Which Foods to Buy at the Grocery Store to Prepare For a Hurricane—And What to Skip
According to experts, proper planning can help you weather the storm.
It's officially hurricane season and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has already predicted it's going to be a busy one. In fact, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is predicting a 60% chance of an "above-normal season," meaning we'll likely see more hurricanes than usual this year.
"Now is the time for communities along the coastline as well as inland to get prepared for the dangers that hurricanes can bring," Gina Raimondo, the United States Secretary of Commerce, said in a statement on May 20.
So far, there have been no major hurricanes of the season in the U.S.—yet. But, if you live in an area where hurricanes are common, it's understandable to be a little wary of what's ahead. And, with that, it's only natural to want to prepare.
One thing you can do in advance is to know what kind of groceries to buy for a hurricane, FEMA-certified natural disaster preparedness instructor Cheryl Nelson, tells Health. This is crucial, she says. "When a hurricane, tropical storm, or tropical depression is approaching, know that you might lose power," Nelson says. "Unless you have a generator, this means that any food in your refrigerator will go bad within four hours without power." In that kind of situation, she recommends eating "anything that will spoil soon first," like fresh fruit, milk, and cheese.
But having the right groceries handy can make all the difference between being able to ride out the storm in relative comfort and scrambling for meals at the last minute in less-than-favorable weather conditions. Here's what experts say about how to shop smart ahead of a storm.
First, there are some general rules about buying groceries for a hurricane
If you live in a hurricane-prone area, Nelson recommends keeping regular tabs on the weather forecast so you're not caught by surprise when a storm is barreling down. No, you don't want to live in fear, but you should plan your grocery shopping accordingly.
"Don't wait until the last minute and join everyone else at the grocery store," Nelson says. "Plan well in advance of a storm." That means having some non-perishable foods handy, making sure you have refills of prescription medications, and ensuring that your car is appropriately gassed up.
When it comes to food, "just buy what you need for two weeks, maximum," Nelson says.
OK, what groceries shouldn't you buy for a hurricane?
Nelson recommends skipping the usual milk and bread that people always scramble to get their hands on. "These will spoil quickly without power in humid situations," she points out.
Also, "don't overbuy," Nelson says, adding, "we all remember what happened with toilet paper shortages" during the beginning of the pandemic.
The best groceries to buy for a hurricane
Individual tastes come into play here, but there are a few must-haves to consider.
For starters, water is crucial. "Make sure you have at least one gallon of water per person for at least three days—preferably one to two weeks," Nelson says. You also want to stock up on non-perishables that can satisfy you and your family for several days or even weeks of no power. Nelson's suggestions:
- Canned goods (make sure you have a manual can opener)
- Nut butters
- Protein or granola bars
- Freeze-dried meals
Nutrient-dense foods (i.e. ones that will give you a solid amount of nutrition) are crucial in this kind of situation, Scott Keatley, R.D., of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City, tells Health. He suggests loading up on things like:
- Canned salmon, tuna, and chicken
- Canned beans, particularly black, pinto, garbanzo, and refried beans
- Beef jerky
- Trail mix
- Nonfat dry milk
- Canned vegetables
If you're a coffee drinker, Keatley definitely recommends having the instant variety around. "It's not nutrient-dense, but if you're used to having coffee a couple of times a day, going without could be a headache—literally," he points out. And, if water isn't exactly your go-to drink, having a sugar-free water flavoring like Crystal Light around can help make the inevitably warm water you'll be drinking more "palatable," Keatley says.
"Remember that unless you have a generator, plan to eat these foods at room temperature," Nelson says. It's also a good idea to have disposable plates, cups, napkins, and utensils around, along with trash bags, wipes, and hand sanitizer, she says, given that your access to tap water could be compromised for a bit in a bad storm.
You don't need to panic during hurricane season but experts say having select groceries on-hand for the just-in-case will go a long way toward making you feel prepared in case a big storm actually strikes.
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