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  • Brianna Rhodes, RD, CD

Preparedness: 72-Hour Emergency Food

Emergency Food Preparedness is very real these days. With pandemics, isolation and natural disasters happening all over the world right now, it is a good time to examine your emergency plans and food preparations. This post is all about ideas for making your very own 72 hour emergency food kit.

With all the craziness in the world lately, many of us are reconsidering our preparedness. There is a lot of unknown with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many stores and businesses are closing. Some supplies are scarce and hard to come by. Financial uncertainty and job insecurity are rampant. The possibility of lock-down is a very real thing to consider if you live in a large city. An important question to ask yourself is:

Do I have enough food stored in my home to feed my family for 14 straight days if needed?

Then in the midst of all the pandemic concerns, the Salt Lake City area experienced a 5.7 earthquake. This sparked many Utahns to think about natural disaster preparedness too.

Questions like:

What would I do if I had to evacuate my house in a hurry?

What food and supplies do I need to get through a wide-scale disaster/emergency? Pandemic preparedness and earthquake preparedness are different, and so it’s important to consider both.

In a pandemic situation, we can rely on having running water, electricity and gas, so food prep is not too far off from your regular cooking. You may run out of fresh/perishable things before the 14 days is up, things like milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables. But you will still have electricity so frozen meat and cheese are a viable part of your plan. You can count on your oven and stove and microwave for meal prep. When thinking of preparing for a quarantine situation, think of accumulating extras of your favorite go-to meals. Keep it simple, but keep it exciting by making it food you really enjoy eating. Buy 1 or 2 extras of your staple items for the next few times you go shopping to ensure you have extra on hand. And think of non-food supplies as well. Things like soaps, laundry detergent, bags, and cleaning supplies.

Disaster food preparedness is different because you have to think about contingency plans. If I don’t have running water, for a time, what would I do? What about alternative cooking methods if power is down for a time? This is where having shelf stable foods stocked in your pantry is important. Canned meats, soups, pastas and sauces, rice, beans, wheat and flour, sugar, pancake mixes, canned fruits and veggies can to a long way to keep your family fed for a lengthy amount of time. But be sure you are stocking up on things you know how to use! And things you like to eat!

The focus of this post is however is items to consider for a 72-hour emergency food kit. With careful planning ahead of time, you and your family can be ready for short term, emergency situations without breaking the bank!

The first thing we did after the earthquake was pull out our old 72 hour kit. When my husband and I got married, my mother-in-law helped set us up with a basic emergency food kit. It included MREs a few peanut-butter packets and cheese spreads, some breads, and a giant ER bar.

She also gave us these water packets—4 oz each, easy to use, and very portable. These I intend to keep as part of our updated 72 hour kit.

It was immediately clear that we needed to update things. First off, we are now a family of 5, so we definitely needed more food. Also, a few things looked a little outdated. I have a hard time throwing it away, because if we were absolutely desperate, I still think we could use it! But it definitely was time to replace and update.

There are certainly a lot of emergency products out there. Looking at an emergency preparedness product can certainly give you great ideas for what kinds of things you should consider having in your own emergency kit. But as far as feeding a family in a true emergency, I have never found a kit that had what I think we would actually want! So I went about making my own, and you can too!

First off, it is helpful to think of potential scenarios when you would need a 72 hour kit. You could drive yourself crazy thinking of all the Armageddon type scenarios you might face. It’s more helpful to think through a general circumstance. A 72-hour emergency kit is something you would need when faced with short-term emergency evacuation of your home. This could be a structural damage after an earthquake or major storm, or an approaching fire, or flooding risk, or many other types of situation. But the main idea is that it is a temporary condition.

With that in mind, it is easy to see that the 72 hour emergency food kit needs to be simple, shelf-stable and portable. Also, this is a short-term provision, so you want to have food that provides good energy, but it does not need to be 100% nutritionally complete.

The second thing to consider, most foods don’t have infinite shelf-life, so it’s wise to include foods that you can use in regular life to cycle through your emergency kit.

Here is our Recipe for Disaster:




These 4.22 oz water packets are Coast-Guard approved to prevent dehydration. The recommendation is 2 per person per day. More water is better if possible, but this is a great place to start for a minimum inclusion in your emergency kit. Storing a small case of water bottles near your 72 hour kit is also a great idea.

New Millennium Bars:

These are compact and calorie dense—400 kcal per bar. They come in a variety of flavors, and they have the consistency of a shortbread cookie. We opened one up to taste test with my kids. My husband and I thought it was pretty decent. My girls were expecting something more like a fruity cereal bar, and so they thought it was pretty weird. But when I gave it to my 4 year old, I told him it was a cherry flavored cookie and he thought it was great! He kept asking for another piece.

This picture gives you an idea of how the bars look. The picture displays about half a bar. We all concurred that these would not be our first choice for hiking or camping, but in an emergency situation, they would be pretty good to eat.

RX Nut Butter Packets:

These are also compact and calorie dense, and they are delicious. We actually do take these on hikes regularly—they store well, are portable and light, and we all really enjoy them. They come in a variety of flavors, and we’ve collected several.

Tuna packets:

Tuna packets also make great hiking and backpacking meals, so we will easily be able to cycle these into and out of our 72 hour kit. These are shelf stable, and ready to eat—no preparation needed. They are high protein and so will be filling for emergent situations. Again, they come in a variety of flavors, so sample some different types and find out what you like before you buy a large amount of them!

Granola Bars:

Again, granola bars are hiking/camping essentials in our family. We have a variety of flavors and styles of bars. These are just easy to eat, and the kids are definitely fans of them, so there will be some comfort in having familiar foods in an emergency situation. We have collected Nature Valley peanut bars, Oats-'n-Honey bars, and Cliff Z-bars, but the sky is the limit here!

Mountain House Adventure Meal Kit:

I definitely see these meals being useful in an evacuation scenario, but more likely used once we have set up some kind of base-camp. These are great meals for backpacking, so definitely something we can use/rotate. They have an impressive 30-year shelf life, however, so rotation is not major concern. This particular pack was purchased at Costco and it is definitely the best value for quantity we have found. These are great because it is freeze-dried food, the food is actually quite good, and you get a variety of different meals in one box. Definitely light weight and portable, but it is important to remember you need other supplies to be able to utilize these meals.

We have also included a backpacking stove, a mess kit, and a water filtration system in our emergency kit to make sure we are able to use these meals if needed. If we were not able to bring sufficient water with us, we would need to find water (stream or pond) for a makeshift camp site and then we would be set. The water filtration system is simple and effective, and so natural water sources would be safe to use. Luckily in Utah there are lots of natural streams, reservoirs and lakes. But if you live in a more dry climate, that is something you would have to consider in your emergency preparedness kit.


Everything is stored in a large crate—it makes it easy to easy to see what in there, add to it if possible, and then grab and go. The idea is that we can throw it in the back of the car and take off pretty quickly if we needed to. But we could also easily throw the items into backpacks and take off on foot if needed.


Moving forward, I just want to emphasize that being prepared is key to staying calm in disasters. We can’t live in fear that each day is likely to be the great disaster. It’s more the mind set of knowing we have done all we can to be ready for the unknown, so now we don’t have to stress and worry any more. Disaster is always a possibility, but a disaster happening today is a low probability. Find peace in doing your best to plan ahead, and then live your life!

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