Disaster Cooking

Food for Emergency Situations

Couscous Chicken Salad
Adél Békefi/Moment/Getty Images

Are you prepared for a disaster? From tornadoes in the summer to earthquakes anytime to hurricanes in the fall and blizzards in the winter, Mother Nature can take us by surprise. Take some time and think about your own emergency preparedness and disaster survival preparation.

Usually in emergency situations, the power goes out and your refrigerator, freezer, and oven become useless. If you're lucky enough to have a gas oven, you should still be able to cook, even with an electronic ignition; check your manual and be sure to keep matches available, in a waterproof container.

An outdoor grill can be a great appliance to use, but please, do not use it indoors, even in the garage. So what do you do if you have an electric stove or oven and the weather is too bad to grill? Rely on these tips.

Tips for a Disaster

  • Canned and dried foods can really come to the rescue in these situations. Purchase low sodium varieties and store them in a cool, dry place, making sure that you mark the purchase date on the product.
  • Collect easy recipes that use these foods and store them right by the foods, along with basic utensils like a can opener, bowls, spoons, and plates.
  • There are lots of shelf-stable items that are not canned. Look for juice boxes, stock and broth in boxes, dried fruits and snack items, and others that can be stored without refrigeration.
  • Rotate your stock of canned and dried foods occasionally to be sure that your supply is fresh.
  • Make sure you have the Parmesan cheese in the green can on hand. That cheese is meant to be stored at room temperature, even after the package is opened, so it's great to have on hand in an emergency pantry.
  • Many fruits and vegetables will hold their quality at room temperature, so keep some of them on hand always. Apples, bananas, tomatoes, grapes, heads of lettuce, squash, onions, potatoes, celery, peppers, and other produce will store well as long as they are stored in a cool and dark place.
  • Water is an important staple, not only for drinking but also for rehydrating dried foods. So keep a good supply of bottled water on hand, for drinking, cooking, and even brushing your teeth.
  • At least a gallon of water per day per person in your household is the bare minimum.
  • For information about loss of power and food safety, see What About Power Outages?
  • For a list of staple pantry foods, see Pantry Staples.
  • Before Hurricane Katrina, experts recommended that you keep enough on hand for three days' worth of meals, but I now think that's too little. After seeing the long response times to Hurricane Katrina's victims, I would recommend keeping at least one week of supplies on hand - two is better.
  • In addition to food, your well-stocked pantry should include batteries, a radio, pet food if your household includes little critters, lots of bottled water, flashlights or emergency lights, candles, can opener, matches, and any prescription medicines your family needs. I recently found electric candles that run off batteries. They can last up to 24 hours, so are a good source of safe lighting.
  • A first aid kit is also necessary; if you have the room, think about storing extra clothes and blankets too.
  • Remember to keep your cell phone with you and make sure the batteries are well charged.
  • Remember that if you don't have a source for cooling foods, you'll need to make just enough for you to eat within 1-2 hours. A cooler filled with ice is just fine for keeping foods cold, but it won't chill warm or room temperature foods fast enough to prevent safety problems. So either eat all perishable food within the 2 hour time frame, or discard it.
  • If the weather is safe enough so you can grill outdoors, make Dinner Packets with heavy duty foil. These one-dish meals can be lifesavers; and cleanup is minimal.
  • I'd also recommend stocking paper plates, cups, napkins, and plastic utensils. I ordinarily don't recommend these because they're not environmentally-friendly, but when you are faced with a water shortage, they make your life much easier, and safer too.

So go to the next page to get the recipes, stock your pantry, and stay informed. You'll feel better knowing your family is prepared.

I collected these recipes assuming that you won't have access to a cooking source. Most of them do not use heat; just assemble and eat. If you can cook on a gas stove or grill, your list of pantry recipes will be much larger. In that case, check out Your Personal Mise En Place.

For heating water to rehydrate foods, think about buying a camping stove or gas hot plate that does not use electricity. Again, be careful with these appliances and follow directions to the letter.

After all this preparation, you can relax, knowing you can take care of yourself and your family during an emergency.

Disaster Meal Recipes

  • Peanut Butter Granola Wrap Sandwiches
    These crunchy and creamy wrap sandwiches are super easy to make and delicious.
  • Tuna Pizza
    Mashed white beans, combined with some seasonings, make an excellent pizza sauce for this flavorful pizza. Boboli crusts are another great ingredient that stores well at room temperature.
  • Kris' Famous Sweet Potato Salad
    I love this salad; it's suave and savory. You can also use it as a sandwich spread or dip. Buy small jars of salad dressing or mayonnaise for your emergency pantry for this and other salad recipes.
  • Salmon and Potato Salad
    Use pouches of salmon instead of cans if you'd like; the fish in that packaging does not have skin or bones. Serve this salad in pita breads for an easy lunch.
  • Couscous Chicken Salad
    You do need boiling water for this salad, unless you can find a brand of couscous that rehydrates in cold water.
  • Tomato Pesto Bean and Shrimp Salad
    Look for dried pesto mixes in the condiment aisle of your supermarket, and make sure they can be rehydrated with room temperature liquid. This salad is surprisingly elegant and nutritious.
  • Artichoke and Chickpea Salad
    Did you ever think you could eat gourmet food during a natural disaster? You can with this recipe! Remember, you don't need to use all of the ingredients. As long as you have the main ingredients, use the seasonings you have on hand.

    More Information

    • Disaster Preparedness Kit
    • Storm-Proof Your Home
    • Prepare for Disaster with an Evacuation Kit