Most prepper sites – including ours – have plenty articles on building up an emergency food reserve. The reason is obvious, of course; food is one of the core essentials of survival, and if you don’t have enough to get you through a crisis you’re just not going to survive. We look at every aspect of, from incorporating home-preserved foods into your stockpile to how to put together a useful reserve of food on a tight budget.
Generally, when we look at food reserves, we have a few priorities in mind. Obviously the food you store has to have a long life, or there isn’t much point in storing it. It needs to meet your nutritional requirements. Finally, we usually aim for a good mix of foods that will let you create interesting meals; that’s good for morale, and also encourages people to eat enough.
Let’s take another approach for a minute, though. What would you store if you were looking to put together an absolute bare minimum food supply – a reserve that’s stripped down to the essentials needed to keep you alive and healthy?
There are some reasons you might want to do this. If you’re on a really tight budget, even our plan to build up a food reserve by spending an extra $5 a week on groceries might be difficult. Or what if you’ve identified several potential bug-out locations and want to store a minimal, but useful, food reserve at each? Maybe it’s even as simple as being short of storage space for a more varied food supply.
What’s the Minimum?
If the S totally HTF it’s vital that you can eat a diet that gives you the nutrients your body needs. If you can hit the basic nutrient requirements that will supply you with energy and keep you reasonably healthy. Here’s what you need every day:
- Energy. A diet that doesn’t contain enough energy is the most rapid and dramatic form of malnutrition. Even when you’re resting your body needs energy – a lot of it. Two-thirds of the calories you eat go to maintaining your body temperature. If that falls too low you’ll be dead in a matter of hours, so your body prioritizes finding energy. If there isn’t enough in your diet it starts breaking down stored fat, muscle tissue and even internal organs, so it can convert them into energy. At a bare minimum you need 1,500 calories a day if you’re a man, and 1,200 if you’re a woman. Even at this level you’re going to lose weight, and you’ll lose it faster if you’re working, but it’s enough to stave off malnutrition for a few months.
- Protein. Your body needs to repair and maintain itself, and to manufacture enzymes and hormones. Protein in food provides the building blocks for this – your body can use them to make the more complex proteins it needs. Without enough protein in your diet, you’ll quickly start to feel tired and weak. Your muscle bulk will reduce and wounds will take longer to heal. To stay fit and healthy aim to get 20% of your total calories from protein; for the bare minimum diet we’re looking at that means 300 calories from protein per day for men, and 240 for women. Also try to eat around a gram of protein per day for every two pounds you weigh – if you weigh 150 pounds go for 75g, or about three ounces, of protein.
- Fat. We’re all used to being told to cut down how much fat we eat, but a certain amount of fat is essential. We need fatty acids but our bodies can’t manufacture them, so they have to come from food. Fat is also a good source of energy, but too much of it will cause health problems. Aim for between 25% and 30% of your total calories from fat – that’s 375-450 a day for men and 300-360 a day for women. No more than a third of this should come from saturated fats.
- Fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for health in several ways. It helps prevent constipation, lowers LDL cholesterol levels and stabilizes blood sugar. Women need about an ounce of fiber a day in their diet; men need an ounce and a half.
- Sodium. This is another thing we’re always told to reduce, but we do need some sodium – about half a gram a day is essential. Half a gram of sodium translates to about a gram of salt, and usually we get that and more from the food we eat. On a bare-bones survival diet you’re going to need to add it.
- Vitamins and minerals. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies will kill you in a range of horrible ways. The best way to get all the key nutrients you need is to eat a balanced diet with a good variety of fresh foods – pretty much the opposite of a minimal survival diet.
Planning Your Diet
So, here are the key nutrients you need to survive:
How are you going to get all this from a simple, inexpensive and easily stored reserve? Well, it needs some careful planning – but it’s not impossible. Here’s how to do it.
The goal here is to find food that’s affordable, nutrient-rich and stores well. This isn’t going to be a varied and interesting diet – but it is one that will keep you alive and healthy, and will give you a base that can be supplemented with anything else you can grow, hunt or scavenge.
The core of this diet is three prepper staples – pasta, rice and beans. These are ideal because they’re relatively cheap, good sources of energy, and between them also supply a good amount of protein. You’ll still need extra protein, but most of it will come from these three.
Among the three staples, beans provide the most protein. For this reason, every day the main meal will be a mix of beans and rice. Eating these together gives a complete protein – all the amino acids your body needs. The day’s other meal will have a pasta base.
This diet still won’t give enough protein; to boost its content, and add some flavor, canned tuna in vegetable oil will be included. Undrained, the oil will add extra calories – and also more Omega-6 fatty acids dissolved from the fish.
Extra oil will add more calories and fatty acids.
This diet is based around two meals a day – it’s probably best to make lunch the main one, so you have the energy to get through the afternoon, but you can do whatever works for you.
The main meal is based on four ounces of rice mixed with two ounces of beans, with two tablespoons of oil added. The second meal is four ounces of pasta with another tablespoon of oil. Daily, add two ounces of canned tuna in oil and half a teaspoon of salt to your ration; these can be split between the meals any way you want.
Obviously you can stock up on the ingredients for this diet pretty cheaply. Here’s the price breakdown:
Finally, let’s not forget water. This is essential on its own – dehydration is rapidly and unpleasantly lethal – and you’re also going to need it for cooking and cleaning. The minimum you will need is a gallon a day per person, and if you can store two gallons that will give you a lot more flexibility. Remember that water doesn’t last forever in a container; eventually microbes and other organisms will grow in it. You can slow this process by adding a few drops of bleach per gallon, and water that’s become tainted can usually be purified again by filtering, boiling or chemical treatment, but you’ll save yourself some work in an emergency if you regularly empty your containers, wash them out and refill them with clean water.
This is a very monotonous diet. You’ll be bored of it inside a few days and totally sick of it after a week or two. What you won’t be is actually sick. As long as you remember a daily multivitamin tablet this diet will give you all the nutrients you need to stay alive and reasonably healthy for weeks or even months.
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