The nutrient-dense food storage pantry

A few weeks ago, one of my readers sent me a link to an article on Survival Blog, “Let’s Talk About Calories Per Dollar.” I’m a fan of James Rawles’ site, so I was interested in what the author had to say about food storage and calories.

image by vavivix

To summarize, the article encourages readers to stock up on high-calorie foods, correctly stating, ” In a post-SHTF scenario [without the benefit of power tools, most water pumps, and gas engine vehicles], the general activity level of the populace will most certainly increase, so most people can expect their current calorie requirement to go well above their BMR (basal metabolic rate).”

She continues, “The true goal of storing food is to be able to provide enough calories to sustain life.”

I agree that a healthy amount of calories per person per day is an important component in food storage but I disagree with so much focus on calories. Looking around at our populace, calorie intake sure doesn’t seem to be much of a problem and we have dozens of food-related maladies as proof.

Again from the article, “Conversely, the items that cost more per calorie are usually those things that you are allowed to eat without consequence on a diet.  These would include spinach, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.  Like we saw above, you can eat a whole 14 ounce can of green beans from the grocery store and only get 70 calories.”

Fewer calories, yes, but what about their important nutrients?

Her choices:

  • “Creamy condensed soups usually contain more calories than their ready-to-eat counterparts because you are storing less water in the can.  One brand of cream of chicken soup on my pantry shelf has 300 calories per can, which is fantastic.”
  • “And, remember the ever-favorite ramen noodles.  At our local grocer, you can get a 12-pack of ramen for $2.44.  Each individual pack contains 380 calories, giving 4560 calories in the box.  So, ramen yields 1,869 cal per dollar spent.  Pretty impressive!”
  • Long grain white rice:  50# bag for $16.86.   There are 1650 calories per pound which gives 82,500 calories in the bag.  So, you get 4893 calories/dollar spent.”

There’s a problem with this method of food storage that focuses primarily on calories: it’s not healthy! Who cares what the calorie count is if the nutrition value is nil? A bag of potato chips is loaded with calories, far more than a huge, delicious salad with lean meats, hard boiled eggs and an olive oil dressing, but it’s the salad that has the best nutritional value, not the chips, in spite of their high calorie count. A hearty chicken soup wins, hands down, over the chips as well.

In fact, the recommendation to stock up on white flour and starchy vegetables is a proven path to diabetes and other ailments.

A few years ago I taught a food storage class and a woman who attended said, “Lisa, the reason so many Americans are overweight is because our food isn’t nutritionally dense. We eat but our bodies aren’t satisfied, so we eat some more.” She had an excellent point, and this is where I believe we can improve our food storage pantries: evaluate our food storage by the nutritional density of each food.

Personally, I have purchased large amounts of freeze-dried, dehydrated, and even canned vegetables and fruit. I have seeds that can be sprouted, providing my family with enormous amounts of micronutrients. We do have wheat and rice, but it’s important to know how to add extra nutrition to those basics (see my recipe for Super Rice as an example).

So how can you best add nutrient dense foods to your pantry?

  1. Buy coconut oil as well as olive oil for daily cooking and for adding to recipes in order to increase both their calories as well as fat content. These healthy oils are necessary for healthy bodies.
  2. Stock up on more nutritious versions of grocery store foods, e.g. whole wheat pasta, brown rice.
  3. Buy quality nutritional supplements* and multivitamins.
  4. Learn about grains other than wheat, such as spelt and stock up on chia seeds, millet, and flaxseed. These can be added to numerous recipes in order to increase their nutritional value.
  5. Take a look at the line of foods from Enerhealth Botanicals*. I interviewed one of their executives, Darren Craddock, in a Survival Mom webinar, and he has a wealth of information for improving our diets.

Specifically, learn about Enerhealth Botanicals’ organic Enerfood Super Green Energy Drink. This is a powder that can be added to a drink and includes all organic ingredients, such as spirulina, wheat grass, horsetail (excellent from strong teeth), kelp, spinach, alfalfa, and a lot more. The stuff tastes very, very green, but is a super-charged nutritional that is also high in protein.

I also like Enerhealth’s Coconut Milk Powder, which can be added to juice or a smoothie and is rich in nutrients. Not so high in calories but dense where it counts.

All this isn’t to say that calories aren’t important, but in no way should we be amassing foods that are only high in calories and will provide a diet that will lead to serious nutritional deficiencies. As with everything, find and maintain a balance! That’s a survival lesson that never fails.

*Enerhealth Botanicals is not an advertiser nor an affiliate. I just like their high quality products and recommend them.


There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. says

    Great article and THANK YOU for pointing out the pitfalls of relying solely on calorie content for good return on nutritional investment – if your stomach is so bloated and your metabolism is so taxed by a nutritionally suspect calorie load, how can you expect to keep up with what will likely be the very vigorous demands of a prolonged crisis? Answer: you can’t.

    I would argue, though, that white rice is an excellent choice not only to add calories and heft to a meal, it stores better than brown, is cheaper, is easier to prepare, and falls in the “safe starch” category for most folks with digestive issues. If the rest of the meal is balanced, using rice for its starch value is preferable to trying to get blood out of turnip, which is often the case with improperly prepared “whole” grains, including brown rice.

    • says

      I knew when I listed brown rice that people would comment about its shorter shelf life, but if it can be kept very cold, say in a cellar or basement, it lasts a lot longer than you might think. Your comment about balancing white rice with an otherwise densely nutritious meal is a good one. Thanks for commenting!

      • Pat says

        If you properly vacuum seal brown rice it can last for decades. I dehydrate hundreds of pounds of veggies, fruits, rices, flours,meats that last for very long shelf lives. Let me know it you want some tips.

  2. says

    Great article! In the short term emergency, (weather, etc.) high calorie foods work well if you have some vitamin supplements. In the long term emergency, you better be getting those vitamins with your food AS WELL AS vitamin supplements.

  3. MikeM says

    I planed on not commenting, so that I don’t get a reputation as a full-time contrarian. But I couldn’t control myself.

    I prep my long term food storage with exactly a calories per dollar mindset. White sugar, white rice, pasta, polenta, rolled oats, wheat berries, lentils, pintos. These are the only foods I can afford to buy and store in the quantities I have/want to accumulate (6 months to 1 year for a family of 3 +- (big me, small wife, 2 little ones 1yo. 3yo)). My only nutritional considerations for long term storage are calories per day and grams of protein per day.

    Where will I get my vitamins? I can’t tell you for sure. But I assume I will have a lot of time to think about that. Probably: fresh meat, eggs?, dandelions?, pine needle tea?, daily multivitamins?

    Would I reject storing dehydrated, canned, or freeze dried fruits and veggies if they were free – heck no. Will I pay for them on my limited budget of $50/month – heck no.

    Do I eat this way now – heck no. I do eat what I store of the rice, beans, pasta, and wheat every week but I supplement with veggies (mostly frozen), fresh fruit, and meat. It will be the families job to gather, grow, and trade for nutrients if it is ever necessary. But we will have our calories provided for.

    To each their own, but on my limited budget I don’t see a better way.

    • nini2033a says

      another thing you might think about, is with your monthly allotment of $50, keep your eyes open for a dehydrator in a thrift shop or on craigslist. Then dehydrate bags of frozen veggies. They are cheap, easy to store and can add veggies and fruits to your family storage without a great cost. You can glean fruits in the summer, make fruit leathers and even powder them in a blender to keep for making smoothies for your kids to be sure they get vitamins along with their milk.

      • kirsten h says

        i own a dehydrator. as it happens a nesco/american harvester (made in the usa) … its 20 years old, at least, and while a tad cranky, still works great. YES i want an excaliber, but until i have the $$$?

        i am on a severe budget, that is.. food stamps. so let me share a few tips on adding god nutriant balance to your budget food storage

        1. as survival mom has said…. sprouting ANYTHING adds way tons of nutrition. wheat berries? thats wheat grass. tastes funny but packed with nutrients… dried beans? thats bean sprouts (tasty those)
        dried beans are cheap, and sprouted means B vitamins that you NEED.

        2. find your local food pantry… keep hunting until you find the one that gets the “waste produce” in your area (if you do not find one, ask the local grocers if you can haul their waste produce away for your “chickens” or whatever.

        my local food pantry has produce on one day.. and bread and etc on another. not as many people show up for produce, and we get CASE loads of it.
        often not so great, getting ready to go bad.

        if you are prepared to can, dehydrate, or otherwise store this immediately you can get sme great deals.
        we got three FLATS of grapes. free. their only concern was that we wouldnt be able to use them before they spoiled.
        ok, about 1/3 f them where moldy. we pitched those
        the rest? helooo grape jelly

        the BOX (20 pounds) of raw fresh spinach? shared among the neighbors and then dehydrated and vacuum packed
        you get the idea

  4. frank says

    White rice is a good item and can be ground into a passable flour. One of my favorite and easy to digest high calorie storage foods is good ole peanut butter. 2 tablespoons has about 200 calories , does not need to be cooked and can be eaten on the go. Can also be added to a lot of other items to strech and lessen food fatigue. Don’t remember the recipe but pb can made into great cookies with sugar and vanilla and no flour, who wouldn’t want a peanut butter cookie on a bad day after stuff hits the fan.

  5. Sandra says

    I completely agree with this article. Our ancestors were movers. They didn’t have big machinery or power tools.They also didn’t have cream soups and ramen noodles. They ate nutrient dense foods from the flora and fauna available to them. Nuts, seeds, wild plants and fruits in addition to whatever may have been hunted. It was enough to sustain them. The problem I foresee if our current society loses the abilitity to shop for food at the grocery is more about system shock. Those who are used to eating a high calorie, highly saturated fat, largely portioned diet (which as pointed out is much of our modern population)will definitely have a hard time adjusting to a perfectly sustainable diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and some meats. Not only mentally, but their bodies have probably become accustomed to needing the heavy starches, the high calorie, and the sugar laden foods. There will be a time of mental and physical adjustment, but if you eat a healthy diet now and home can, buy pre canned, or dehydrate fruits and vegetables as well as exercise and keep active, your body should do just fine on a more nutrient dense, lower calorie diet in the future. That is my opinion based on years of research and personal experience.

  6. Sandra says

    Oops, I guess I should clarify that I mean our far, far distant ancestors, obviously 100 years ago they could make homemade cream soups and asian countries were eating non packaged ramen noodles.

  7. says

    Great Article. I agree nutrition is key when trying to store the proper food. I read a different article the other day that talked about how obese people are really starving themselves to death. The reason they continue to hunger for more food is because their brain is telling them to continue eating because the body still hasn’t receive the nutrition it needs. Nutrition is much more important than calories. If people would focus more on the nutritional side of things they wouldn’t have so many cravings.

  8. Lindsay says

    Thank you for this! You’ve brought some sense to this topic. Another point that is missed in the original (referenced) article is what will FILL YOU UP. Calories are a small piece of the puzzle – some are empty, some are very filling. I can eat three packs of ramen and be hungry an hour later. OR, I can eat two eggs on a whole grain flatbread bun with avocado and be full for four hours. Proteins and whole grains will give your body the energy needed to perform the tasks the original author is describing. Ask athletes or anyone who does heavy labour – you’re not going to do a full day on cream soups and white rice. Gads. And as you describe, vegetables and other nutrient dense foods will keep you healthy and strong. I can’t imagine trying to live post-SHTF without antioxidants. You’d succumb to illness pretty quick.

    • charley says

      whole grain toast with chunky peanutbutter for breakfast keeps me full well into the afternoon. Many other foods will leave me hungry again within a couple hours.

  9. Chandra says

    I recently got funky pumpkins at wally world for a quarter a pound. and theyre delicious. Reasonably calorie dense and very nutrient dense. Plus they keep under the bed for months. Long enough for me as I eat from my storage all the time.

  10. countrygirl says

    Good article, I think you make some good points, but would argue that you have to balance the budget with the calories, nutrients you can afford.

    I store some of the cheaper lower nutrient foods and a lot of the higher nutrient foods. Beans and whole grains, I figure are calorie dense and reasonable nutrition.

    Lisa, you say peanut butter is in your top ten list, do you have the rest of your top ten list somewhere? I’d be interested in that.

  11. Magpie57 says

    I agree with you that there’s a lot more to good nutrition than just packing in the calories. One of the downsides of relying on those high calorie and expensive MREs and bags of beef jery that a lot of male survivalists like to stock up on is that eating just this stuff will get you really, really constipated. It is always a good idea to have plenty of high fiber food choices in your survival pantry. Dried beans are inexpensive and high fiber. If you have the ability of grind your own wheat, then whole grain baked goods will give you lots of fiber too. Small cans of low-sugar syrup fruit, carrots, green beans, collard greens, tomatoes, turnip greens, mustard greens, pickled beets and sauerkraut all privide good levels of fiber and the house brands found at the major chain stores and supermarkts are modestly priced. Yes, commercially canned goods may only have a two-year shelf life, but if you are stocking up on stuff you will actually use when it gets to within 6 mos of its expiration, such canned goods are a thrifty choice if you do not have the option to grow your own produce and do home canning.

    • Rebekah says

      So many product “expiration dates” last much longer than their printed date. While I understand the notion that it’s to protect the business from getting sued I really think that is only a small part of the reasoning behind the practice. Think how much more business companies get by printing these dates on their goods. My mom just got rid of 3 grocery bags full of 72 hr. kit stuff because of “expired food” but most of it is still good – score for me. I’ve used canned goods beyond their date many times without any issues. Generally things like oils, nuts, seeds, and dry boxed goods containing a lot of oils will go rancid which you want to aviod due to the taste but even then they generally won’t hurt someone (I’ve tasted it, recognized the rancidness then threw out – but I never got sick from doing that).

  12. says

    The suggestion to stock up on ramen noodles needs to be questioned. The sodium content in ramen noodles is so high that anyone battling hypertension would have problems here. In fact a diet which consist of large quantities of these noodles really isn’t healthy for anyone. Maybe once in a while in combination with other healthy food but like you said, in moderation.

    • charley says

      I keep stocked on ramen noodles as PART of my overall pantry. I know they aren’t very nutritious but they are cheap, filling, and most people like them.(including myself) They have an incredibly long shelf life, and can be perpared with little to no energy. (put them in a bowl with water for several hours, drain, add the seasoning packet. They can be eaten as is or warmed) Rotating them in as one meal even on a daily basis is a cheap way to supliment everything else you have. And if it came to helping out others I always have ramen noodles to spare to give someone a filling, easy meal.

  13. says

    There are a LOT of Americans today that are pre-diabetic, or right on the verge of it. Foods like white rice and other processed starches can kick someone right into the diabetic world if not watched. Overwieght preppers should get diabetes screenings to see where they stand. If diabetes is a real concern, his choice to control it might be (without insulin available) a high protein, high fat diet. This would be one choice for getting the increased caloric needs filled in a TEOTWAWKI situation.

    A friend of mine lost 10 pounds in 6 days, equating to over 6,000 calories more than he took in each day. This was on a hunting trip in some rough terrain with a lot of tracking and moving. Use your imagination. There are a lot of situations that might equal this as far as energy expenditures go. If your food prepping is a simple exercise in extending your current situation, then stocking along the lines of your current dietary makeup is a place to start. If you are looking to really anchor yourself in a difficult world, your diet will need to change now, before the need arises then.

    Which brings me to the end of an unplanned long post. Food really is the starting point for a larger discussion. It is the beginning of your health plan, which includes physical conditioning and mental discipline. I see preppers that look no different from the blimps in the WalMart aisles and think, “That one is dead long before the rest.” Seriously, our individual disciplines should be no different from each other on this one point: We need to be as fit as our physiology allows. And this begins with food. Some may need to go the inexpensive route in order to get anything done. But their exercise program will make them better suited to survive on limited amounts of food, and foods of lesser quality. Get a food plan, yes. But get a work-out plan, too. Your wallet will love you in the long run.


  14. moshe says

    It’s not about simple calories, but “nutrient density” is too vague. Your diet, in an emergency, has to provide what my three MREs a day provide me in the field — 4000 calories to march and fight on, with all the necessary vitamins, and the correct mix of protein, fat and carbohydrate. If you are serious about your “survival food”, you had better take the FDA recommended daily allowances for the sit-in-your-chair 2000-calorie diet, double them and plan accordingly.

  15. says

    That totally makes sense. This is a problem with people now and we’re not even in any sort of serious crisis. They just eat nutrient empty foods and wonder why they always feel like crap.

  16. Dana says

    There is some pretty good evidence (and my own experience) that says we eat more calories because we’re already metabolically deranged, not the opposite. In other words, people don’t just decide to eat 5000 calories a day and then wind up weighing 500 pounds. Something is wrong with their bodies and they’re going to gain the weight anyway; they just eat more because their lean tissue can’t access enough energy.

    If you’re interested, and don’t mind a heavy read, Gary Taubes wrote a book called Good Calories, Bad Calories on this topic. If you’d rather a lighter read, try his other book Why We Get Fat.

    Anyway. Yes, I have serious issues with most prepper blogs. Aside from all the scaremongering about Durrty Muzzlims, which really ticks me off (I lived upstairs from a Muslim family for four years and they were never anything but nice and considerate to me, a single mother), all the emphasis on sugar and starch bugs the heck out of me. I cannot get satisfied on empty starch. Wheat damages my GI tract. Sugar makes me sick. I can’t survive on that stuff. I’d get sick and die quickly.

    I want to see more info on preserving meat and animal fat. I want to see much more emphasis on that. You can get canned butter. Non-hydrogenated lard and tallow keep and are quite healthy. And you can get canned meat and freeze-dried meat that are just meat and nothing added.

    More info on how to hunt and dress kills wouldn’t hurt either. Do you really think anyone’s going to be monitoring the whitetail population after the SHTF?

  17. verna says

    love getting tips on longterm food storage. another one i heard is to fill canning jars with nuts put in microwave for 2 minutes take jars out and put lid and ring on it and it will seal. i havn’t tried it yet but am looking for other storage suggestions because our food pantry is the last to pick up goods at the central location and gets everything that the delivery truck doesn’t want to take
    back. would love to dry more onions etc. also our local grocery stores have produce that has nothing wrong with it. sometimes it’s more than we can possibly give away.

  18. Patti says

    I live in Florida, and am on Food stamps, so I have to get cheap, and heat resistant stuff. After SHTF, there may be no AC, no ice etc, so food has to stand the heat. You want rancid? you want rotten? We got it! I just have to get what I can, and rely on the good Lord for the rest.

  19. 2brknot2b says

    I’m trying to wrap my head around a scenario I think most are missing. What if SHTF occurs after a nuclear holocaust, or even if only we get nuked while all other countries remain viable? How do we fend off, with a much reduced population, and our stores all irradiated, a much larger military force? If there is no place to hide, what do we do? All the nutrient dense food in the world means nothing if it is inedible.

    • says

      Food packaged in metal cans and glass jars wouldn’t be affected,as well as anything packed in mylar bags. Farmland would be affected, however, and that would be a good reason to learn about aquaponics and hydroponics.

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