How Long Will Your Food Last After SHTF?

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One of the central pillars of preparedness is being able to feed yourself. Preppers focus some of their attention on stockpiling food as well as creating renewable sources like gardens or livestock (chickens and rabbits) as protection against the possibility that the local grocery store is no longer able to provide something to eat. The average person it has been said only has about 3 days’ worth of food in their homes and if that is true, feeding your family in certain disasters could prove to be possibly your biggest problem.

We have already seen time and time again, scenes of grocery store shelves stripped clean anytime there is a concern in the public. Greece was just the most recent example of this behavior preppers warn against. Starvation would surely be a horrible way to die and it seems as though collectively we all consider this a threat that must be dealt with to ensure the safety of our loved ones. The question is how you will deal with the risk of not being able to feed your family. Will you stock up on food now while you are able, or will you try to swim through the crowd of potentially thousands of other people raiding the local grocery store in the hopes that you can secure enough food to last your family though whatever disaster you are facing?

For many preppers, this may not be as grave of a concern from your perspective. If you have been diligently preparing, you may already have quite a large supply of food that would conceivably last you and anyone else in your home a long time. You might have plenty of food stocked already so you plan to sit back in the safety of your home while everyone else goes crazy; fighting over the last can of olives. But as you are sitting back feeling confidently comfortable, gazing at your fully pantry, those 5 gallon buckets of Winter Wheat and metric tons of beans, have you ever considered how long that food will actually last you when you start needing to eat it?

Determining how long your food storage will last

The default amount of calories we consider to be recommended for an adult is approximately 2,000 calories per person. I know there are differences with age, activity level and gender, but for simplicity sake let’s just take that amount as our baseline. For general health, each member of your survival group will need to consume on average 2,000 calories per day to simply maintain a “healthy” weight.

Rice and beans are a great long-term stable food supply for preppers. They have an impressive storage life as long as they are kept cool and dry and they are very cost-effective as well. You can purchase a 50 pound bag of rice for around $20. Rice and Beans together give you carbohydrates and protein. Each 50 pound bag of rice has approximately 500 servings and there really isn’t anything like the satisfaction you can get from staring at a shelf full of rice and beans. But how long will that last your family?

A 50 pound bag of rice has about 500 servings.

Each serving (1 cup) of rice is 206 calories

Each serving of pinto beans has 245 calories

If you ate three meals of Rice and Beans in a day you would consume only 1353 calories. (451 X 3). If you had a family of 4, that 50 pound bag would last you about 41 days but that isn’t all the calories you would need. To just stay healthy and not lose any weight you would need to come up with another 700 calories per person, per day.

Calories are more important to measure than servings

Well, you could supplement that rice and beans with the wild game you plan on hunting, right? Did you know , a 0.5-1 pound roast venison tenderloin has a whopping 127 calories. That doesn’t get you much further toward your calorie targets does it? What about chicken? One grilled chicken breast has only 141 calories.

Now let’s take the assumption that life without grocery stores is going to require more work out of you. Possibly much more work. So, the 2,000 calorie per day amount isn’t likely to be a realistic count of the number of calories you will actually need. You might be digging latrines to deal with sanitation, hunting for food or foraging in the forest all day. You could be patrolling your neighborhood or lugging water from a mile away. You would be washing clothes by hand, chopping wood; building fires and the 2,000 calorie amount would likely be more like 3,000 or 4,000 for some people just to maintain their weight. How long will your food last now?

To really get a good idea for how much food you have, you need to look at how many calories that food you plan on eating is going to give you. You can’t simply look at serving amounts and call it done because a serving of a fruit roll-up might make you think you will get a meal out of it, but they won’t come anywhere near close to what you need.

A woman "cooking" mud pies in Haiti. The pies are made from clay, salt, oil and water.

A woman “cooking” mud pies in Haiti. The pies are made from clay, salt, oil and water.

You should take the time to conduct at least a cursory inventory of your food stockpiles, check the serving size and calorie amounts. You can get really detailed and put this into a food storage spreadsheet if you like, but that will give you a true picture of the amount of time your food will last the number of people you have. Instead of looking at this from a poundage viewpoint you consider calorie counts. That way it will be easier to forecast how long your food will last and adjust for different people in your care.

In addition to food make sure you plan on a good source of vitamins to augment austere eating conditions. This won’t be as good as the real thing, but could help stave off some health effects of a less than ideal diet.

What happens when we start to starve?

The more food you have, the better off you will be in a collapse scenario where we have no hope of the lights coming back on. Gardens and livestock greatly add to this cumulative total you have, but unless you have a very productive garden or a large supply of animals, the food you have on hand is likely to start running out. At some point in time, if the supply of food is interrupted, rationing might be a consideration you need to make.

Another consideration is the needs of the various people in your group. You may find you have hard choices to make. Someone who is old for example, who is less active may not get the same share of food as a younger person who is working outside all day. You may have to choose between roles and which people in which roles are given extra allotments of food. What if someone is out digging graves all day? Do you believe that someone who is sitting inside or not working as hard should get the same ration of food or the same dispensation of calories? If so, how long before the person who is working physically harder starts to decline in health? How long could you shovel or defend your home in a starvation state?

We talk about food storage as a solution to the grocery stores closing, but that will only buy us time in a true collapse. Yes, it will help your family tremendously to have additional food stocked up, but it will run out if the crisis lasts long enough. When calories are seriously limited, health starts to decline.

When we don’t get enough calories for a long enough time, our organs begin to shrink and gradually start to lose function. We can have bouts of chronic diarrhea, anemia, reduction in muscle mass and the weakness that goes with that.

We have all seen images of refugees on TV. Poor children covered in flies with distended bellies staring blankly at the camera might elicit a sense of guilt in us today as we sit on the sofa and flip through the channels. In Haiti, there are areas where people make and sell mud pies for people to eat because there is no other food and the worms in their stomachs would rob the person of any nutritional value from real food before it could help them.

What will you do when these poor souls are your children?

A garden won't be an option, it will be a vital necessity if the convenience of grocery stores are gone.

A garden won’t be an option, it will be a vital necessity if the convenience of grocery stores are gone.

Kwashiorkor and Marasmus

Kwashiorkor and Marasmus are two conditions that are seen with acute malnutrition. It causes the swollen bellies you see on TV and I can see this appearing in our country were we to go through some horrible SHTF event. The pictures you see on TV could be not from around the world, but in your own back yard.

As in other places in the world, this will lead to violence and death as everyone fights for food resources to fend off dying.

“Kwashiorkor is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in developing countries. It is a form of malnutrition caused by not getting enough protein in your diet. Foods that contain protein include meat, milk, cheese, fish, eggs, soy, beans, nuts, seeds, and some types of grains like quinoa.”

Children who are deprived of calories for long enough will never reach their full potential for height and growth. These two conditions are treated in the beginning with simply getting more food with a healthy balance of protein. In more severe cases, you can’t just give a starving person a cheeseburger. You will have to introduce food slowly and something like powdered milk is good (reconstituted of course) to start them out until strength has increased and more food can be slowly added to their diet.

Anyone who has children will tell you that they will do anything to take care of their family. This manifests itself in a lot of imaginative ways, some violent. Before you have to get to that place where you are thinking of doing whatever is necessary to feed your family, make plans now to have as much food security as possible. A good strategy of food storage to include foods you eat every day, long-term store-able food and renewable sources will put you in a better position to provide for your family. Think about this now so you have to worry about this less when it actually is an issue.

Here are just a couple of articles to get you started with food storage. You can always search the archives on the Prepper Journal for other information.

What are your food storage plans and how long will your food hold out?

If you liked this article, please rate it.

  • EgbertThrockmorton1

    Another excellent (nightmarish) and thought provoking article, Pat.
    I do have real fears about not being able to keep the grand kids fed and healthy as possible when SchumerHTF occurs.
    We are canning as much food as we possibly can, I used to be a mediocre-at-best-supporter of home canning,. Not anymore. All in!
    My wife and I have home canning parties in which we have specified times to can specific items for long-term storage and dining. Beef, pork and chicken we’ve now done and done it successfully. Vegetables, fruit, jams and jellies as well, I figure small jars of jams and jellies will also be excellent barter items for “sweets” when sugar stocks dry up.
    My wife and I have had many many nights of serious talks about “how long” and we keep coming back to the “times of famine” mentioned in the Bible, being 7 long years. I don’t think at present we are anything close to being able to survive just the two of us for that long, but we are trying to figure OUT how to make it at least half that length of time, with canned items and fresh garden goods, and IF hunting and fishing is available what can be added from that as well in our area. We are not “zoned” for livestock, and in our area “livestock” is considered chickens AND rabbits as well, codified in the zoning regs. We aren’t even allowed the part time use of goats to graze in our wooded areas to reduce the fire danger! Sheer stupidity, and we might do it anyway and face the “consequences” AFTER the fact. We’ve got a goat herder locally that says he can pick the goats up every two days and it takes Animal Control longer than that to process any complaints. Screw it, we will find a way. Wouldn’t mind some dairy goats too! So, “How Long”? Have no clue as to how long it will actually be, but longer than MOST of us “think” it will ever be, I bet!

    • I know what you mean EB. I don’t have anywhere near 7 years myself either. What I do have would last my family for a good long while augmenting as you mentioned. That amount goes down seriously with each other body you have needing to eat, but the capacity for acquiring more food and staying safer goes up. I wonder if there is some algorithm that we could apply that takes the calories an extra body requires versus the extra work capacity they could bring to a group.

  • Kula Farmer

    My biggest fear is some cataclysmic or war related event that destroys my home but leaves me still alive with nothing, depending on how wide spread it is will make a difference in what to do from there. I see the pictures of the war zones and see the despair on the faces of the survivors and my heart dies a bit each time. Humans are the most vial evil species on this planet.
    I have very little faith that good will beat evil, time and again evil wins in spite of faith or whatever.
    I plan to survive, but fear it will turn to a hunger games type survival fight. Desperate people do desperate things. Our world is already devoid of morals or respect, honestly my sweethearts one bullet plan makes more sense at times.

    • I can relate to that feeling of despair Kula, but I do believe in the end, good always wins over evil unless good people give up. Yes, we have our fair share of bad events with a seemingly unending series of evil incarnate displayed over and over in the 24 hour news cycle. I think that is what drives news though. The good isn’t shown because it isn’t shocking. Only destruction and evil can pull us away from our own worries momentarily.

      I do have faith that I will be able to survive even in a situation you describe. I don’t have any illusions that it will be without suffering and loss. I do dread that, but I believe I will come through to the other side somehow, eventually. If not, I will meet my fate hopefully with honor and dignity.


      • Kula Farmer

        Thanks Pat, i may get to put all my efforts into practice this week, looking at two pretty big storms, folks just dont get it, theyyhink we will never be affected, all i can say is good luck with that!
        Heres the latest screenshot from NOAA, looks like it will affect the islands to me,,,
        And the climatologist said that the late season will be more active,,,
        Anywho, thanks for all the good reading, its a way of life for some of us, unfortunately extreme events are going to become more frequent

  • Bobcat-Prepper

    Great topic, Pat.

    I have designed my own food storage spreadsheet with more detail for health’s sake. The latest recommendation for a healthy diet I could find was for 50% carbs, 30% fat, and 20% protein by calories.

    I have a separate column for each of these, plus number of servings, calories/serving, cost/serving, and location. I can see where I get the biggest bang for the buck in a variety of ways, and what I need to buy to be in balance.

    This system, plus a daily family calorie demand I update each family birthday with this chart:


    gives me all the information I need to estimate how long our food will last, barring theft, spoilage, etc. I also update the spreadsheet as I acquire goods, and print the spreadsheet pages up every family birthday and file it in my prep binder, to have easy access if the computer is out due to long-term power outage.

    • Thanks for that link Bobcat! My wife was quick to point out my error in the generic 2000 calorie count. I was only trying to keep the math simple, but the information you have hear is excellent and people should use this for their plans as well.

  • Kula Farmer

    Im working on getting this down,
    Should come in handy, need to get a nice sized manual pasta roller/cutter

    Great for folks with egg allergies, or for a more simple pasta dish.


    All-purpose Unbleached Flour (Or Mix of Semolina & All-purpose Flour – See Note Above)
    Dash of Salt


    Make a mound on the counter with the flour and create a well in the center.
    Add the salt, and slowly start slowly pouring in the water, mixing with your fingers between each addition. (You know you have added enough water when you can bring the flour together in a ball.)
    Begin to knead the dough until it is smooth. (At this point the dough should resemble stiff bread dough.)
    Wrap in plastic and let sit 20 minutes before rolling.
    To roll, take a 6 inch ball of dough and place on a lightly floured surface.
    Begin to roll into a flat disc, and roll from front to back, turning the dough clockwise about 1/4 turn after every few rolls of the pin.
    Once the dough is stretched enough to roll around the pin, begin by rolling the dough towards you wrapping it around the pin as you go.
    Keep the dough well floured to prevent sticking.
    Once the dough is rolled to a thickness of about 1/8 of an inch it is ready to cut.
    Ensure the surface of the dough is lightly floured, and start to roll it up into a tube.
    You can either cut it into fettuccine or into triangular pieces.
    Place on a floured baking sheet and let dry until you are ready to use it.
    To cut into triangular pieces, start cutting at an angle, about 1/2 inch wide pieces, starting at the center of the tube end.
    Continue to cut until complete, and dry as described for the other pasta.
    To complete the pasta, cook in boiling salted water until al dente.
    Top with your favorite sauce and serve piping hot.

  • Thomas Paine in the butt

    Pat, you mentioned something that I’ve notice with “long term storage bucket.” Those buckets seem to focus total servings and not calorie content. Also if you look at the breakdown, included are servings of powdered milk or drink mix. Makes it look more like a marketing gimmick than a survival plan.

    My personal goal is to have 3-4mil calories of storage food, most packaged into 5gl “go buckets” of 55-60K calories. That’s roughly 1 week of meals for 4 people. I also have ammo packed like this. Also makes a camping trip easy to pack food for. My line of thinking is in a bug out situation we can very quickly pack a large quantity and variety of food.

    I’d like to learn how to do canning and other preservation methods as all my stuff store bought.

    • EgbertThrockmorton1

      My wife has “canning porn” (I have gun porn websites), she LOVES “Simply Canning” dot com as being a superb HOW-TO website with great canning links.
      Get the Ball Blue Book of Canning, too. Most libraries have it, and you can often find a copy in a thrift or used book store.

    • I have seen that too Thomas and while I do think that powdered milk and drink mixes have their place, certainly milk helps but you do have to look at the whole package. I have purchased certain types of long term storage food as well as the whole packages. “A 3 month supply” sometimes does have a little fluff and might not last three months. It will still help, but going back to the subject of this article, it makes sense to count those calories.

      Egbert mentioned Simply Canning and that is a great site to learn from. Canning does add an important aspect to your food preparations.

    • Thomas Paine in the butt

      I’ll check those out. I picked up a couple of books but this time year is nuts for the leather shop. I’ll be working like 136hrs/ day until after Halloween.