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I was listening to a podcast the other day, the host was talking about the best survival foods you should be stocking up on. He was suggesting the typical rice and beans diet, with a few dollar store spices thrown in for flavor. I was a little taken aback when he commented, “It’s not so much about nutrition, it’s about survival!”
I instantly felt regret for the new preppers who were likely listening to his show. It’s not so much about nutrition? Doesn’t he realize that when your body is lacking key nutrients it begins to suffer physically? Doesn’t he realize that it’s the sickly who die first?
Here at the Prepper Project, we’ve talked plenty about the importance of nutrition when the SHTF, but how exactly does that translate into storing the best survival food? What kinds of foods should we be storing in order to maximize nutrition?
As we all know, eating a balanced meal will yield the best results. There isn’t one food item alone that has all of the essential minerals, vitamins, protein, and nutrients that you’d need to survive. You must eat a variety.
Storing the proper variety of foods is key to your survival. A year’s worth of mac and cheese and beenie weenies might keep you alive, but you’ll feel like crap. Poor health is all it takes for disease to quickly set in and take over.
A good variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, meats, and grains is absolutely essential for a well stocked pantry. There’s no doubt fresh foods are far superior to cooked or dried foods. Grow as many of these survival foods as you possibly can where you are now. But beyond the garden there are a handful of nutrient dense, shelf-stable foods to focus on attaining and storing long term. These will help you get by when the garden can’t be counted on.
Here are 11 of the best, most nutritious survival foods you should be storing for emergencies:
1) Soups and Stews
Whether you opt for home-canned soups and stews or the store-bought variety, these hearty meals combining meats and vegetables (or vegetables and legumes) are a great way to pack a ton of nutrients into one jar.
My favorite home canned meals are venison or beef stew, chicken and rice soup, chili con carne, and vegetable beef soup. You can whip up a huge pot of your favorite soup and pressure can it to be used for years down the road. Pretty much any soup you buy at the grocery store, with the exception of really thick products such as the cream-of soups, can be canned at home. Venison becomes particularly tender and flavorful when canned in a soup with potatoes, carrots, and tomato juice.
Never can low acid foods, such as meats and vegetables, in anything other than a pressure canner. I’ve seen people on YouTube demonstrating “oven canning”, where you heat jars of food in an oven, and then allow them to cool until the lid seals. Folks, just because a lid seals it does not mean the food in the jar is safe to eat. It must be heated adequately in order to kill botulism spores. Please be safe and don’t cut corners. If you want to can soups, stews, meat, beans, or vegetables, you absolutely must use a pressure canner.
Please read the article 23 Things You Must Know To Can Meat Safely before you can soups and stews for the first time.
2) Bone Broth
Homemade bone broth is an excellent source of minerals. Bones from land animals are rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus, and fish bones also contain iodine. (Source)
Bone broth is also a rich source of gelatin. “Although gelatin is by no means a complete protein… it acts as a protein sparer, allowing the body to more fully utilize the complete proteins that are taken in. Thus, gelatin-rich broths are a must for those who cannot afford large amounts of meat in their diets.” ~ Nourishing Traditions
You can start making your own rich bone broth now by using kitchen scraps you’re probably throwing away. Save the carcass of roasted chicken, carrot peels and ends, onion skins and tips, garlic scraps, and celery trimmings. Fill a freezer bag with your scraps until you have enough to make a large pot of broth to can. It can even be frozen in ziploc bags once cooled, though it won’t last nearly as long as canning it. Home canned broth will last for many years when stored in a somewhat cool place, out of direct sunlight and away from moisture. I try to use it up within 1-5 years for best nutritional value. Store bought bone broths are also available in shelf stable forms.
3) Sweet Potatoes
These tasty tubers are a great source of vitamin A and beta-carotene, vitamin C, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, manganese, and potassium. If you have to choose between white potatoes and sweet potatoes, the latter is the winner in nutritional content.
Sweet potatoes are easy to grow at home from “slips”. Potato slips are those sprouts that start to grow from the eyes of sweet potatoes when they’ve been stored for too long. When the sprouts are a couple inches long, break them off as close to the base as possible and sit them in a cup of shallow water for a week or so. Roots will begin growing from the slip. Once a good root system has been established and the sprout starts forming leaves, the slip can then be transplanted directly into the garden. Sweet potato plants grow as long vines, so be sure to either trellis them or give them lots of room to roam! They love deeply cultivated, loose, rich soil.
To store them long term you can easily can peeled sweet potatoes at home in a pressure canner. They’ll last for several years in a jar, but will need to be rotated out for best quality. If growing and canning your own isn’t an option, commercially canned sweet potatoes are available at the grocery store. You can also find them in freeze dried form with a typical shelf life of 20-30 years.
Fresh kale is an amazing superfood. It’s full of vitamins C, A, and K, as well as other micro-nutrients and antioxidants. If there is any way possible that you can grow it, I would highly encourage you to do so. It’s easy to cultivate, has few pests, and tolerates cold temperatures very well making it an excellent crop to try growing year round.
Although some nutrients are lost during processing, preserved kale is an excellent alternative to fresh. Kale can be canned at home in a pressure canner, or purchased as canned kale greens at the store. It can also be found in dehydrated and powdered forms, as well as freeze dried for longer storage.
Another important dark, leafy green to have plenty of is spinach. Spinach is low in fat and and cholesterol, and high in niacin, zinc, protein, fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. Heck, it’s practically a multi-vitamin!
Spinach can be grown and canned at home, or purchased canned at the grocery store. Spinach will last for several years in a can or jar, but should be rotated out regularly for best nutritional value. You can also purchase it in freeze dried form for longer storage, up to 25 years.
I have a hard time stomaching canned spinach, so I’ve been stocking up on freeze dried greens. I plan on using them to make green smoothies, which combine fruits and juices in a way that masks the taste of fresh or dried spinach and kale. Green smoothies are a great way to get a lot of nutrient rich foods down at once.
6) Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon
You must be careful when choosing canned fish from the grocery store. Mercury and other toxins have been found in some wild caught fish, and farm-raised fish are lacking many of the nutrients that wild fish contain (not to mention have also tested positive for environmental contaminants). From what I’ve researched, the healthiest choice for canned fish is wild caught “sockeye salmon” (also referred to as red salmon) from Alaska.
Salmon is an excellent source of Omega 3 fats which are essential for proper body function and are necessary for good brain and heart health. It’s also low in sodium, and is a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, phosphorus, protein, niacin, vitamin B12 and selenium.
If you aren’t familiar with quinoa yet (pronounced KEEN-wah), it’s an excellent alternative to plain rice in your long term food storage. When rinsed and cooked, it has a very bland flavor that makes it blend well into a variety of dishes. Some people prefer it in savory meals in place of rice, while others like to sweeten it and enjoy it more like a hot breakfast cereal. It’s also great for thickening up soups and stews.
Quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fiber, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants. (Source)
I like to purchase quinoa in 5 gallon buckets for long term storage. It’ll last indefinitely when packaged in a mylar bag with oxygen absorbers, sealed in a plastic bucket and stored somewhere out of extreme temperatures.
According to the CDC, Strawberries are the healthiest, most nutrient dense choice of berries (which surprised me, I would have guessed blueberries were number one). They contain more vitamin C than other fruits, and are especially high in antioxidants and flavonoids.
Strawberries should be in every home garden. Mix them into a flower bed if you don’t have a dedicated garden space. Strawberries are perennials, so they’ll come back year after year. They’re easy to grow, and once established will provide you with food for many years. You’ll have to do a little research to find which varieties grow best in your region. If possible, opt for an “everbearing” variety for a longer harvesting season.
Strawberries can be canned in a water bath canner, dehydrated, or freeze dried. For longest storage, stock up on freeze dried strawberries, which can last for 25 years!
We wouldn’t think of garlic as a stand alone food. But when added to other dishes not only does it embolden the flavor, it also adds incredible antioxidants and disease fighting properties to what you eat. Garlic has been known for centuries to be a strong antibiotic. Including it in your daily rations will help your body rid itself of dangerous free radicals, and will fight disease causing bugs you might have been exposed to.
Garlic is easy to grow in your own backyard, especially in a raised bed. Did you know you can grow garlic from store-bought bulbs? There are plenty of varieties to choose from through seed companies as well. To plant garlic, pull a bulb apart and place each individual clove with the flat end down into loose soil, pushing it just below the surface. Plant cloves a couple inches apart for bigger bulbs. Water regularly until the cloves begin to sprout. Garlic likes cool weather best, so wait until Fall to plant.
For strongest medicinal value and best flavor, garlic should be used fresh. Once harvested from the garden, it can be stored for several months if cured and kept dry. You can also store dehydrated garlic, or jars of garlic cloves in oil, though they won’t have quite the benefits of fresh.
Oats are a good source of calories, protein, carbs, fat, and fiber. The great thing about stocking up on oats is that they’ll last 25+ years when stored properly. You can buy them from a food storage company in bulk, or better yet, shop at wholesale clubs such as Sams or Costco and package them in large quantities yourself. Choose from steel cut oats, rolled oats, quick oats, or old fashioned oats… they’re all nutritious and worth having in an emergency.
Fill a 5 gallon mylar bag with oats, drop in a 2000 cc oxygen absorber, seal the bag with a straight iron, and store it in a sealed 5-6 gallon food grade bucket. You can spend a few extra dollars and save yourself a lot of hassle by using gamma seal lids on your food storage buckets. Store the buckets somewhere where they won’t be exposed to extreme heat or cold. Under your bed, in a closet, or in a dry basement would be perfect.
Keep in mind that oats go rancid after a few months once they’ve been opened. If you don’t think you can go through 5 gallons of oats within a few months, you’d be better off packing them in smaller quantities or purchasing them in #10 cans.
Dried beans are full of protein, fiber and calories, and are known among the prepper world to be an excellent (and much cheaper!) alternative to storing a ton of meat. High fiber foods help you feel fuller longer, as well as assisting the digestive tract. Beans also contain iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, folate, thiamin and potassium, all essential nutrients to keep your body running properly.
Store a variety of beans to keep your meals interesting. For best results, store dried beans in a mylar bag with oxygen absorbers, sealed and stored in a food grade bucket in a dry location with an average temperature no higher than 70 degrees F. Plan on rotating your beans out every 8-10 years to keep them fresh. Over time beans will begin to lose their natural oils, and will get hard and won’t cook up soft no matter how long you soak them.
Every year or so I like to go through our buckets of beans and can a bunch of them. I have found this to be a good way to rotate through our storage, as canning the beans keeps them usable and soft for a few more years. Having the beans already canned and ready to heat and eat is also very convenient for meals.
Worst case, if your beans have been stored for a really long time and become too hard to cook with, you can always grind them into bean powder and use them to thicken up soups.
Of course, these aren’t the only healthy foods you can stash in your pantry. What nutritious survival foods would you add to this list?
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