DIY Emergency Food Pantry

Updating your kitchen pantry with family favorites everyone will actually eat, may come in very handy in the case of an emergency.

The Pandemic

In the beginning of March 2020, we didn’t realize how much our lives would be turned upside down.

We found out our children’s school would be closed indefinitely and our state issued a stay-at-home order.

I tried to maintain a sense of calmness for my kids, but inside I was terrified because we were so ill-prepared.

The Chaos

Grocery stores were crowded and the shelves were empty. People were hoarding anything and everything.

Even online shopping was difficult as supplies were scarce and delivery times too long. At the time, we only had 2-3 cans of beans in the pantry.

I started going into panic mode.

We tried shopping at different stores, and buying whatever was available, even foods we normally didn’t eat.

Our house filled up with random canned vegetables, soups, and pasta, which we stored behind couches, under tables, and in closets.

The Aftermath

Eventually groceries stores had safety protocols in place, people were limited in how much they could buy, and we were back to shopping on a weekly basis.

Though we had returned to some sense of normalcy, I didn’t want to be in that “desperate” situation again.

I decided to come up with a better system to ensure we would always have adequate food in our pantry in case of an emergency.

DIY Emergency Food Supply

The guide below will show you how to make your own emergency food pantry based on your family’s preferences, and to also make sure nothing you buy goes to waste!

These are just guidelines or examples of what to include in your pantry. Every family’s will look different.


Before creating an emergency pantry, sit down with your family and have a discussion about what you’re doing and why. This is a great way to get young kids involved. You’ll be surprised at how insightful and helpful they can be.

Discuss what everyone’s favorite foods or meals are, or what foods they can’t live without. Think about meals that are easy to prepare or are versatile. Also, brainstorm ideas on where you can store these emergency foods, especially if you have limited space.

Step 1—Make a List of Family Favorites

Decide what foods/meals you and your family eat on a daily basis and create categories for these foods. Here are some examples:

  • Dairy
  • Fruit
  • Grains
  • Protein (Non-Veg)
  • Protein (Veg)
  • Vegetables
  • Water

Step 2—Focus on Shelf-Stable Foods

For each category, choose “shelf-stable” foods or foods that can be safely stored at room temperature.

  • Include foods your family likes or will actually eat.

  • Choose foods that are nutrient dense: high in nutrients like complex carbs, protein, healthy fat, vitamins, and minerals.

  • Purchase foods that have a long expiration date, about 1-2 years or longer. We bought fruit pouches and individual milk cartons but they only lasted about 6 months.

  • Include non-essential foods or “treats” like chocolate, instant coffee, or tea. Having some of these during a time of crisis can be comforting.

Step 3—Decide on How Much You’ll Need

Decide how much food you might need based on the number of people in your household and how much space you have. Don’t be tempted to “over stock” or buy too much. You might only want to stock up for a few days or may need to stock up for several weeks.

  • 3-day supply
  • 4-day supply
  • Weekly supply
  • Monthly supply

Step 4—Find a Storage Place

Designate a place in your home to stash your emergency foods, preferably separate from your regular pantry. It should be a relatively cool place so the food doesn’t spoil quickly.

  • An old cabinet
  • An unused closet
  • An empty cupboard
  • An extra shelf

Step 5—Write an Inventory

Keep track of your emergency foods in a notebook or spreadsheet. I created mine on Excel. This part takes time, but it’s worth the effort and prevents food waste. It should include: 

  • Each category
  • Each food listed under a category
  • Expiration dates for each food

Step 6—Update Your Inventory

Look at your inventory on a monthly basis to see if anything is expiring soon:

  • Highlight or underline foods that will expire in less than 6 months. 

  • Plan out meals or look up recipes using foods that will expire soon. 

  • Prepare these foods on days you don’t want to cook. For me, that would be weekends! 

  • Donate foods to shelters, churches, neighborhood pantries, or through food drives (as long as they have not expired!). 

  • Offer neighbors extra food through a Buy Nothing Group or on Nextdoor.


Once you’ve decided on your food categories decide which foods to purchase for each. There are so many shelf-stable options available in stores now; below are only a few examples of items you can add to your pantry. Remember to choose foods that you and your family will actually eat and enjoy!


Contains calcium, Vit D, calories, fat, and protein. Obviously, if you don’t consume dairy, you won’t have this category. 


High in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Fruit is especially great if you have young children. 

  • Canned Fruits (Peaches, Pears, Pineapple)
  • Dried Fruit (Apricots, Cranberries, Dates, Prunes, Raisins)
  • Fruit Cups (Peaches, Pineapple, Mixed)
  • Fruit Pouches (Applesauce, Mixed Berries, Fruit & Veggie)
  • Fruit Leathers/Bars (e.g. Lara Bars or Trader Joe’s)


Contains calories, carbohydrates, fiber, and minerals. Look for ones that can be easily microwaved or prepared by just adding hot water.

  • Couscous (Israeli, Moroccan, Whole Wheat)
  • Crackers (Cheese, Pita, Whole Grain)
  • Oats (Instant, Old-Fashioned, Steel Cut)
  • Pasta (Macaroni, Penne, Spaghetti)
  • Rice (Basmati, Brown, Jasmine, White)
  • Quinoa (Black, Red, White, Multi-Colored)

Protein (Non-Veg)

Contains fat, iron, protein, vitamins. These can be added to meals or be complete meals themselves, like chili or soup. Though broth is not high in protein, it can be used to enhance the flavor of some of the canned meats, or it can be used to cook grains.

Protein (Veg)

Contains fiber, healthy fats, minerals, protein, and vitamins. If you have space, store whole nuts and seeds in the freezer or fridge so they will last longer.

  • Canned Beans (Black, Cannelini, Kidney, Pinto, Refried)
  • Dry Beans and Lentils (Black, Chickpeas, Kidney, Pinto, Green & Red Lentils)
  • Lentil or Chickpea Curry Pouches (e.g. Madras Lentils or Chana Masala)
  • Nut and Seed Butters (Almond, Cashew, Peanut, or Sunflower Seed Butters)
  • Whole Nuts and Seeds (Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, Pumpkin & Sunflower Seeds)


High in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. There are many types of canned vegetables now at the grocery store; below are some of the most common ones. If possible, look for low sodium and “no added sugar” options. If you can’t find those kind and extra sodium or sugar is a concern for you, give the veggies a good rinse.


Below are handouts you can print out and use to create your own Emergency Food Pantry. Click on the images below to download your free copies!

Emergency Food Pantry Checklist

This handout includes food ideas for you.

Emergency Food Pantry Checklist (Blank)

This handout includes the categories, but you can customize your own food items.

Emergency Food Pantry Inventory

This is handout can be printed and placed in the inside of your pantry door.

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