Disaster Planning for Vegetarians

by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, updated Feb., 2011 by Corey Bivins

It may be a blizzard in the Northeastern US or a hurricane in the South, a tornado in the Midwest or an earthquake in the West. It may be a wild fire, an oil spill or even terrorism. Suddenly you're left without electricity and possibly without safe water. The stove, freezer, refrigerator, microwave, and toaster oven aren't working. Grocery stores are closed or may not have much on the shelves. Many groups have recommendations aimed at helping the general public cope with these kinds of disasters. They call for use of foods like canned tuna, canned meat, and powdered milk. What about vegetarians? What sort of plans should we make?

Most authorities recommend having enough non-perishable food and water on hand at all times to last at least 3 days. Depending on where you live and the types of disasters you anticipate occurring, you may want to have more food and water on hand. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' website ( recommends having enough food and water to last 1 to 2 weeks in case food and water supplies are disrupted due to pandemic flu. You should also have a 30-day supply of important prescription medicines on hand.

The foods that you choose for your disaster kit should require no refrigeration, minimal or no preparation or cooking, and little or no water. You can pick up a few items each time you shop and gradually build up your supplies. Once you have the food on hand, you will need to develop a system for replacing items as they get older; perhaps every six months or so you can plan to use the items you have and replace them with items you've just purchased.

Which non-perishable foods not requiring cooking should you have on hand? Suggested foods for vegetarians include ready-to-eat canned foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, and pasta; dried fruit; juice boxes or canned juice; powdered milk, either soy or cow's (include extra water in your survival kit if you plan to use powdered milk); individual aseptic packages of milk (soy or cow's); crackers; packaged breads with a long shelf-life; high energy foods like peanut butter and other nut butters, jelly, nuts, seeds, trail mix, granola and energy bars, cookies, and other snacks. Remember to include foods for those family members with special needs like infants or those with allergies. The sidebar shows one possible 3-day meal plan for a vegetarian family of four that does not require cooking or refrigeration.

Some may question the use of canned foods, however, the advantage of these foods is that they can be eaten right out of the can and don't require cooking, water or special preparation. Look for low sodium and low sugar products. You can purchase cans of organically grown fruits and vegetables. Be sure to include a manual can opener in your disaster kit!

In the event that you are evacuated and must go to an emergency shelter, it is prudent to bring your emergency food kit along with you. Vegetarian diets are not the norm and in an emergency setting, you may or may not be able to find a variety of vegetarian foods unless you bring your own.

While this article features foods that are available in the supermarket, there are companies which make freeze-dried or air-dried foods. These do tend to be expensive. Some vegetarian items are available.

If you have a safe cooking source such as a wood or propane stove, solar cooker, outdoor grill, or a camping stove, you can prepare some simple hot foods. Non-perishable vegetarian foods which require minimal cooking and which can be prepared on a camping stove include canned soups; soups or meals "in a cup"; instant mashed potatoes; dry mixes for hummus or refried beans; quick cooking brown rice; couscous; textured vegetable protein (mix with tomato sauce and spices); ramen-type noodles; beverages like tea, cocoa, coffee or substitutes; and instant hot cereals. If you plan to use these foods in case of a disaster, you should include a selection of them in your emergency kit. Remember to have a safely stored supply of cooking fuel if necessary. Outdoor grills and camp stoves should only be used outdoors to insure proper ventilation.

Make sure you have a can opener, and scissors or a knife for cutting open packages. It would also be beneficial to have kettle, camping coffeepot, or pot for boiling water. If water is limited and dish washing is not possible, you will need to use disposable plates, cups and utensils so a supply of these will also be helpful.

Besides planning for food supplies in case of an emergency, it is important to have a plan for water. With normal activity, adults need to drink at least 2 quarts of water each day. If the weather is hot or you are very active, you can need as much as 1 gallon of water for drinking. Children, breast-feeding women, and ill people will need more. Most public health organizations recommend storing 1 gallon of water per person per day (this allows for 2 quarts for drinking and 2 quarts for washing and food preparation). You should have enough water on hand to go for at least 3 or 4 days (for most disasters) or as long as 2 weeks (for pandemic flu) without water supplies. Water can be stored in unbreakable, thoroughly washed plastic containers and replaced every 6 months with a fresh supply. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website provides a wealth of information on water purification and storage (

Food Safety
In case of a power outage, use perishable food and foods from the refrigerator first and then use frozen foods. Generally, food in the refrigerator is safe as long as the power is out no more than a few hours. Keep the door closed; food will remain chilled for 4-6 hours if the door is not opened. Fresh fruits and vegetables may keep for several days to a week or more even without refrigeration. They should be discarded, however, if you see signs of mold or spoilage. Food will keep in a full, closed freezer, even without electricity for 2 to 3 days. Frozen foods should only be consumed if they still have ice crystals or if the freezer temperature has remained at or below 40 degrees F. The freezer door should be kept closed. In winter, if the temperature is consistently below 40 degrees F and animal scavengers are not a problem, some foods can be kept cold by placing them outside in a Styrofoam ice chest. Once refrigerated and frozen foods have been eaten or discarded, begin to use non-perishable foods.

When purchasing foods to have on hand in an emergency, consider how you will store the foods without refrigeration after they are open. While it may be tempting to purchase a giant economy size can of kidney beans, unless your family can eat them in one day, any leftovers will need to be discarded. It could be more sensible to purchase smaller can sizes. Similarly, if you plan to use aseptically packaged soymilk and think that your family can drink a liter box at a time, buy liter boxes. However, smaller families or those who don't drink as much soymilk might be better off purchasing 8-ounce individual boxes of soymilk.

Animal Companions
Don't forget to store dry or canned food for your animal companions. Their water needs should also be accounted for when you determine how much water you need to store.

Do vegetarians have it easier in case of a disaster? Possibly. Many meat items will spoil quickly and have to be discarded; canned and dried beans will keep. Certainly with some advance planning, a vegetarian's food needs can be met even during a disaster.

Side Bar: Sample Menu
Here is one possible menu for a family of four that does not require refrigeration, cooking, or water to prepare foods. Your family's food preferences and any special dietary needs (baby foods, allergies, low sodium, etc) should be considered when developing your emergency food list. All serving sizes are per person.

Cold cereal, 2 ounces
Raisins or other dried fruit, 1/4 cup
Soymilk, 8 ounces
Fruit juice, 8 ounces

Peanut butter, almond butter, or soy-nut butter, 2 Tablespoons
Crackers, 12 or bread, 2 slices (Note: Mestemacher is one company that makes several packaged breads that are vegan and have a long shelf-life).
Fruit cup, 4 ounces
Fruit juice, 8 ounces

Bean spread (6 ounces of canned beans, mashed with spices - chili powder or cumin or garlic added)
Baked corn chips or crackers
Canned vegetable, 1 cup
Pudding pack, 14 ounces
Graham crackers, 1 ounce
Soymilk, 8 ounces

Roasted peanuts
Granola cereal
Wheat crackers

Note: Menus were planned to provide enough calories and protein for 2 adults and 2 children. These menus are for short-term use only so not all nutrients may be provided at recommended levels every day. A vegetarian multi-vitamin and mineral supplement can be included in your disaster kit.

Side bar:

Note: If you want to use this list for 6 days instead of 3, simply double the quantities of foods. For longer-term use, be sure to purchase fortified soymilk and a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. Consider your family's food preferences when purchasing items like cereal, fruits, vegetables, and juice.


Additional Foods that Can Be Included in a Disaster Kit. These foods may require minimal cooking or some water for preparation.


Ideas for meals requiring limited cooking


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hotline at: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636). This line is available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"Food and Water in an Emergency", FEMA and the American Red Cross,

"Preparing an Emergency Food Supply", University of Georgia Extension Service, "Preparing for Disaster", FEMA and the American Red Cross,

"What You Need to Know When the Power Goes Out Unexpectedly" Centers for Disease Control,

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