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How to Create an Emergency Food Pantry With Everyday Items From Grocery Stores

Holle loves to cook. She creates a lot of delicious recipes and enjoys sharing them.

An emergency food pantry can literally be a life-saver!

An emergency food pantry can literally be a life-saver!

Food Security

Food security has always been important to me. I love to cook, I love to eat, and I enjoy cooking for and feeding family members and friends. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I went to local grocery stores and really stocked up. I knew we'd be ordered to shelter in place, so we needed a lot of food and supplies. My pantry was already pretty full, but I purchased even more.

We already had an extra refrigerator, which we keep in the garage, but I began looking for a freezer, too. I couldn't find one anywhere. I called all the appliance stores within a 100-mile radius, to no avail. I couldn't find a freezer online, either. Luckily, an old friend contacted me to say she had a used freezer for sale. I bought it immediately and started filling it with vegetables I was growing in my container garden and with meats and other items from local grocery stores.

For food security, however, you don't have to have a freezer. Nonperishable foods are actually better because you don't have to have electricity to store them safely.

Food Shortages in the US

Will we have food shortages this fall and winter? Many are predicting just that, due to Covid-19. The virus is hitting food-processing plants especially hard because workers are usually very close to each other. Since much of our produce comes from California and Florida, where the virus is raging, it's not hard to imagine shortages in the near future.

Shortly after the pandemic began, I started seeing shortages in our local stores. At different times, grocery stores were out of flour, yeast, canned green beans, ground beef, peanut butter, hot dogs, and rice, not to mention toilet paper, paper towels, rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and Lysol. For several weeks in late May and in June, I could find just about anything I wanted at local stores. Then, however, the virus cases began escalating in my state. Once again, certain items are becoming hard to find. If the cases continue to rise, I have no doubt we could have some food shortages in the United States. I'm prepared.

Why Create an Emergency Food Pantry?

Why should you create an emergency food pantry? I think the bigger question here is why not create an emergency food pantry. It's not like the food is going to go bad before you can use it. If stored properly, canned foods will be good for at least a year, despite the expiration date on the can. Flour, meal, and rice can also last a very long time if handled properly. If you have an emergency stash of food, you'll be ready for most emergencies, as far as feeding your family is concerned.

It's also nice to have a big stash of food on hand so that you can help others who might be having a hard time. You can donate food to a needy neighbor or to a food bank.

Which Canned Foods to Buy

The first thing you need to purchase is a manual can opener, in case your electricity goes out. When you're deciding on canned foods, read labels! You should keep several factors in mind: calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Be familiar with healthy daily requirements of each of the aforementioned, and make a list of such. Take the list shopping with you so you can keep up with which nutrients are supplied by the foods you choose.

Of course, it's also important to buy items your family enjoys eating. Canned spinach, for example, is a good source of iron, but it won't do any good if your kids refuse to eat it.

How to Choose Canned Goods

When shopping for canned foods, inspect each can carefully. Make sure there are no dents, no bulges, and no signs of rust. Check out the expiration date, too. Choose the cans with the latest dates. It's best to buy cans with firmly attached labels, too, so you'll know what they are after you get them home. If a label is loose, secure it with tape.

How to Store Flour, Cornmeal, Rice, Oatmeal, and Beans

Flour, meal, beans, oatmeal, and rice are staples that can be used in many ways, so you need to have plenty of each on hand.

The problem you have to avoid is weevils. Weevils lay their eggs inside the kernels of grains, and some eggs survive the processing plants. They might remain dormant for a long time, but when conditions are just right, the eggs hatch. No one wants to eat little bugs! To avoid this, you have to kill the eggs.

The best way to do this is to store your processed grains in the freezer for three days. After that, you can place the flour, meal, oatmeal, or rice in airtight storage bags or containers. Keep grains and dry beans in a cool, dry, dark place. They'll last for months!

I keep dry beans in a plastic storage bin.

I keep dry beans in a plastic storage bin.

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Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an important nutrient, but it can be hard to find in canned foods, as the heating process can destroy it. Instead, think about canned juices. For example, canned pineapple juice is very high in Vitamin C. Another option is powdered drink mixes. Tang, for example, provides an entire day's worth of Vitamin C in just one serving. It doesn't need refrigeration, either, and it doesn't take up much room in the pantry.

Powdered Tang provides lots of vitamin C and requires no refrigeration.

Powdered Tang provides lots of vitamin C and requires no refrigeration.


Even though “fats” has become a bad word to many people, we need fats. In fact, some vitamins can't be absorbed without fats. Also, if you're in survival mode, you want calories, and fats provide a lot of calories. Some experts are predicting that fats might be in short supply this fall and winter, due to the coronavirus pandemic, so fats should be included in your emergency pantry. Which oils last longest at room temperature? Coconut oil, beef tallow, and palm oil can remain good for months, if unopened and stored in a cool, dark place.

Calcium and Vitamin D

You already know how important calcium is, but how do you get without milk that has to be refrigerated? One answer is powdered milk. Nonfat dry milk is a great source of calcium and vitamin D. Evaporated milk is another option, but it doesn't provide as much calcium or as much vitamin D as powdered milk provides. Other good sources of calcium include sardines, edamame, walnuts, almonds, white beans, and canned collard greens. Of course, a good way to get vitamin D is by exposure to sunlight.


Many would argue that protein is the most important macronutrient, as it's responsible for building and repairing cells and tissues. Animal products have long been touted as the best source of complete proteins, and you can easily find these in nonperishable cans. Choices include chicken, Spam, salmon, sardines, crab, shrimp, oysters, BBQ pulled pork, mackerel, BBQ beef, and beef stew. In addition to canned meats, you might want to add some beef jerky, bacon jerky, turkey jerky, meat sticks, or summer sausage. Non-animal sources of protein include peanut butter, nuts, lentils, edamame, kidney beans, white beans, pinto beans, and split peas.

Don't Overlook Carbohydrates

While starchy foods aren't at the top of my list of priority foods, they can play an important role. While they might not offer much in the form of vitamins, they do provide calories, which can be extremely important when food is in short supply. Also, many carb-rich foods are ready to eat, right out of the package. These include crackers, cookies, pretzels, cold cereals, canned pasta dishes, and snack cakes. If you have a way to pop it, popcorn can be a good item to stock, as it doesn't take up much room.

Carbohydrates also provide comfort to some people, giving them a warm, safe feeling. This can be important in times of stressful emergencies.

I even store canned goods on my dresser!

I even store canned goods on my dresser!

Start Your Emergency Food Pantry Today!

You don't have to go out and buy hundreds of dollars' worth of groceries at one time. Every time you grocery shop, buy a few extra items to add to your emergency foods. If you have a pantry, great! If you don't have a pantry, or if your pantry is already full, find other places to store foods: under beds, in closets, in drawers, in bookshelves, etc. When you buy new items, place them at the back of your stash, so that you'll use the oldest items first.

If you follow these guidelines consistently, you'll have an emergency food pantry in no time!


Lee A Barton from New Mexico on August 13, 2020:

I've been stocking up for a few years due to living in a remote area. Covid has convinced me to keep it up. I think your article will be useful for some time!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 13, 2020:

Rachel, I have food stored everywhere! Hubby calls my bedroom "the store." lol. Stay safe!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 13, 2020:

HS, so sorry to hear about your job. My husband isn't working, either, per his doctor's orders. I'm thankful we stocked up when we did.

HS Contino from Oregon Coast on August 13, 2020:

Great article with some good tips. I especially like your tip about freezing certain items before storing them.

My personal food storage is looking rather sad at the moment. I was furloughed in March due to COVID-19 then they officially let me go two weeks ago. I really wish that I had stocked up more on shelf stable foods before the pandemic!

Rachel Alba on August 13, 2020:

Hi Holle, You are right. I too have seen empty shelves in the grocery stores. I wish I had more space, I would have my husband build a pantry like you have. I do have some food stocked up though. Thanks for all of your ideas. Stay healthy.

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