Who Needs the Most Food in a Crisis? The elderly? The Young? The Women?

Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason June 19, 2018 06:18

Who Needs the Most Food in a Crisis? The elderly? The Young? The Women?

Rationing is an ominous word. It hints at shortages, deprivation, a struggle to survive. Unfortunately it’s also going to be a fact of life in a SHTF situation, especially when you’re living off stockpiled food as you work to re-establish a supply for yourself. If everyone just eats what they want, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see your food reserves shrinking a lot faster than you’d planned on. Rationing – giving everyone a daily allocation of food, and sticking to it even if they want more – is the only way to ensure your stockpile lasts as long as you need it to.

Getting rationing right can be complicated, though. The classic system is to just give everyone the same ration. That seems fair, and it’s certainly easy to do. Does it make the most efficient use of your precious food, though? Does everyone need the same ration? There are some good arguments to say that they don’t. For example, children are smaller than adults and burn less energy; they don’t need to eat as much. That’s obviously a simple one, but there are others. Does a 180-pound man who’s doing heavy work in the fields all day need more calories than the 150-pound woman who operates the radio? Probably.

It’s possible to get too caught up in this, of course – “Bob does the vehicle maintenance at the end of the work day, so he gets an extra tablespoon of rice” – but it’s not hard to see that some people are going to need more food. Deciding who those people are can cause tension, because when someone’s hungry they’re not too concerned why someone else is getting a bigger ration, but it does need to be done, however hard it is.

Related: What Do You Do When Someone Asks For Food in a Crisis?

And it can be pretty hard. Who do you prioritize? This is a subject that’s generated a lot more heat than light over the years, but you’re going to have to wade in and find an answer that works for you. Here are some of the groups you might decide to give a larger – or smaller – share of the food that’s available.Rationing Strategies Who needs to get most food The elderly The Young The Women 2


I’ve already mentioned that children don’t need as much food, because they’re smaller. In general that means, when things are going to plan, they can get by with a smaller ration than adults get. But what about when things aren’t going to plan? If you find yourself running short of food, you have a tough choice to make. You can reduce rations across the board, or you can reduce adult rations more radically and leave the children’s unchanged.

The second option is tough on the adults, but there’s a good reason to do it. Children don’t just need nutrients to keep them going, like adults do; they also need them to let their bodies develop properly. Short rations in childhood can lead to a lot of problems later – and, in a SHTF situation, that’s going to seriously affect their chances of surviving long-term. As hard as it might be on everyone else, you need to keep children on full rations for as long as you can. Don’t overdo it though – you can’t look after your children if malnutrition has crippled you. This is a very difficult act to balance.


Women are also, on average, smaller than men – and, in most circumstances, their daily calorie needs are about 25% lower than a man’s. If they’re doing hard physical work in a survival situation that gap will narrow, because more of the calories they burn will be going towards working rather than just keeping their (smaller) bodies running, but it won’t close completely. Women will still be able to get by with around 10-15% fewer calories than men.

There are exceptions, though. Women who are pregnant or nursing really are eating for two, and their rations need to reflect that. Malnutrition during pregnancy or nursing is even more risky than in childhood, and you need to avoid it as much as possible – with the same caveat about not starving yourself to the point where you can’t look after the mother and child.Rationing Strategies Who needs to get most food The elderly The Young The Women 2

Related: My Famine Food Storage Menu

Older people

You might have older relatives with you when the crisis hits. That leaves you with decisions to make about what rations they get. In general, you can assume that over-60s need about 10% less calories than a young or middle-aged adult, but it’s going to depend on how active that older person is. If they’re in poor health and don’t get around much it could be 20% or 25% less; if they’re in good shape and doing physical work, they’ll need a full ration. The metabolism slows down as you age, but not always by a lot, so it’s going to have to be worked out for each individual.

The sick

During a major crisis you’re probably going to have to look after any sick or injured group members yourself – our complex, modern health care system is one of the first things that will be overloaded to breaking point as society falls apart. Looking after patients means you have to feed them too – but how much is going to depend on their outlook.

If you think you can nurse someone back to health quickly, so they can play a useful part in your group again, you’re probably going to give them a full ration to help them regain their strength. If they’re seriously ill or dying, though, you need to be objective about how much you can afford to give them. If supplies are holding up well you can afford to be generous; if you’re short, tough decisions have to be made.


Farming, foraging, rebuilding, cutting firewood and even standing guard are all tough physical work, and the people who do them are going to need to keep their strength up. That makes them a priority for whatever rations you have available. This can sound a bit counter-intuitive; after all we’re talking about the healthiest people, the ones who have the reserves of physical strength to put up with short rations for a while. The problem is, those reserves will soon be depleted if they’re not eating properly, and the whole group’s survival depends on the hardest workers being in good shape.

Deciding what rations everyone gets can be hard; sticking to it once you’ve decided is even harder. Hungry people just want more food, and don’t really care about the logic that says they get less than someone else. You’ll come under a lot of pressure to increase rations. Don’t do it; you can’t run the risk of ending up with no food at all. As long as the rations are enough to keep people healthy – but maybe not happy – you need to resist any appeals.

Successful rationing is all about the greatest good of the greatest number. In extreme cases this can mean making some very tough decisions; if food is running low, can you afford to give some to someone who’s terminally ill? It might be more sensible to give it to a healthy person who can contribute to the group. What matters is that you allocate food in a way that ensures the largest possible number of group members will survive. The details will depend on your group’s own circumstances, but the basic principles are simple enough.

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Fergus Mason
By Fergus Mason June 19, 2018 06:18
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  1. Spike June 19, 18:02

    Seems like a bathroom scale could be valuable tool. Most of us fat Americans don’t need to maintain our weight while someone skinny or growing does. Ration accordingly.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Hard Decisions, not PC June 19, 18:28

    Totally not PC here, but…
    1. What adjustments ought to be considered for people who are overweight? With more stored calories, do you think they deserve a smaller portion?
    2. What adjustments ought to be considered for people who are incapable of doing as much work as the able-bodied?

    Reply to this comment
    • Allen June 19, 21:22

      It all depends on the amount of food number of people number of weeks or months till crops come in if at all. You have to think of the majority welfare and not about. Anyone persons wants or needs. If you want the fat person to have more. But don’t want to effect the plan give him yours. Same with the person incapable of doing much. When SHTF as far as food goes it will be a live or die pattern of life. Give someone more that doesn’t deserve it. You will have to take from someone that did. No if and or buts about it. I know it sounds cold but it’ll sound colder when there’s no more food to go around and crops still got another month before they are ready to pick

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      • left coast chuck June 20, 00:16

        Let’s assume that you want the fat person to lose weight so that he can move better and won’t need as many calories (food). And, further, let’s suppose he resists going on a mandatory diet and creates a stir about only 2,000 calories per day when he has been accustomed to stuffing 3500+ a day in his pie hole for the last umpteen years. Now what will you do? What will you do? — to steal a line from Carl Malden. Carl Who? No, not Carl Who, Carl Malden. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. Sometimes the evil twin takes over completely)

        Do you come right out and tell him he is grossly overweight and for the good of the group he is going to have to suck it up? (wrong metaphor but I hope you get the drift)

        Do you give him a time limit? Does he go cold turkey? Suppose he is the group guru? He knows about animal husbandry. He can shoe a horse, birth a calf, knows about when to plant, what to plant and the best place to plant it. He is also the best shot in the group and can hit the ram at 600 yards nine times out of ten, offhand with iron sights? Then what?

        Raised some good questions, Claude. These kinds of posts raise some interesting ethical questions that we need to at least think about before we actually have to do something about it.

        While we can’t come to a definitive answer not being in the situation, it is good to at least consider the problem and see what others have to say about it. Someone else may have a perspective that never occurred to you.

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    • Spike June 19, 21:54

      I’ve got to chuckle. If TSHTF, I think all PC will go out the door.

      In regard to your comment though, If an overweight person is given the same ration as a normal hard working individual…I dare say he will start to lose weight if he does his share of physical work. Loathers will not be tolerated. He definitely doesn’t deserve a larger ration just because he is bigger and needs more to maintain his weight. I know from my own experience that if I would just work harder like I did when I was younger(I’m 60) I would drop 20 lbs pretty quick and then would not have any extra reserve around the waist.

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  3. Frank June 19, 19:53

    It’s obvious that people need to raise tons of food, thus that would a major priority and where most of your people’s energy will be expended. Even while some are dedicated to maintaining security, or production of yarn, or scavenging, or water harvesting, I think food production and caring for livestock are things everybody should be a part of unless they simply suck at those things and you have everyone doing what they do best. Having food and water is what most are worried about and nobody wants to run out of.
    And with that, I say if people want to eat well, they should help to ensure enough is planted, grown, raised, picked, butchered, processed and stored to satisfy everyone.

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  4. left coast chuck June 19, 21:25

    And if you are the keeper of the food, who is going to enforce the diet you have set for yourself? When hunger pangs are twisting your gut are you going to be able to resist raiding the food cupboard and stuffing yourself on the sly?

    Or will you somehow find a justification for your extra calories to the detriment of others in your group?

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    • Wannabe June 21, 20:27

      Have two keepers of the food and they never go into the reserves alone. That way it minimizes any thoughts of others thinking you stole and keeps accountability where it should be.

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      • JakeTP June 21, 21:30

        Maybe a tad off subject Wannabe but you do raise an important part of survival, perhaps the most important. When all is said and done, within the confines of the types of events we are talking about. It all boils down to trust. Whether it is who gets what to eat, who you let in,who you help, who does the foraging, who carries a weapon or who’s on watch, it is all a matter of trust.

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  5. Wannabe June 19, 21:40

    I think I can answer this question without reading the article. The one with the least amount of food.

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    • left coast chuck June 20, 00:27

      Ah, but suppose the one with the least amount of food is in that condition due to his lack of foresight and, perhaps, even having been apprised of the need to prepare just was so unmotivated that he almost deliberately put himself in that position. How do you treat that individual?

      Suppose all he brings to the table is a pudgy body and a promise to really work hard although the only time he has ever lifted a shovel was in Home Depot because it was blocking the potato chip display?

      Suppose he has never owned a gun, thinks all firearms are fully automatic and cannot describe the difference between a rifle and a shotgun?

      Doesn’t know a goat from a sheep and has never considered how the meat in the grocery store actually gets on a styrofoam tray?

      However he has been salesman of the year for the last four years running for moving more iron off the floor than any other salesman at the Chevy dealership in town.

      Does he get to share in your prudently stored up food based on his promise to work really, really hard?

      Reply to this comment
      • Wannabe June 20, 01:09

        Pun was intended with my comment my friend. Lol. Sometimes I need to post sarcastically just to keep from being serious most of the time

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        • Allen June 20, 06:30

          You start off with modest amount of trust one or two full meals for work after that no result no food. Tough shit. in a community after SHTF there is no room for free loaders. If they don’t know how they have two meals to learn, It can be done war prisoners and slaves have proved it over and over again. If you want to be lacks on this in a community don’t let the others in the community suffer for your unwillingness to act. instead shorten your ration and your family for them. After a day or to of that you may not give a dam about them anymore. But to late your family is hungry and there is nothing you can do about that. If they don’t know the job then they learn or go hungry. No exceptions no mercury. Or you pay a high price. Also if you have different jobs someone that doesn’t know anything about any of them might be able to do one better than the other. Your not going to put a 400 lb out in the hot summer sun plowing but he may work good on something else at least till his new diet gets him down a bit. All in all common sense on who eats most and for how long based on supplies And none of the past time big eaters will go hungry for to long your body adjust within 3 to 5 weeks on average.

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        • left coast chuck June 20, 14:45

          I agree, humor helps. I find, however, that sometimes my attempts at humor fall flat. I guess I will keep my day job after all. But then even some professional comedians had their humor fall flat, even such greats as Bob Hope and Johnny Carson.

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  6. Canuck June 20, 00:22

    There are some choices i wouldn’t want to face, like seeing hungry eyes of my loved ones. No effing way! I am stockpiling three times more than needed and have all my scenarios of food production: hunt, fish, farm for way more people than my location can accomodate.

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  7. Labienus June 20, 07:36

    It’s one thing to say you need discipline and the ability to make tough choices. I want you to actually do it. Go for three months on sparse rations. Look at your loved ones starving faces and tell them you won’t feed them more than their meager rations. Tell that to your elderly parents or your best friend. See how long it takes for their hunger to override their love of you with their need to get needed food and nutrients. If enough people are denied food and kept perpetually starving, they will turn on you. Your soldiers and hard workers will mean nothing when the rest of your group revolts and either get all killed, enough of the workers die or get seriously injured, or they wipe you out and take all you have.

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  8. Proud Deplorable June 20, 12:58

    This discussion actually fits in well with the earlier topic where we all talked about being a lone wolf or part of a group. It is one of the reasons I intend to remain solo and only allow some members of my immediate family the benefit of my preparations. I generally agree with what many have said here in that anyone I allow in must contribute. If you can’t make life better for me I don’t need you whether you are old, young or over weight. People that cannot contribute will eventually cause resentment in the group which can blossom in bigger problems.
    Contribution to the group can come in different forms of course and is not necessarily physical labor. Anyway taking my guidelines into account everyone gets the same ration regardless of age or size as long as they make a positive contribution. If they are a slug they are out, if they got in to begin with.

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  9. Sally June 21, 18:52

    Never, NEVER let someone live in your camp that does not come with their own preparations. Everyone helps with common jobs like community gardens and animals. But everyone has their own preparation supplies.

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    • Labienus June 21, 19:06

      Question is, do share personal preps with others during hard times, or do you heard them?

      If you do distribute them around, do you just do it or do you need their consent? Do they get compensated for the loss of their personal preps?

      If you don’t, are you ok with letting them survive over others, even loved ones?

      Personally, if someone joins my group, their preps become a group prep. If they have an issue, they can leave or we will just take it.

      What are your thoughts, Sally?

      Reply to this comment
      • Allen June 23, 18:07

        If I was forced to leave a group because of issues that be over all ok. But if my preps where not returned to me rest assured at a time convenient to me and not you I’d be back. To take what was mine with interest, plus a few lives that you may hold dear if they got in the way. Remember I was in your camp know all about it. Where everyone is and defences. Point is if you kick me out return what isn’t yours, the price may be way more than you will be wanting to pay for it. Now that, that is said someone coming with nothing you may want to hold back on that issue. What if that person showing up with nothing is a Doctor or a metal worker with the skills of making you weapons. If your not a 100% self dependent prepper you will need help from others and in a SHTF most people won’t have prepes and because you don’t know how to do everything needed to survive you will need help. To highlight a few fields, Medical, Iron and wood workers, farmers, Elections if you have generators and with that Mechanics Fighters to defend Builders and general workers, as time goes on children are born you’ll need teachers. Now the odds of these people coming to you without preps after SHTF are high but again I say if your not 100% self sufficient you’ll need them all and they most likely will be coming with nothing more than the cloths on their back. And at the same time you would be wise to keep an eye on them. Yea he may be a doctor and a dam good one. but he may also be an excapited person from jail or a nut house. What to do.Oh what to do. On this I can’t give advise because the number of variables small shelter, Large shelter with to many to keep an eye on any one. and whose to say the person you put over him isn’t the nut case. Oh What To Do. Play it by ear, but keep in mind their skills may out way anything else short of killing of people. After all you may be at the mercy of the person that electrifies your perimeter for you protection, When he figures out he is the only one that knows how to do it. Or the doctor treating your wife/husband wanting his demand meet or let your spouse die etc. All this is based on the need to survive and survive in a group. the good news is all the above is worst case and most unlikely each member of the group will know that their life is depended on the group and with fair knowledgeable and strong leadership a group will many skills prosper and get stronger as time goes on.

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  10. Wannabe June 21, 19:58

    Think of it this way. When Europeans first started coming over to the new world, many had the idea of everybody helped themselves to the supplies they brought with them as a group. It became very apparent that some did not want to work to help with the cause so they came up with the law that if you don’t work you don’t eat. Eventually families got self sufficient but were able to trade, barter , or even sell their goods to one another as the community got larger. Nobody took from one another without serious consequences. Everybody goes into the group with their own preps, live off those the best they can, trade or barter with others but your preps are yours to do what you please with. Don’t even think about taking from another without serious consequences.

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  11. Running Stump June 23, 16:59

    If they be hungry! Then they can raise sprouts only takes a week or so for a harvest as long as they do not pull the plant out and eat the roots.

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  12. CarmenO July 17, 20:03

    There is another thing to take into consideration. I’m assuming that “working hard” includes growing food. I know how I would deal with the division of supplies. I live alone, but my daughter and her husband are not far. I taught her from childhood that storing food was essential, so they have plenty of their own. Back to growing. You have to also make decisions of what you are going to grow. Example: people like corn but being that most corn comes one to a plant, they are very inefficient, so you have to figure out what is a better use for your garden or farm, even if it’s something you are not crazy about. Example beets store for many months, same as Butternut squash, by many I mean they can last from one harvest to the next. Some things you can process in jars to last you for years, others can not even store for a week. Some things dehydrate great others not. So it’s not who gets what, it’s what is the best thing to grow and store. Rice expands when cooked, you add some wild edibles and seasoning and tiny pieces of meat mixed in go a long way and you can pretend you had a meat dish. I agree that overweight people should get less (unless the food is theirs, then they can be generous and eat less). By the way, I fall under overweight so it’s not being prejudiced. I grow a lot but you can bet I try to grow things that only need me during planting and harvesting time and maybe when it doesn’t rain much.

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  13. mkj April 4, 21:53

    one of my anthropology professors said that the idea that “men need meat” is common all over the world, but that it’s a fallacy, that the biological truth is that it is growing children and women of childbearing age who need meat.
    Unfortunately, due to the apparently innate selfishness of men, women and children end up weaker and unhealthier than they need to be. Protein and fat deprivation also permanently stunts the IQ of children.

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  14. MKJ April 4, 22:03

    I’m reading the autobiography of Frederick Forsyth right now, who was a multi-lingual british intelligence officer for decades. He was in Africa when a section of Nigeria tried to go independent and become its own country of Biafra. Over a million children starved to death and another two million were permanently physically and intellectually stunted when the people in cut-off “Biafra” ate all their livestock and forgot to save some for breeding stock to keep their protein supplies going. They had gotten dependent on dried cod as a storebought staple and it was cut off during the war. I don’t know about you, but having 2 million permanently physically stunted, permanently retarded people, is not the way to build a new society. Those members are going to be Special Needs their entire lives.
    Repeated famines and feeding children almost nothing but starch was the way that the british took over Ireland also. Weaken the people by keeping the children and babies hungry and protein deprived, so they cannot develop their brains to the level needed to take care of themselves and their society. Makes them easy to manipulate. I believe Plato also said to never feed slaves meat. The fossil record show that large human brains go along with consumption of animal protein and saturated animal fat. The ruling classes kept a steady supply of those foods to their children. The slave class, taxed class, working class, etc feed their children much more starch and often formula or animal milk rather than human milk. If you want smart, healthy kids to take over the society someday (so you can retire), you have to raise them to have their maximum size, strength, and intellect. That means, long term nursing, and plenty of meat and animal fat, I’d say 3x/day, until they are grown. The time frames for rapid brain growth are conception to age 3, then the body does some rapid growth to gain full height, during which time the size of the brain finishes its last size growth period, ending around age 12. The IQ then finishes maximizing until the late 20s in most people. Some people have the ability to continue learning longer, but there is definitely a “window”. People in active learning need to have enough protein, b12, fat, etc to put away the information effectively into their long term memory. Only a minimum of older people have much ability to learn new things, thus utilize their skill set for what it is but don’t ask them to try to learn how to do umpteen new things, it won’t be time well spent, spend it teaching the kids who are blank slates with brains that, if well fed, can’t help but learn new skills at a breakneck speed as their brain lays down new braincells at a rapid pace. This goes for any skill you can think of, including foreign languages that may become very useful to know, and all kinds of skill sets.

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  15. mkj April 4, 22:09

    Every prep set needs to include caffeine pills as well as appetite suppressants like Dexatrim.
    SO SO many americans are overweight. Every pound of body fat is 12,000 calories stored.
    2/3 of American adults are overweight.
    I am not going to ask kids and thin healthy people to cannibalize their own muscle to hurt their own well being in order to keep the overweight overweight. That being said, I would not torture the overweight with hunger pangs. Appetite suppressants help a lot.

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  16. MKJ April 4, 22:11

    Hutterites are supposed to live communally, including all food purchase, preparation and meal eating. However, I’ve heard reports that the women are putting locks on freezers for food for their personal families and also getting in trouble for hoarding, sneaking, etc for their own families.

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  17. MKJ April 4, 22:16

    I know a couple people who grew up on “The Farm” in Tennessee, which was vegan, both for philosophical reasons and because they were taking everyone in and having too many kids and ending up impoverished. The kids were stealing dry cat food and got into trouble for it, because they were so protein deprived. I’ve noticed some permanent lack of logic in these adult members who were raised with protein deprivation. Like, they miss very obvious logical points others see instantly, they call themselves “artists” but their art permanently looks like an 8 yr olds no matter how they work at it. Unfortunately, feeding growing children with a vegan diet leads to brains stunting. This worked out fine if you want short, stunted, stupid, low IQ people for labor and taxes. But to have a smart and ethical society, we can’t be stunting the growth of our future leaders, caretakers, etc. Stunting the IQ of the children leads to takeover by other groups eventually, fall-apart of the whole community, etc.

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  18. MKJ April 4, 22:24

    The books of Helen Keith (“3 Came Home” etc), Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Long Winter, 8 months of starvation and ruthlessness in a snowed-in town cut off from supplies), and Selco should tell you what you need to know about group dynamics in starvation, also Stud’s Terkel’s “Hard Times” and other Depression first person accounts. Typically women will sacrifice for their children, but steal from other women for their kids, men will steal food away from women and kids both including to drink smoke etc. for their own amusement. In “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt, he talks about the lengths his mother would go to to wheedle food out of shopkeepers and aid agencies, but also when her husband was around she and he would waste food money on cigarettes. How starving children were asked to carry food to the working men with jobs (the only ones apparently worthy of food). Etc.

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