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How Much Food to Store for a Crisis

Do you have enough food and water to feed your family during a crisis?  While some organizations like the American Red Cross recommend that you keep enough to feed your family for 3 days, I recommend that you have a minimum of 2 weeks of supplies (and triple that if you can).  But exactly how much food and water is that?

The good news is that for most people, it can be done with less than $100.  However, the calculations can be overwhelming.  So I built a spreadsheet tool to help me answer this question for my friends and family.  In this article, I will provide this tool and summarize how to use it.

Quick Answer: a Family of Four

If you’d like to skip the details, skip the tool, and simply answer, “How much food and water should I have stored in order to ensure my family of four can survive in a crisis for 2 weeks – in the most cost effective way?” … and if you don’t want to do the thinking required to truly answer that question for your circumstances, then here is your answer…

But first, I need to tell you…

If you use this quick method because you don’t want to bother with details, here are some important things I need you to understand:

  • This quick “family of 4” shortcut will not cover your neighbors.  Do you expect that you would want to help them?  If so, double this list.
  • This assumes you have a pot and a stove… and that your electricity or natural gas is working.  Depending on the situation, that could be a foolish assumption to make.  I suppose the foods I recommend below could be prepared without heat, but you will probably be miserable.
  • This assumes you won’t have running water.  Even if you think the water will still be running, I do not recommend reducing the amount of water listed below.
  • This assumes that you have a 40-gallon hot water heater that 1) you can access and 2) know how to drain.  If you live in an apartment or don’t have access to this convenient source of stored, potable water… then you will need to add 40 gallons of water storage to my numbers below.
  • This assumes that everyone in your family is healthy and requires no medication.
  • This assumes that each person you are feeding will be on rations… the minimum recommended calories per day (not to be confused with survival rations, which is also shown in the chart below).  This is probably much less than you are accustomed to eating.
  • You need about 64 gallons of water total.  The combinations of water containers below is simply to illustrate different types of common and convenient quantities found in grocery stores.  You could replace two 2.5-gallon jugs with five 1-gallon jugs, for example, to suit your preference.
  • If you are interested in more quick preparedness checklists, you might like another article I wrote, Rapid Business and Family Preparedness in 7 Easy Steps: Most Likely & Most Dangerous.

Feed a family of four, for 2 weeks:

Item Qty Appx. Price
10lb Bag of Rice 4 $5 ea
5lb Bag of Rice 1 $2.50 ea
1lb Bag of Dry Beans 20 $1.50 ea
2.5-gallon water jug from grocery store 5 $3 ea
1-gallon water jug from grocery store 10 $1 ea
Regular-sized water bottle from grocery store 12 $0.50 ea
Access to your 40-gallon water heater 1 N/A
Total after 8% tax –> $91

The above list should allow you to achieve the following food and water schedule.  Print out this chart before a crisis and keep it near your stored food, so that you can track your consumption in order to make it two weeks:

 

The thick orange line and the thick blue line are the most important lines on the chart. The other lines show extreme situations of dire rationing.

Here is a link to the Excel spreadsheet that I explain in the remainder of this article:

Food and Water Storage Planning and Projection V5 Charts Typical Family

If you’d like to see how these numbers were calculated, and how you can customize your plan, then read on.

The Details, and How to Customize Your Plan

As a part of your family or business preparedness plan, I recommend keeping more than the 3 days of food recommended by the US Government.  Instead, I recommend keeping at least 2 weeks at bare minimum (and 6-weeks minimum, if you can).  But this can be a lot of work if you have never done it before.  The good news is I have done most of the hard work already, and I’m sharing it here.

The Excel spreadsheet tool I have created (and have used for years) will help you to customize your family situation, your diet, and balance the duration of food and water you would like to store.  Download the spreadsheet (or use the embedded interface to view the spreadsheet in a separate browser tab), and follow along with the rest of the article for more information about how to use it.

Assumptions and sources

The calculations in the spreadsheet use these sources and assumptions:

  • The number of calories a person needs each day is based on activity level, height, weight, age, and gender.  Based on The Harris Benedict Equation, which calculates an individual’s basal metabolic rate (BMR).
  • Using BMR and activity level assumes that the goal is to maintain the weight of each person.  If you can afford to lose some weight, then you should indicate your desired weight instead of your actual weight.
  • The bare survival ration is 800 calories/day, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Challenges of food and water storage

One thing you can do to insulate your family from a food and water crisis is to store enough supplies for your circumstances.  But here are some challenges of doing this:

  • Storing up extra food – especially purpose-built disaster food kits – can be costly
  • Storing water requires a lot of space, and water is extremely heavy (and difficult to transport)
  • Purpose-built water storage containers (fit for human consumption) can be very expensive
  • Storing, organizing, and inventory of food and water can take a lot of time
  • Most cost-effective food requires water to prepare, and knowing how much water you will need for preparation can be difficult to answer
  • Both water and food expire, and you don’t want to waste your money and time

With these challenges in mind, if you want to be economical with your money, space, and time, then you should figure out what you need first, and only then go about acquiring it.  My spreadsheet can help you do that.

How to use the spreadsheet

The first tab of the spreadsheet includes instructions, and each tab of the spreadsheet lists the steps in order.

Steps 1-2: Build a library of food and water types

Using the Step 1 and Step 2 worksheets, you will define certain types of food and water, using the serving size, nutrition facts, and weight of each time.  Some common items are already provided for you.

You will enter the numbers in orange, and the spreadsheet will calculate numbers in light brown.  Some long term food is classified as either an “entree” or a “side,” so you will see that you can indicate this category if you like.  (If you are unsure, just treat everything like an entree.)

Step 1

In Step 1, you can define types of foods that are a part of your diet, including your favorite brands and quantities.

Step 2

In Step 2, you can define types of water. Most options are already provided so you shouldn’t need to modify this much.

Steps 3-4: List your actual inventory

Now that you have defined certain types of food and water, in the next steps you will add items to your inventory.  Ultimately, these two lists should contain your actual inventory, but when you are just starting out, I recommend playing around with this list with different items and quantities, and then looking at the charts that are produced when you enter new values.  This can help you figure out your shopping list.

You will enter the numbers in orange, and the spreadsheet will calculate numbers in light brown (food) or blue (water).

Step 3

In Step 3, you will list your actual or desired food inventory, selecting items that you defined in the previous step. You will also include the manufacture date of the item to allow you to track expirations.

Step 4

In Step 4, you will list your actual or desired water inventory, selecting items that you defined in the previous step. You will also include the manufacture date of the item to allow you to track expirations.

Step 5: Family Details

Next, you will enter details about your family members, or details about generic types of people.  Some are already provided.  These details are needed to help you specifically meet the nutritional needs of different members of your family based on age, gender, height, weight.  You will enter the numbers on the left, and caloric details based on activity level will be calculated in the remainder of the table.

Step 5

In Step 5, you can describe the age, gender, height, and weight of your family members to get tailored nutritional numbers.

 

Step 6: View your Inventory and define your scenarios

The spreadsheet allows you to get a snapshot of the inventory that you entered in previous steps.  It provides several data points that you should consider, such as the weight of your supplies, and whether you have enough water to prepare all of your dry food.

Inventory Snapshot

This inventory snapshot summarizes the inventory you added previously, and is used to describe your scenarios. The green checkmark in this picture indicates that you have enough water to prepare all of the food that requires water during preparation.

You can now detail up to 3 scenarios that you’d like to analyze.  The first two scenarios are pre-built to show a 26-week window in the “Scenario 1″ and Scenario 2” charts.  The third scenario shows a 110+ week view.

You can also set some assumptions about whether you will be able to get more food and water over time.

Supplemental Resources

At the top of the “Scenarios & Results” tab, you can indicate whether you will be able to collect more resources. For example, if the water utility is still on or if the food market is open.

I recommend that your scenarios cover a few of the following basic situations:

  • Different locations (if you have more than one).
  • Situation where you feed your neighbors or extended family that happen to be in town.
  • If you are expecting more children, pets, or other situations.
  • A situation where you can still collect water or food over time.
Scenario Table

In each scenario, you can indicate which people will be a part of the scenario in the two left columns. The calorie requirements are then automatically calculated and displayed.

Using the scenario tables, you can see some basic numbers about how long your supplies will last.

Step 7: View charts of your results

While the tables in the above sections are helpful, what is even more helpful is to see a visual representation of your supplies over time.  Using the “Scenario 1” 2, and 3 tabs, you can view a chart that shows a range of “how long will your supplies last” based on the situations you should always consider.

Example Food and Water Supply Chart

Using this chart, you will be able to determine how long your food and water will last, and will be able to track your consumption during a crisis. (The chart that appears above is just an example of the charts that are automatically generated by the excel spreadsheet provided in this article.)

There are two colored shaded areas on each chart: a blue area and an orange area, and each form a triangle.

  • The blue shaded area indicates the range of water consumption you should expect, from high activity to the minimum amount required for life.  There is another bold blue line that also includes the recommended water per day per person for things like sanitation.  This chart also considers that some of your food may require water during preparation, so there is a dedicated line that indicates how much water you would need to prepare the food that would have been consumed during that week.
  • The orange shaded area indicates the range of food you will consume, from a high-activity situation to basic life-sustaining rationing of calories.  The bold orange line is the recommended line.

On the bottom of the chart, the number where the line intersects is the number of weeks that you can expect that supply to last.

A great feature of the charts is that you can print them out before a crisis, and if you need to use your supplies you will be able to track your consumption.  This will enable you to throttle how much of your supplies you use, so you can be sure you aren’t over consuming, and so that you will know if you have supplies to spare.

Adjustments

You can repeat all of the steps above to:

  • Do a cost-benefit analysis of spending more money, time, and storage space on more supplies
  • Keep up with a growing family
  • Track different living spaces, such as a guest house

In case you missed it

Here is another link to the spreadsheet.

Food and Water Storage Planning and Projection V5 Charts Typical Family

 

Good luck, and leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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