Healthy Food to Eat When Life Gives You Rotten Lemons


healthy food in an emergency - unprocessed foods

Flooded basements. A metropolitan city on lockdown. Dozens of homes demolished or damaged. Underwater sewage treatment plants (or almost).

The Boston Marathon tragedy began an awful, awful, news week. Every time we turned around, someone else was in trouble somewhere in the country.

The transition from life being normal to being in disarray is not nearly as fun as discussing the seasonal transition from spring to summer and all the lovely produce that brings for most locales, but it’s these transitions – and the people who had to endure them – that are on my mind lately.

Two things that all the events of last month have in common are:

  1. They’re on my “hope I never have to experience that” list
  2. They impact the normal food system flow and remind people that they can’t always hit the next fast food chain when they’re hungry.

Did you know the average American has less than three days’ worth of food on hand at home?

healthy food in an emergency


On the surface, that may seem like a simplification of life. No extra food, no need for storage. Perhaps these people are shopping like the French and buying what they need for dinner each day at the market.

Or perhaps they’re relying on convenience foods and eating out most days.

What looks simple and clutter-free is really a recipe for chaos on a daily basis. “What are we going to eat?” is not a stress-free question to have hanging over your head three times a day.

If you’re going to have any healthy food to eat, planning ahead is a must.

I know some folks get really into “prepping” and it becomes a hobby, or sometimes even more intense than a hobby. If you feel compelled to be completely prepared, I honor that. Today, however, I want to offer some baby steps for basic preparedness for those who are closer to the “3 days worth of food on  hand” average than the “3 months food and water supply for everyone in the house, organized on index cards and rotated every 6 months” ideal.

If you have some non-perishable food stocked up and basic supplies, being on lockdown or otherwise being unable to access a grocery store – even because of something as simple but unexpected as breaking your leg or getting the flu – won’t be a major disaster, but a manageable bump in the road.


1. Buy a few extra canned goods and dry goods all month long whenever you see them on sale. Commit to building your stash to have at least a week’s worth of food on hand, if you don’t already.

Focus more on unprocessed foods over additive-laden boxes that may tempt:

  • dry and/or canned beans
  • canned fish like tuna or salmon (can be eaten without heating, very helpful)
  • shelf-stable traditional fats, like coconut oil
  • dried fruit
  • nuts (be sure to rotate these by consuming them regularly; nuts don’t last forever)
  • whole grains like rice, oatmeal, or quinoa, or simple healthy cereals
  • dried onion and garlic for seasoning

2. Collect some real food recipes that use the dry goods you are stocking. Make sure you know how to use them (and consider whether you could use a propane grill or alternate energy source if your electricity is cut off).

3. Buy a manual can opener. All those cans won’t do any good if you can’t open them. 😉

Having fresh, potable water available is another topic in itself, but if you want to store up some water for an emergency reason, know that each person and animal in your home should have a gallon a day. Contrary to what I would have thought a year ago, water does go bad. You can’t just buy a few gallon jugs of water, stick them in your basement, and check “store water” off your list for the next five years. You need to rotate about every 6 months.

Keep in mind that you should rotate your store of canned and dry goods too. Best practice is to simply eat an unprocessed, real food diet all the time, and then you’ll naturally use what you have and replenish it with a few extras.


If you’re a gardener or preserve the summer harvest, if you shop in bulk and make use of sales, you may naturally have plenty of food on hand. What may not come so natural is making sure you rotate through it regularly.

For those of you with a nice stash, consider taking a “No Grocery Store for a Month” Challenge as summer knocks on our doors. Simplify shopping and cooking to try to make use of your pantry stores while embracing fresh produce.

Using what you have and only shopping at farmers’ markets for salad greens and stuff may make a nice transition to the summer season – for me, summertime shopping is always much different than winter shopping anyway. I can hit a grocery store maybe once a month, easily, instead of the every two weeks I explained in last month’s post. The “No Grocery” challenge is just one way to keep you conscious about your food and remind you to use what you have stored up, then replenish it.

Here’s more on real food preparedness resources and 10 Baby Steps to Emergency Preparedness, if you want to go just a wee bit further than these three steps.

What are your most important items/foods to have available in case life is interrupted?

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