) but because of the high oil content which can spoil especially in the heat, some of them have slightly shorter shelf lives. Just be sure to rotate out your stock when the “best by” date goes by. I would also suggest stocking up on nut butters other than peanut butter because peanuts are a serious allergen to many people. Even if no one in your house has an allergy, if you need or want to share with a neighbor, other nut butters will be safer.
- Peanut butter: This is an obvious choice for many when they think of nut butters. It’s everywhere and it’s cheap.
- Sunbutter: Sunbutter is the butter made from sunflower seeds, the taste if quite similar to peanut butter and isn’t an allergen for most people. Sunbutter is gaining in popularity and can now be found in most grocery stores.
- Almond butter: Almonds are very filling and while almond butter tends to be a bit more expensive than other nut butters I would consider having a jar in my pantry. I have also started seeing almond butters commonly available in grocery stores as well.
- Nuts: Nuts are an excellent thing to purchase at the grocery store and are very filling.
- Trail mix: Pre-made mixes of nuts, chocolate and raisins have sustained many a hiker on long days. They can sustain you in an emergency too!
- Pistachios, Brazil nuts and walnuts: Add some variety into your nut mix to boost your nutrition levels. As nuts are high in fat be sure to read up on their shelf life. If they’re not stored in a cool place sometimes they can spoil.
- Dried milk and eggs: I would definitely grab both of these items as storing fresh milk and eggs in an emergency could be tricky. Milk and eggs are both a great source of protein, even after dried, and they have long shelf-lives. You’ll want to look for these in the baking isle.
- Beef jerky: Jerky can be expensive, but it does store well and is an excellent source of protein and salt.
- Canned meat: Canned meat has a bad reputation but it can be a good source of protein and it lasts a long time.
- Vienna sausages
- Spam: Spam
- Tuna, sardines or smoked salmon: Fish are a good source of Omega-3s
- Protein bars: Protein bars are an excellent source of quick energy and they come in every flavor under the sun. Some protein bars are even labeled as “meal bars.” They are bigger and pack more protein in and will really help fill you up. They can be found in both the cereal section of the grocery store and the vitamin section.
- Lara Bars: One of my favorite bars is Lara Bars for the simple list of ingredients.
- Cliff Bars: High in protein and a great way to fill up fast.
- Protein powder: Protein powder is easy to mix into drinks, smoothies, and baked goods and is a shelf-stable form of energy. Protein powder is usually found in the vitamin section of the grocery store, so don’t be confused if you can’t find it!
Fats, Oils, Salt and Sugar
These items are the smallest piece of the nutrition triangle but in a survival situation these items need to take up a bigger piece of that pie, so to speak. The reason: fats and oils are essentially straight energy and they are needed for cooking. Salt and sugar both have uses beyond just making your food taste good. There is no shortage of these items in almost any grocery store.
- Lard/shortening/coconut oil: These items are needed for cooking, but can also be used to store meat if you layer the meat with the lard. You can read more on this technique in 10 Ways to Store Meat Without a Refrigerator.
- Olive oil or vegetable oil: These items are healthier than animal lard, and can also be used for baking.
- Honey: Honey is another one of those multi-purpose survival foods I love. It stores well, it’s a flavorful sweetener, it’s great for sore throats and it can even have anti-microbial properties. Honey can be expensive so if you can buy at a bulk grocery store, I would recommend that.
- Sugar: Sugar is much cheaper than honey and stores well, so be sure to stock up on this as well.
- Salt: Salt makes our food more palatable, but it also contains iodine, which we need to avoid thyroid issues. Salt can also be used to preserve food, especially meat. Just be sure to choose iodized salt as not all salts are the same!
Ok, water isn’t technically a food, but I’d be remiss not to include it here. Clean water is essential for survival and you can buy it in big containers at the grocery store! Plan to have a gallon of water for each person per day in your household.
Having food that tastes good during an emergency is an overlooked consideration for many preppers. Their thought is just about survival; and while you can survive on bland beans and rice, your morale is going to crash. Having tasty treats during your emergency also helps maintain a sense of normalcy. There is an entire isle dedicated to cookies and candy at my local grocery store, so I’m betting you won’t have trouble finding any of these items either.
- Coffee: For many, coffee is a necessity to get through the day. If this is you, be sure you have as much as you’d normally drink on a regular day.
- Tea: Green tea is a good source of antioxidants and black tea is a good caffeine alternative if coffee is too much for you.
- Electrolyte mix: This is important if you need to exert yourself during your emergency. Electrolyte mixes can come in small individual packs you can dump into your water bottle. They usually taste good too!
- Hot cocoa: Hot cocoa doesn’t provide any nutritional benefits, but it’s a comfort food, so it provides emotional benefits.
Whatever would make your food taste better, grab it.
- BBQ sauce
- Soy sauce
- Hot sauce
- Garlic salt
- Red pepper flakes
Cookies, Crackers, Candy Bars
There is an incredible video on the internet that depicts an explorer in Antarctica uncovering his previously cached store of food. He had left a bag of “cheese doodles” in his cache and forgotten about it, and when he discovered it he screamed, laughed and almost cried with excitement over his cheese doodles. It is a hilarious and very tender view of just how important “treats” are to the mental psyche. Don’t neglect this need: Treat yo’ self!
- Oreos, Sandies, Fig Newtons: Whatever your favorite cookie is—go for it.
- Saltines: These go great in soups or can be eaten if you don’t feel well.
- Wasa crackers: These are a larger, whole grain cracker that is super filling. I usually find these on the bottom of the cracker shelf. They aren’t a common household item but I find them common among people who camp regularly.
- Candy bars: Any candy bar with nuts like a Snickers bar or Snickers with almonds can be quite filling, and has a ton of sugar which will help give you a burst of energy.
- Dark chocolate: Good quality dark chocolate has antioxidants and has been shown to be good for you in small amounts. Almost all grocery stores carry at least Dove bars, which are usually better quality chocolate than Hershey’s.