Anyone who’s spent at least one hurricane season in South Florida knows the scene, if only from the local newscasts: A storm threatens, and grocery shelves are stripped bare of life-preserving essentials like batteries, bottled water and … tortilla chips.
Really, people, it doesn’t have to be this way. Jacqueline Gibson, University of Florida Family & Consumer Sciences extension agent, says that shoppers should keep the food pyramid in mind when shopping for supplies now — before the dreaded “cone of uncertainty” makes its first appearance. If you keep staples on hand from each of the major food groups, Gibson says, you’ll have what you need to keep up your strength for the post-storm recovery. And, if you put the items in large plastic bags or bins and label them as hurricane supplies, you’ll avoid using them by accident — or because you don’t feel like making a trip to the store when you run out of peanut butter for your toddler.
So here’s the Excellent Eight: Food basics that you should keep on hand from June through November:
• Hit the (water) bottle. Tap water is only unsafe if there is a “boil water” order after a storm, but it’s best to be prepared with a supply of bottled water. (One gallon per day per person is the recommended amount for drinking.) And if you lack refrigeration, warm soda is far less satisfying than a glass of water. Instead, stock up on flavored drink crystals to add variety. If you have to have a cup of coffee in the morning, add a small jar of instant coffee to your shopping list. (Keeping water containers in your freezer will help keep other foods cold longer if the power goes out and will provide lovely, ice-cold drinking water when it melts.)
• Carbs that resist sogginess. No, not tortilla chips! We’re talking crackers, rice cakes — anything that resists mold better than sliced bread. It’s going to get pretty humid once that A/C goes out, so use up any bread quickly and then make open-faced sandwiches with some of these alternatives. (As with all of these foods, the lower-salt alternatives are best; increasing your thirst is the last thing you want to do.) Storing them in a sealable plastic container will also help keep them fresh. Don’t forget healthful breakfast cereal, which can also serve as snack food during the day.
• Got milk (in boxes?): Ultra-pasteurized (or shelf-stable) milk can be stored without refrigeration, although it has to be refrigerated after it is opened. So choose individual containers that you can use up on a bowl of cereal or two. Powdered milk is another, cheaper option, but you need to mix it with water.
• Love those legumes (beans and peanut butter). They are a great alternative to meat because they don’t spoil. And slightly sweet, slightly salty peanut butter is one of America’s great comfort foods. Spread it on crackers or rice cakes and it’s a meal — breakfast, lunch or dinner. In South Florida, black beans and rice are as much of a staple as peanut butter and jelly. After the storm, think of them as the main dish instead of as a side.
• Go nuts. Though they’re not a legume, nuts are another good protein source; again, Gibson says, watch the salt and choose dry-roasted or lower-salt alternatives.
• Do the can-can. Be sure to stock plenty of canned or jarred fruit, packed in its own juices to help quench thirst, as well as the canned vegetables that your family prefers. Dried fruit is another way to go. Canned soups and stews are also on many lists of hurricane supplies, though they might not be appealing in the height of a South Florida summer. Tuna and chicken are available in cans and pouches, which make them convenient sources of protein.
• The spice(s) of life: Those individual packets of ketchup, mustard, mayo, soy sauce and red pepper that are cluttering up a kitchen drawer right now? They’re perfect hurricane supplies because they’re in single-serve packets. Most condiments aren’t perishable, but if you can’t live without mayo on your sandwich, be sure to save any packets you get when you go out to eat.
• Food for all your babies. Ready-to-use infant formula is a must for children who aren’t breast-fed. And, if you’re one of those folks whose “baby” has four paws, don’t forget the pet food – dry or in small cans.
Finally, remember the utensils: Paper plates, plastic ware, napkins and wipes — and a manual can opener! If you don’t have a generator or a camp stove with fuel, canned heat (like Sterno) will help you warm up food. Never use a charcoal grill indoors; it produces carbon monoxide fumes that can be deadly.
With a well-stocked pantry, you can watch the weather forecast with more aplomb — and fewer bags of chips.