Lessons on an Emergency Pantry

What did our 48-hour rehearsal teach us about how to prepare for a real emergency, especially an extended one?

Lesson 1 – Water. Even with a fairly thin pantry, we weren’t going to starve. But there’s no question that having enough drinking water was a major problem. So stock up. You can buy large jugs of water at the grocery store or fill your own. All that water needs to be properly stored (dark, cool) and rotated (at least every six months) to keep your supply fresh.

Second, you’ll need even more water for cooking and hygiene. As we ran out of fresh water, I started to eye the hot water tank as a water source. If you happen to have rain barrels or a swimming pool, that would be a great source for toilet-flushing water.

Lesson 2 – An Alternate Stove. If we had a couple bags of charcoal (or propane tanks) or a camp stove or hot plate with plenty of extra fuel, we would have eaten better. Much better. We had boxes of pasta, bottles of tomato sauce, olive oil, garlic and plenty of spices; we could have had a wonderful dinner. We could have heated up our ready-to-eat (RTE) meals. Had a hot cup of coffee. Now that’s living!

Lesson 3 – More Ready-to-Eat Meals! We would have loved a week’s worth of ready-to-eat meals in vacuum pouches, cups or bowls. But RTE meals are fairly expensive, so buy when they’re on sale.

Lesson 4 – A Full Pantry. If you don’t have an alternative stove or plenty of RTEs, a well-stocked pantry will be the heart of your emergency planning. Think in terms of food groups.

Protein? Think: canned chicken, fish and beans, energy bars, peanut butter and nuts.

Dairy and Beverages? Think: powered or boxed milk or milk substitutes, instant breakfast shakes, boxed juices.

Vegetables and Fruits? Think: canned corn, carrots, peas and tomatoes. Canned peaches, pears, pineapple or ready-to-eat fruit cups. Applesauce!

Boxed and Packaged Foods? Think: pasta, rice, cereals. And bread substitutes like shelf-stable tortillas and taco shells.

Treats? Think: boxes of dried fruits, puddings, chocolate bars, jams and jellies, honey, sugar. Chips and pretzels for snacks.

Don’t Forget! Coffee and tea. Condiments like salsa, ketchup, mustard and a shaker of Parmesan cheese. Olive oil, salt and pepper, spices and seasonings.

Your preparations will need modification if you’re planning meals for an infant or anyone with dietary concerns or food allergies.

Lesson 5 - Disposable Dinnerware and Hygiene Products. Having paper plates, cups and plastic utensils would have been extremely helpful. Consider about how you’re going to clean up and maintain a high level of hygiene. Do you have enough napkins, paper towels and cleaning supplies? Garbage bags? Extra toilet paper and hand sanitizer?

Although this experience was challenging, it has taught me two important lessons: 1) a manual can opener is a great invention; and 2) we should all seriously consider a home generator! After all, with a backup generator, we’d have a different story to tell, because life and meals would be no different than any other day.