How to Stock Your Pantry for Emergencies

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Plan ahead and stock your pantry for emergencies. These easy pantry meals can be made from shelf-stable ingredients or items that have a long life in the fridge or freezer.

A car trunk is loaded with pantry supplies for an emergency.

Here in the south, we've had several surprise emergencies where we had to hunker down at home for a few days as a hurricane passed through or a bit of snow shut down the entire city.

We all know what happened in 2020 that required everyone to hunker down at home.

The lesson is that you never know when your family might face an emergency where they have to stay home unexpectedly for a few days.

It is always smart to keep some supplies on hand so you can make easy pantry meals in a pinch.

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What Kind of Emergency?

It is always smart to be prepared.

Some emergencies involve power outages, others involve unexpected events that complicate getting a meal to the table.

Some you may have a warning that they are coming, some might pop up out of nowhere.

This list of food to keep on hand will help you make your way through a variety of emergency situations your family could encounter:

  1. Hurricanes: There's a few days of warning ahead of time for you to stock up but you know you could be without power for a period of time.
  2. Snow Storms: You could be snowed in at home and the roads could be iced over making it impossible to stock up on supplies. You may or may not have power.
  3. Quarantine: You may be asked to quarantine as a family to avoid spreading disease. You will likely have power and could order supplies to be delivered.
  4. Cold & Flu Season: You could become sick yourself or need to avoid being out in public during the peak of the season like if you're preparing for surgery and need to stay well. You would have electricity to prepare your meals but may not feel well to cook much.
  5. Last-Minute Pop-Up Emergencies: This could include a major surprise in your day like a car accident, an urgent and unexpected trip to the doctor, or a complete derailment of your schedule. You'll have electricity but need to have a meal made in a pinch.

Why It is Difficult to Plan

Emergency meal plans can be complicated to plan for. Depending on the cause of the emergency you may or may not have electricity.

You can't rely on frozen/refrigerated foods and the ability to cook with an oven/stovetop if you're dealing with a hurricane or ice storm which can affect the power grid and cause outages.

However, if your emergency won't impact electricity, the meal plan will be significantly easier to compile.

Honestly, you never know when your family might get really sick and you'll just be stuck at home for a few days. It's always a good idea to have even a few of these on hand just in case every cold and flu season.

How to Stock Up On Emergency Supplies

Winter storms come every year. Cold and flu season come every year.

Neither of these situations should be a surprise to you. It is just smart to spend a little time prepping your home for an unplanned period of staying home. 

If you add just one or two items to your emergency stash every grocery trip for a few weeks, you'll be prepped and ready for anything that comes your way without having a huge expense hit you out of nowhere.

There's no reason to panic and stock up all at once, you can build your emergency pantry stash slowly over time.

Pantry Breakfast Ideas

So many things you usually eat during regular times will still work for a last-minute emergency.

If you will have electricity, you can make:

  1. Eggs & toast: Simple and easy. We've even relied on this meal for lunch or dinner.
  2. Pancakes: These easily freeze flat so they take up less space and can be reheated in the toaster. By making them ahead of time and freezing them, you won't need milk or eggs to make the batter.
  3. Protein smoothies: Prepare some smoothie kits with yogurt or milk frozen in ice cubes. This will help get some much-needed fruit into your kids' diet, a little protein into everyone, and reduce your need for fresh milk. Here is a great post with three protein smoothie recipes to get you started.
  4. Breakfast burritos: Filled with protein and veggies, this warm breakfast can be heated up in your microwave. This breakfast burrito recipe makes a great big batch for the freezer.
  5. Oatmeal with nuts & coconut: The perfect pantry-stable breakfast. Keep a variety of oatmeal packets on hand or better yet, a big container of rolled oats. Top your bowl with shredded coconut and chopped nuts for protein.

If you do not have electricity, you could plan to have:

  1. Cereal and Milk: Keep shelf-stable individual cartons of milk and this is a perfect no-electricity breakfast. Otherwise plan some homemade trail mixes instead.
  2. Pumpkin Bread: My favorite pumpkin bread recipe makes 3 loaves that freeze well. Enjoy one when you bake them and freeze the other two for an easy breakfast during an emergency.
  3. Peanut Butter or Sun Butter & Crackers: Add in an applesauce pouch for a shelf-stable fruit.
  4. Shelf-Stable Granola Bars: You could make my homemade peanut butter granola bars and freeze them if you want something from scratch.
  5. Hardboiled Eggs: If you have time to prep ahead, hardboiled eggs is a great way to use up fresh eggs from the fridge before you lose power.

Pantry Lunch Ideas

Keep these no-cook recipe items in your pantry for emergencies where you won't have electricity:

  1. PB&J: Perfect for a pantry-stable lunch in an emergency. Eat this early on to use up fresh bread before it goes bad.
  2. Apples, Cheese, Sausage, and Crackers: Chop up bits of whatever you've got in the fridge for a nibble plate. 

If you will still have electricity, you could also make these items easily with a few pantry ingredients:

  1. Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese: You can keep a few packages of tomato soup in the pantry for this comfort food lunch. If you run out of bread, try dipping a cheese quesadilla in it instead of the sandwich.
  2. Chicken Quesadillas with Salsa: Freeze some shredded chicken and you'll be able to make simple quesadillas in a pinch with just shredded cheese and a package of tortillas.
  3. Mac & Cheese: This will use up quite a bit of milk, but if it is close to expiration this is a great lunch for the whole family. You could make it from scratch with my baked mac and cheese or you could keep a few boxes on hand.
  4. Chicken Soup and Crackers: Use boxed chicken stock, frozen shredded chicken, a bag of mixed veggies, and some pasta for a down and dirty chicken soup that will still taste a LOT better than anything that came from a can with a fraction of the sodium.
  5. Tuscan Chicken Soup: This tomato-based chicken soup recipe is a classic reader favorite here. You can make it entirely with things from your pantry if you plan well, including a shredded rotisserie chicken.

Dinner Recipes for Emergencies

Dinner is the hardest meal to plan for when you won't have electricity.

If the power goes out, your best options will be:

  • Grill Your Food: Take what's in the fridge and try to cook it on the grill outside. Especially if you have meats that will spoil.
  • Eat a No-Cook Meal: Choose one of the easy food ideas from the breakfast or lunch lists above.
  • Get Take-Out: If you've lost power but businesses are open around you, you may just have to resort to getting take out or delivery.

Easy Pantry Dinners

If you're planning ahead for an emergency where you'll be home but still do have electricity, these easy pantry meals are good to have on hand for dinner.

I think a "pantry dinner" is a recipe you can make with ingredients that can be kept on hand in your pantry and your fridge or freezer for long periods of time without spoiling.

The ingredients list is relatively short and the prep work is easy.

My favorite pantry meals include:

  1. Pasta with Jarred Tomato Sauce and Meatballs: Using frozen meatballs makes this a super-simple pantry dinner but you could easily skip the meat if you need to.
  2. Pesto Noodles with Frozen Veggies: For variety, keep a jar of pesto in the fridge. Costco pesto can even be frozen for several months. We love to top ours with cherry tomatoes which I almost always have in the fridge. You can see our simple 3-ingredient pesto pasta recipe here.
  3. Chicken Fried Rice: One of my favorite pantry meals, you can make it with or without the chicken if you don't have any on hand. Get our favorite chicken fried rice recipe here. It uses rotisserie chicken and frozen vegetables, so easy!
  4. Easy Chicken Pot Pie: This chicken pot pie recipe doesn't have a crust, instead we serve it with biscuits. You could use any bread roll you have in the pantry or freezer.
  5. Pineapple Teriyaki Stir Fry: I make this delicious teriyaki meatball stir fry with frozen meatballs and canned pineapple in a pinch.

Freezer Friendly Dinners for Emergencies

It is always smart to have a few meals you can freeze and reheat for an emergency.

Sometimes I freeze a fully cooked meal, other times I freeze elements of a meal to make the final prep super easy.

You'll need to heat these up, so they only work if you'll have electricity.

  1. Mojo Chicken Tacos with Mexican Rice: Prep the chicken in the marinade and keep it in your freezer for fresh-tasting tacos in an emergency. Get the mojo marinade recipe here and our favorite freezer-friendly Mexican rice side dish recipe here. When you serve it, just cook the chicken and heat up the rice dish. Add pantry-stable tortillas and salsa.
  2. Frozen Shrimp Scampi: Thaw your frozen shrimp before cooking this or they'll make your dish too watery. Follow our tips here. Then, simply roast the shrimp with this recipe and top it on a bed of this easy lemon butter pasta recipe.
  3. Ramen Beef Stir Fry: Stash a pound of ground beef or ground turkey in your freezer for this simple pantry dish. Get the stir fry recipe here.
  4. Frozen Pizza: You'll be doing a lot of cooking while stuck at home, give yourself a break with a couple of pizzas just in case.
  5. Frozen Fish (cod, mahi, salmon) with Rice and Veggies: Keep a box of your favorite fish in the freezer, breaded or not. Bake it and serve with a bag of frozen veggies and your favorite rice. My kids go nuts over Rice-a-Roni but any rice side dish will do.

You can see ALL my freezer meals here. Keep a couple on hand and you'll be ready for anything.

More Easy Dinner Ideas

I've added even more easy pantry recipes for you to get inspiration:

Emergency Snacks & Treats

Just because your family is stuck at home doesn't mean you have to suffer.

Keep a few of these tasty snacks and treats on hand, they are great for lightening the mood for the kids.

  1. Popcorn
  2. Chex Mix: We love this Honey Sriracha Chex mix recipe.
  3. Chips & Salsa
  4. Mixed nuts
  5. Trail mix
  6. Applesauce pouches
  7. Granola bars
  8. Fruit cups
  9. Boxed chocolate milk
  10. Sugar cookies: Decorating them can take time and is a super-fun activity to keep the kids busy. Keep a batch of dough in the freezer if you want to prepare, otherwise the recipe is easy enough to make with simple things from your pantry. Check out the hurricane cookies we made a couple years ago.
  11. S'mores: The perfect pantry-stable dessert. You can even make these on the grill if you're out of electricity.
  12. Birthday cake kit: Birthdays happen with or without a snow storm on schedule. Keep a simple box cake mix, a can of frosting, and some candles in your emergency kit just in case you still have a special day to celebrate while you're stuck at home.

Ingredients to Keep in the Freezer for Emergencies

To extend the life of your perishable food and make sure you have plenty of fruits and vegetables to eat in an emergency, I recommend keeping these grocery items stocked in your freezer:

  • Cheese: freeze your cheese in blocks to save space. You can thaw it on the counter for a couple hours or overnight in the fridge. Then shred it with a box grater or food processor before using.
  • Meatballs: There are several varieties of frozen meatballs at the grocery store, or you can prep your own.
  • Ground Beef, Ground Turkey: Store a pound of each in the freezer, they thaw better than other cuts.
  • Onion-Pepper Veggie Mix: If you're not in the habit of keeping onions and peppers on hand like I am, you can purchase the mix in the frozen section of the store.
  • Broccoli: Dark green veggies are crucial for keeping healthy, keep several bags in the freezer.
  • Assorted Bags of Frozen Vegetables: Corn, peas, mixed veggies bags, whatever your family likes. Have several ready to go.
  • Assorted Frozen Fruit: Strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and cherries are perfect for smoothies or putting in a pie with a frozen pie crust, it's a great way to get some fruit into the kids during an emergency.

Pantry Items to Stock

These items help you make fresh-tasting food but have a long shelf life.

When you run through about half of your current supply, simply restock. The goal is to just never run completely out.

The baking essentials on the list will help you to make fresh bread, cookies, or other things from scratch as needed.

Baking with the kids will give you something to do together during a long stretch at home and provide fresh food you will be craving after all the pantry meals.

Keep in the Pantry:

  • flour: definitely all purpose, bread flour if you plan to make homemade bread
  • sugar
  • instant yeast: perfect for making homemade bread in a bread machine
  • baking powder
  • baking soda
  • kosher salt
  • canola oil
  • olive oil
  • vanilla extract
  • peanut butter
  • coffee
  • packages of dried pasta
  • rice
  • jarred tomato sauce (or canned tomato sauce)
  • boxes of chicken stock or broth
  • onions
  • potatoes
  • mixed nuts

Keep in the Fridge:

  • jarred minced garlic
  • lemons
  • apples
  • oranges
  • butter
  • cheese: you could also freeze cheese for an even longer shelf life
  • milk: if you buy organic, it lasts so much longer. The milk I bought this morning is good for the next 4 weeks.
  • eggs

Secret Emergency Stash

Ok, let's be honest. If you're in charge of stocking your pantry, you know that certain items tend to be opened and snacked on by family when you're not looking!

We know it is highly unlikely the kids will touch a can of fruit or tomato sauce while rummaging around in your pantry for a snack so you're totally safe storing those kind of items with your regular food stores.

But, it is just a good idea to have a secret hidden supply of the more popular things your family enjoys to pull out in a true emergency.

If you're prepping for a hurricane or other extended stay at home, keep a secret supply of:

  • Crackers (salty + graham crackers)
  • Pretzels
  • Granola bars
  • Trail Mix
  • Jar of Nutella & Nut butter of choice
  • Juice pouches/boxes
  • Shelf-stable juices (cranberry, apple)
  • Birthday kit (boxed cake mix, jar of frosting, box of candles)


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