Emergency Food - How Much is Needed?

FEMA / Red Cross Guidelines & Suggestions

Store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.

  • Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water.
  • Pack a manual can opener and eating utensils.
  • Avoid salty foods, as they will make you thirsty.
  • Choose foods your family will eat.
    • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables
    • Protein or fruit bars
    • Dry cereal or granola
    • Peanut butter
    • Dried fruit
    • Nuts
    • Crackers
    • Canned juices
    • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
    • High energy foods
    • Vitamins
    • Food for infants
    • Comfort/stress foods

NOTE: All the foods listed above are subject to their normal shelf life and are not considered Emergency Food Rations. We strongly recommend you purchase Emergency Food that has at least a 5 year shelf life.

BMR - Basal Metabolic Rate

The BRM, which stands for Basal Metabolic Rate, is one metric to determine caloric needs. BMR is what the body consumes at rest just to survive.

The BMR Rate for an adult can be very different from one individual to another. Height, Weight and Activity Levels can vary widely. Gender also affects the numbers as males need more calories per day than females.

For example: The BMR for a 185lbs. male, 6' 2", 40 years old is approx 1900 calories per day. The BRM for a 135lbs. female, 5' 7", 40 years old is approx 1400 calories per day.

Calculating the BMR per Person

There are a number of ways to calculate an individuals BMR rate. The first way is calculating it by the manual equations below.

Women: BMR = 655 + ( 4.35 x weight in pounds ) + ( 4.7 x height in inches ) - ( 4.7 x age in years )

Men: BMR = 66 + ( 6.23 x weight in pounds ) + ( 12.7 x height in inches ) - ( 6.8 x age in year )

The Harris Benedict Equation is a formula that uses your BMR and then applies an activity factor to determine your total daily energy expenditure (calories).

  • If you are sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  • If you are lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  • If you are moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  • If you are very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  • If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & physical job or 2x training) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9

The easier way is to use a BMR Calculator. There are many online that will work. We have included some links below at the bottom of the page so you can figure out your needs.

Example of Calculating the BMR for a Family

To help assist you in calculating the BMR daily caloric intake for a family, we have created a sample family below.

Bob (The Dad) is 6' 0", 225lbs., 42 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 2,883 calories per day.

Susan (The Mom) is 5' 7", 145lbs., 39 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 1,949 calories per day.

Jimmy (The Son) is 5' 4", 120lbs., 15 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 2,096 calories per day.

Jenny (The Daughter) is 4' 9", 95lbs., 13 years old, Lightly Active due to Disaster Conditions = 1,778 calories per day.

That's a total of 8,706 calories per day for this family of four. Based on this family, they would need a minimum of 3.63 2400-Calorie Food Bars per day.

Side Effects of Lack of Daily Recommended Caloric Intake

While most individuals can survive for days or weeks without food, there are other issues associated with low caloric intake:

  • Irritability, low moral, lethargy
  • Physical weakness
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Poor judgment
  • Weakened immune system
  • Inability to maintain body temperature which can lead to hypothermia, heat exhaustion, or even heat stroke

While many of these are manageable in true "Survival Conditions", they can hinder you severely in "Emergency Disaster Conditions". Please read below on the differences between the two situations and determine what you should prepare for.

Are all 3-Day Emergency Kits really 3-Day Emergency Kits?

Most emergency kits that are on the market these days call themselves 3-Day kits, but they do not hold up to common sense when it comes to the daily caloric intake needed for survival. Make sure you truly have enough food for yourself and your family in an emergency!

Typical Levels Observed

Most emergency kits only include one 2400 Calorie Food Ration Bar per person for a 3 day period.

That calculates to only 800 calories per person per day. The average male adult needs 2,000 calories per day.

This means most Emergency Kits on the market only include 42% of standard recommended caloric intake needs (based on a 185lbs. male, 6' 2", 40 years old)

Recommended Supply Level

We recommend a minimum one 2400 Calorie Emergency Food ration per day or two 3600 Calorie Emergency Food rations for a 3 day period per person.

Both of these options will give you 2400 calories per day per person.

It is important that you take the time to calculate how many calories per day for each family member and purchase food based on those figures.

Survival Conditions vs. Emergency Disaster Conditions

"Survival Conditions"

The US Coast Guard has done studies on the minimum levels of water and food in survival conditions. With a fresh water, a person can actually survival for anywhere between 8-18 days without food. There have been many documented cases where a human has lasted much longer than that in the right conditions.

The USCG recommends a minimum of 800 calories per day for survival. This is a base number and can be effected by the size, age and weight of an individual. However these numbers are based on pure survival. Their tests were conducted on life rafts where there was no physical activity, just pure survival.

"Emergency Disaster Conditions"

However, "Emergency Disaster Conditions" are completely different. You're not sitting in a life raft or on a beach; your evacuating, digging through wreckage, walking long distances and many other highly strenuous activities.

This is why we highly recommend either figuring out the actual BMR Caloric Requirements for yourself and your family and purchasing the correct amount of food rations or purchasing one 2400 Calorie Food Ration per person per day.

For more information and resources on Storing Food for Emergencies, please visit the web sites below.

US Department of Homeland Security - FEMA

FEMA “Are you Ready?” Online Publication – An in-depth 204-page guide to emergency preparedness.

English Version

Ready Gov

Ready Gov - Food Information

CDC - Center For Disease Control and Prevention

CDC - Keeping Food & Water Safe After a Disaster

BMR Calculator

Harris Benedict Equation


FoodSafety.gov - Food Safety In an Emergency

USDA - United States Department of Agriculture - Food Safety

USDA - Emergency Preparedness

USDA - Keeping Food Safe In an Emergency

American Red Cross

American Red Cross Food Safety

American Red Cross Preparedness Checklists

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