PrepBusters: Emergency Food Kits – Do they really have what you need?

It’s like Myth-Busters, for preppers: In this PrepBuster series, we shine some light on some of the murkier corners of prepper information; topics where it can be hard to get a clear answer. This episode is about the nutritional information of emergency food kits. It’s not that the manufacturers lie, it’s that they’re so anxious to put the best spin on every bit of information the reader can get dizzy from all that spinning.  We also have a podcast on the topic here for those who prefer to watch the road while they learn.

Most prepper food reviews center on three topics: 1) Taste, 2) Shelf life, based on packaging methods, and 3) Cost. Instead, we look at what the foods can do for you: Nutrition and ease of use. We start by showing you how to sift the grain of useful information from the obscuring chaff of the nutritional labels.

There are a lot of ‘bucket’ kits for emergency food out there. How can you find the ones that deliver what you really need?

The first trick involves what’s used as a ‘serving size’. Some companies list size by dry ingredients, others by how much it is once prepared. Well, is two tablespoons of mix a realistic serving? The neat thing about this for the companies is that if they want it to sound like there’s a lot of food in the bucket, they just list lots of (really small) servings! One cup prepared is a commonly used serving size. That’s about a quarter of what most Americans would pile on their plate if having spaghetti for dinner. In other words, many ‘serving sizes’ are so small they don’t in any way reflect what most readers would think of as a decent serving.


How can you sort this out? Well, if most entrées by a company run around 200 calories (which many do), that’s about 1/10th of the calories most people would need to not lose weight quickly. If the bucket doesn’t give you 10 of those entrees per ‘day’, it’s not fully feeding you for a day.

But how much do the kit producers expect you to eat? I waded into the information on several kits, and came up with values ranging from 1000 to 1,650 calories/day/person. 1000 calories a day isn’t just a ‘weight loss diet’, it’s considered a starvation level diet in the nutrition community; meaning calorie intake is so low the person isn’t just using a lot of body fat, but is probably burning a lot of their own muscle protein just to survive. 1,650 is considered a moderate weight loss diet; and might keep a smallish woman who was sedentary from losing weight at all. I’d call 1,650 calories a reasonable ‘day’, but not 1000/day.

Well, I doubt there’s really 966 cal from fat in a 968 cal day, as this label claims…but from what I could add up, the 1.6+ g of salt per day and a bit under 1000 cal per day is what they’re offering. Yeah, that would qualify as a food emergency.

Another aspect to look at is if the packaging allows reasonable use. Most of these ‘bucket kits’ advertise as being convenient pouch meals, just add water and eat!

Well, that can be great, but only if the number of servings per pouch is reasonable. One kit I looked at offered 24 pouches in a ’30 day supply’… but that included 236 ‘servings’. So, almost 10 ‘servings’ per pouch is how the math works out. This for an emergency food supply, where it’d be unreasonable to expect people to be able to refrigerate and reheat leftovers. I guess you’re expected to fix your pouch of entrée, eat it all in one day, then not eat the next day to make up for it? Hope that pasta dish was really filling! In short, make sure the servings per pouch is a reasonable number to eat at once. Some companies do this, with two small servings per pouch and the math showing you the company expects you to eat two servings per meal.

Here’s a copy/paste from one such product’s nutrition label:

Serving Size 1/3 Cup dry (41 g)
Servings Per Container About 9
Amount Per Serving
Calories 150
Calories from Fat 25
Cholesterol    25mg . 8%
Sodium    440mg . 18%
Total Carbohydrate    26g . 9%
Dietary Fiber    1g
Sugars    4g
Protein    6g
Vitamin A .  2%
Vitamin C .  8%
Calcium . 6%
Iron .  6%
So…you are supposed to add hot water to the pouch to prepare, but there’s 9 ‘servings’ in the pouch, each of about 2/3 of a cup prepared.  Problems:  Leftovers.  Serving size of a pasta dish realistic for a 5 yr old.  18% of the day’s sodium in less than 10% of a reasonable day’s calories.  

Nutrition per meal is also worth paying attention to (more on what you might look for there in another podcast). How do you even sort that out with such silly serving sizes? My approach is this: If what they call a ‘serving’ is, say, 200 calories; that’s about 1/10th of what I need in a day. Therefore, the servings should, on average, have at least 1/10th of the stuff I need, and not more than 1/10th of the stuff I don’t want much of. A 200 cal serving with 20% of vitamins and 8% of sodium would be a winner; a 200 cal serving with 2% of vitamins and 31% of sodium is a problem.

When you start looking at these labels for emergency kits, you may be less enthusiastic about their contents. If so, you might look also at the bulk options, #10 cans of vegetables, TVP, etc. These bulk buys have a serious downside of taking more preparation. They have serious upsides too: You can get a lot more fruits and vegetables, rather than just ‘pasta and sauce’ as so many entrees are. Food’s much cheaper this way. It’s easier to customize your food supplies to meet special needs, such a allergy avoidance or a diabetic or hypertensive diet (Way less salt in most bulk foods!) You can also get a lot more variety in the diet by combining the bulk foods in different ways; and that’s a big deal in the long term.

These ‘big can, simpler ingredients’ products take more prep, but add versatility and have better nutritional profiles, especially for persons with high blood pressure who probably don’t need 5 g of salt per day.

In fact, here’s Salty’s idea for a prepper business, as a gift to you: Figure out how to mix and match the offerings of various food packagers, provide combos and recipes with clear and helpful nutrition information, and help your customers get the combos. I bet it’d sells.



One Comment

  1. This is why I don’t buy MRE’s, dehydrated camping food, or any of this bucket food. I take what I eat at home most of the time I am working from a base camp and the truck is right there. When I have to packing a wheelbarrow up to 5 miles or I try to use my boat my goal is no moter noise.most of the pre done food has more salt then even I like and most of their products or pasta based. Thanks for trying to figure this out they’re making it hard so I think that they must be something to hide

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