Stocking your pantry with healthy and shelf-stable foods means you’ll never go hungry, and you’ll always have a solid meal strategy in place. And that can help with regular, run-of-the-mill weekday emergencies, too.

A dinner emergency used to be when you ran out of breadcrumbs halfway through making chicken Parm. But over the last few years, most of us have had a glimpse of situations that are a little more dire: power outages, natural disasters, and damaging weather events that have forced us to re-evaluate our usual strategies in the kitchen.

If there is a lesson to be learned from it all, it’s this: It pays to plan ahead.

Below is a list of emergency foods to keep stashed in your pantry. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes, unless otherwise indicated, their shelf life ranges from one month to five years.

1. Low-Sodium Canned Beans and Other Legumes

Don’t just stick to beans: The entire category of legumes, which includes lentils and dried peas, is a top plant-based source of fibre and protein, according to research. From traditional red beans and rice to homemade hummus, legume recipes come together quickly and with minimal prep or additional ingredients. And when you add beans to foods like brown rice, you’re creating what is known as a complete protein. Complete proteins have all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) your body needs to stay healthy, according to Cleveland Clinic. Other complete proteins mostly come from animal sources, which tend to be more perishable.

The one caveat about canned foods in general: They tend to contain a lot of sodium. For example, canned black beans have 400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per half-cup serving, which is 17 percent of the recommended amount of sodium for the day, according to the American Heart Association. To get around that, opt for a no or low-sodium brand at the market, and if you buy low-sodium, give it a thorough rinse before use; Today’s Dietitian says this will reduce the amount of sodium by more than 40 percent. Bonus: Canned beans don’t need to be cooked, so if you’re without power, you can easily open a can and enjoy!

Shelf Life: 2-5 years

2. Dry Whole Grains

Whole grains are an incredibly nutritious part of any meal, whether you’re in a state of emergency or not. One study found that the more servings of whole grain foods in your diet, the lower your risk of developing coronary heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal disorders. There are plenty of whole-grain options available to keep things interesting.

In general, people tend to use whole grains in savoury dishes, but they’re equally delicious and beneficial in sweet dishes. For example, old-fashioned rolled oats, steel-cut oats, and quinoa all make delicious breakfast options. They will store best in their whole (rather than ground) form. The grains that tend to last the longest include barley, brown rice, popcorn (yes, it counts!), farro, spelt, oats, and quinoa, according to Oldways Whole Grains Council.

Shelf Life: 1-3 years in the pantry (longer in the freezer)

3. Unsalted Nuts and Seeds.

Nuts and seeds are a great calorie-dense staple, rich in fibre, plant-based protein, and healthy fats, according to research. They are also incredibly versatile. You can enjoy a handful as a snack; sprinkle some on top of oatmeal, yogurt, and salads; or even use them in place of breadcrumbs on meat, poultry, or fish before baking. Research has also found that eating nuts regularly is associated with lower cholesterol and lower risk of gallstones, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, another study has found that eating nuts daily was linked to a longer, healthier life.

They’re perfect in an emergency because, while they can be added to any dish, they don’t have to be cooked. If you don’t have power, go nuts! And don’t forget seeds — chia, flax, sesame, and sunflower seeds all contain those healthy fats and fibre, too, according to research. And chia and ground flaxseeds are both sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Shelf Life: 6-12 months (bagged), 12-24 months (canned), per the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

4. Natural Nut and Seed Butters</span

These have all the benefits of nuts and seeds but in spreadable form, so you can liven up your toast or smoothie or make a good old-fashioned sandwich. Watch out for processed varieties that add salt and sugar to their jars; ideally, you want an ingredients list that’s just nuts or seeds, with maybe a little salt. Any other ingredients are unnecessary additives, so skip them.

Shelf Life: 6-24 months unopened, 2-3 months once opened when stored at room temperature, per the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

5. Tinned Low-Mercury Fish Packed in Water

Canned goods are known to last a long time, but canned meats often earn a bad rap because they tend to be highly processed and packed with sodium. Instead, pack your pantry with cans of fish, such as salmon and tuna, that’s packed in water (not oil) to keep calories in check. If it’s tuna that floats your boat, opt for chunk light tuna over white or albacore; it’s lower in mercury, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Excess mercury in the diet can cause neurological symptoms, especially in young children, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EDF recommends limiting tuna to once per week and choosing other healthy fish, such as salmon, the rest of the time. Both salmon and tuna are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats (especially heart-healthy omega-3s, according to the National Institutes of Health, and, like the best foods in an emergency, they can be enjoyed straight out of the can. If you have the time and tools, mix in a little bit of olive oil, vinegar, and pepper (more on these later in the list) for a simple but delicious salmon or tuna salad.

Shelf Life: 2-5 years

6. Canned Fruits and Veggies

Like other canned foods, fruit and vege can have added sodium, but a study found that these foods in canned form are not a significant source of sodium and that eating canned foods frequently was actually associated with a higher total nutrient intake. You can always opt for fruit packed in its own juices and vegetables that have no added salt, or you can drain and rinse these foods.

Canned produce is sometimes viewed as nutritionally “less than” its fresh or frozen counterparts, but according to Produce for Better Health, research shows that canned produce may be nutritionally comparable to fresh or frozen. In fact, some nutrients are more readily available to the body after the canning process, and you can’t beat the convenience in or out of an emergency situation.

According to USDA data, canned tomatoes (technically a fruit) can be added to a number of dishes to add colour, flavour, and boosts of fibre, vitamin C, and lycopene, which research has shown is better absorbed by your body when the tomatoes are cooked.

Shelf Life: 1-5 years (depending on acidity)

7. Dried Fruit

Fresh or frozen fruit is always the richest source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. While dried fruit still contains much of this, it can lose some of its vitamins during the drying process. Additionally, dried fruit often has sugar added to it, and because most of the water has been removed, it is much easier to eat a larger portion of dried fruit. But as Harvard Health Publishing points out, the calories and sugar from dried fruit can add up quickly, so dried fruit is a good backup when fresh or frozen varieties aren’t available.

Apples, pineapple, and cranberries are just a few of the many fruit that can be dehydrated, and dried fruit was associated with improved diet quality overall in one study. Removing the majority of the water from fruit makes it last much longer in your pantry, and dried fruit is another ready-to-eat food that can be grabbed in an emergency or any day of the week. Mix with a handful of nuts for a quick and easy trail mix. Just be sure to choose a dried fruit that has as little added sugar as possible, since you don’t want to derail your longer-term health goals or experience a sugar crash during a disaster. Purchasing dried fruit with no added sugar in the ingredient list is preferable, but if you cannot, this is where portion control becomes extra important. Stick to the ¼-cup serving recommended by theAmerican Heart Association, or less, when enjoying dried fruit.

Shelf Life: 6 months (unopened) and 1 month (opened), per the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

8. Jerky

Jerky is the very definition of a perfect emergency food because enough water has been removed to prevent the growth of microorganisms at room temperature, as the University of Kentucky notes. It’s been a favorite of modern-day hikers and other people on the move for centuries, and today you can find versions made from anything: beef, venison, alligator, even mushrooms. As with dried fruit, jerky is dehydrated to remove the majority of the water from the main ingredient. Meat-based jerky is a high-protein snack, according to USDA data, packing 11 grams (g) of protein per 1-ounce (oz) serving. This will help keep you feeling full until your next meal.

Shelf life: One year (commercially prepared)

9. Shelf-Stable Milk

Powdered milk dropped a few notches in popularity over the past few decades, but it has experienced a bit of a resurgence over the last few years, especially during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you don’t have power, all you need to do is add the powder to water and mix.

You can also stock your shelves with liquid milk that has been treated with ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) to make it shelf-stable. However one study has found that temperature may still affect milk quality, so it’s best to keep it stored at around 68 degrees F or below. Nutritionally, UHT milk is practically identical to other cow’s milk: It packs over 8 g of protein and is a good source of vitamins A and D as well as an excellent source of calcium, according to the USDA. If you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, look for a Tetra Pak shelf-stable dairy-free milk that matches dairy milk’s nutritional profile as closely as possible. Unsweetened soy milk, for instance, is a great alternative.

Shelf Life: Dry milk, 3-5 years at cool temperatures. Tetra Pak milk boxes, 6 months.

10. Bottled Water

Safe water is the No. 1 must when it comes to emergency preparedness because adequate water intake each day is essential to maintaining good health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Place a couple of gallons of spring water in the basement or the back of the pantry so that they’re there if you need them. This is especially important if you have well water, as you may lose access to your water if the power goes out and electric pumps fail. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the average adult woman should drink about 9 cups of water per day, and the average man should have about 13 cups each day, so have enough on hand to keep your family properly hydrated for at least a few days.

Shelf Life: Will last indefinitely, but it’s best to replace bottled water after a few years, per Food Safety magazine

11. Root Vegetables

Root vegetables can last much longer than other produce. The Farmers’ Almanac offers this cool (literally) hack: Store your root vegetables upright buried in sand between 32 and 40 degrees F, and they can last up to five months. If you’re avoiding white-fleshed potatoes because they’re “bad” for you, think again. When prepared whole (that is not in the form of potato chips or french fries), potatoes with the skin on are a good source of fibre, folate, niacin, and phosphorus, as well as an excellent source of potassium and vitamins B6 and C, according to USDA data. And their orange-hued cousins, sweet potatoes, are excellent sources of vitamin A — packing more than 100 percent of the recommended daily value in just one 5-inch sweet potato, also per the USDA.

Shelf Life: 2-5 months if stored in sand between 32 and 40 degrees F

12. Sodium-Free Stock or Broth

Whether you prefer the flavour of vegetable, beef, or chicken, stock and broth can be used in a wide variety of recipes and as the base for a quick soup using some of the ingredients discussed above, such as canned tomatoes and black beans. Opt for no-salt-added brands to better control how much salt is in your final soup. The terms “stock” and “broth” are often used interchangeably, but they are technically different. Broth is made from boiling meat or vegetables, while stock is made from bones. Boiled bones make stock a thicker liquid than broth, according to Food and Wine.

Shelf Life: 12-24 months for dry bouillon; 2-3 years for unopened canned broth; 3 years for broth in aseptic packages, per the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank

13. Olive Oil

Olive oil is packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which the American Heart Association points out may help lower the risk of heart disease. Olive oil is a staple for a reason. It can be used in a variety of ways, from cooking to making your own heart-healthy dressing. Just be sure to store it properly to extend its shelf life as much as possible. Oil stored in an opaque bottle in a cool spot will taste great longer.

Olive oil is an incredibly nutritious part of a healthy diet. In fact, one report cited olive oil as one of the main reasons that people who follow the Mediterranean diet are so healthy, and regular consumption of olive oil is associated with improved heart health and decreased risk of certain types of cancer.

Shelf Life: 6-12 months unopened, 3-5 months once opened, per the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

14. Vinegar

What is oil without vinegar? Sure, it’s shelf-stable, but it’s also incredibly versatile and can be used to kick up the flavour in a number of dishes. And it’s incredibly low in calories, adding loads of flavour without affecting your diet, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Vinegar can be added while cooking or paired with olive oil in a deliciously simple dressing for meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, or whole grains.

Shelf Life: Replace within 2 years if unopened, 1 year if opened, per the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

15. Dried Herbs and Spices

You may already have plenty of these on hand, but it’s worth noting that herbs and spices are an important part of any preparedness pantry, especially if you don’t have power and are making meals from the shelf. Herbs and spices will add a depth of flavour that might be lacking otherwise from such simple fare. Plus studies have found that herbs are a rich source of antioxidants, making them an excellent addition to any healthy diet.

Shelf Life: 1-2 years for dried herbs; 2-3 years for ground spices; 3-4 years for whole spices, per the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

No matter how you choose to stock your pantry, make sure to keep at least a handful of healthy ingredients on hand so that you’re ready if a catastrophe does strike. Even if an emergency never arises (which we hope it doesn’t), you’ll have a well-stocked pantry with plenty of healthy options to nourish your body.