Emergency Food Storage: Nutritional Requirements

"Pantry Commentary 2010." Photo by aMichiganMom (Julie Magro). From The Flickr Creative Commons.

Since we have spent quite a bit of time lately on holidays, we are going to switch back to emergency preparations for a while.  November in the United States is the month of feasting and celebration for Thanksgiving at the end of the month.  So, to tie in with this food theme we will focus our emergency preparations this month on food storage.

Last month, we discussed emergency water storage, which is relatively straightforward.  There is only one ingredient (water) to consider and the most difficult parts of water storage are: a) finding a place to store the water, b) making sure you are storing water in an approved manner that will keep the water safe to drink and c) monitoring expiration dates and rotating the water as needed.

Food storage adds a significant layer of complexity to this whole equation.  There are many more ingredients, expiration dates and storage requirements to take into consideration.  Your emergency food storage eating is likely to be a little different from your regular eating patterns.  Often you need to eliminate foods that require refrigeration or elaborate cooking or those that cannot be easily transported.  This ends up being a large portion of what most of us eat every day!

I have been working indirectly on my own emergency food storage plan since I first wrote about it last year.  I have made some progress but not much so this month’s discussion is as much for me as for you.

My goals for my own emergency food storage are:

  1. 30 days food supply for our family of 4
  2. “normal” foods that we consume regularly
  3. foods with good nutritional value

The last piece, “good nutritional value” is the most difficult of the three pieces.  I am not a nutritional expert and our regular diet could definitely use some improvement.  So, the first question I start with today is:

What are the recommended nutritional requirements
for the average person?

The Healthy Eating Pyramid at the Harvard School of Public Health looks quite a bit different than the food pyramid advanced by the federal government at myfoodpyramid.gov.

Harvard’s food pyramid, which you can see here starts with exercise as the base of the pyramid—the thing we should be consuming the most of!  Next comes fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats like olive and canola oil.  Then nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, fish, poultry and eggs, then dairy products like milk and cheese.  At the top of the pyramid, the things we should eat the least of are red meat, butter, white rice, white bread, pasta (except, I assume, whole grain pasta), potatoes, sugar and salt.  Harvard also advises that we all consume a daily multivitamin and that certain groups may benefit from modest alcohol intake of red wine.

If you are looking at these recommendations and are thinking, “Wow, my diet needs a major overhaul!” join the club!  We have experimented eating along these lines in the past and the one thing we learned (consuming a primarily fish and vegetable diet) is that you feel a lot hungrier than when you are eating a more traditional diet.  Meat, potatoes and pasta really fill you up and make you feel “full” after eating them.  Fish is light and you get sick of eating it before you feel the same satiation.

But, knowing that this is the best way to eat for optimum health, we will use the Harvard guidelines as our baseline nutritional guide.

What about calories?  The Harvard plan doesn’t really discuss calories in detail but indicates that you need to have the calories burned in exercise equal to the calories consumed in food to maintain your weight.

We need at least a baseline indicator for calories in order to create the emergency food storage plan, so we will use the guidelines from the federal government at mypyramid.gov.

You can click here to get a free customized eating plan by age, weight and height for anyone aged 2 and older.

Our results:

Child 1 1000 calories
Child 2 1400 calories
Mom 2000 calories
Dad 2600 calories

Now, to try to translate these calorie and nutritional requirements into actual foods!  This seems to be really difficult for anyone offering general guidance to do.  Take, for example the mypyramid.gov plan for a 1000 calorie preschool diet for a 2-year old.

Here is what it says for breakfast:

1 oz grains with ½ cup milk and ½ cup fruit

If you have the average preschooler, you are probably talking Cheerios and milk.  As for the fruit, maybe applesauce (unless you have a really picky eater, like me).  A banana would be another good choice but that is kind of hard to do for emergency storage.  Most of the dried banana chips I have seen are either fried in oil or sugared.  Raisins might work too.

Option 1: Cheerios breakfast

¾ cup Cheerios = 80 calories (The serving size on the Cheerios box actually says ¾ cup for a child under 4 rather than the 1 oz indicated by myfoodpyramid.gov.  We’ll go with the box on this one.)

1/3 cup nonfat dried milk (since we are talking about emergency food storage, I will use the box of nonfat instant dry milk.  Note that curiously mypyramid.gov recommends low or nonfat milk for children rather than whole milk. The dried milk box recommends a serving size of 1/3 cup rather than the 1/2 cup from myfoodpyramid.gov.  For simplicity, again, I will go with the box) = 80 calories

½ cup applesauce (Let’s assume you stockpile some of those Mott’s applesauce cups in the “Natural” unsweetened variety) = 50 calories

Total Cheerios child’s breakfast = 210 calories

If you assume you have the ability to cook during the emergency and you swap Cheerios for Quaker instant oatmeal (made with the nonfat dry milk and raisins), you get:

Option 2: Oatmeal breakfast

½ cup oatmeal = 150 calories

1/3 cup nonfat dry milk = 80 calories

1 mini snack size box Sun Maid raisins = 45 calories

Total oatmeal child’s breakfast = 275 calories

How are we doing nutritionally with these choices?  If we add up all the nutritional information from the sides of the boxes we get:

Cheerios Breakfast Oatmeal Breakfast
Total Fat 2g 3g
Saturated Fat 0g 0.5g
Trans Fat 0g 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.5g 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.5g 1g
Cholesterol <5mg <5 mg
Sodium 285 mg 125 mg
Total Carbohydrate 46g 50g
Dietary Fiber 4g 5g
Sugars 25g 23g
Protein 11g 13g
Vitamin A 10% 10%
Vitamin C 30% 2%
Vitamin D 10% 25%
Calcium 40% 30%
Folic acid 50% 2%
Potassium 3% 0%
Iron 45% 12%

Is your head swimming with nutritional information yet?  How do we make sense of all this information?  My takeaway from this comparison is that both breakfasts are roughly the same but the Cheerios is fortified with so many vitamins that it is essentially like taking a daily multivitamin pill. The downside of the Cheerios, however, is the higher sodium content, and lower fiber.  The Mayo Clinic advises that kids aged 2-3 should have a maximum of 1,000 mg sodium per day.  Getting almost 1/3 of this at breakfast from the Cheerios might be a problem given the higher sodium content of most canned goods that might be consumed in an emergency diet.  But for now, Cheerios or oatmeal both seem OK.

Now there are many other choices for breakfast, of course.  You could have sardines or beans or any other number of things but when you are talking about emergency storage, you have to take into account that a) everyone is going to be a little stressed out and familiar foods are going to help calm people down and b) keeping food preparation simple is going to be a high priority since your energy will likely be needed for other things.

What can you do to get started on your emergency food supply?  First, take a baby step and look up on the myfoodpyramid.gov website to see what your calorie requirements are.  Then start thinking about what types of foods you are willing to eat and what foods you eat already that would work in an emergency.  If you have special dietary needs (vegetarian, gluten-free, peanut allergy, diabetes, etc.) you may need to consult specific dietary sources for those needs.  I have linked to a few in the sentence above.

In my next post, I will try to highlight some of the most nutritious foods you can have in your emergency storage available in your regular grocery store.  Please share in the comments your thoughts on favorite emergency foods or ask any questions you want to see answered.