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Nutrition During Natural Disasters: Preparing for Survival

Natural disasters, whether they are hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, or any other forms of calamities, can occur without warning, disrupting our daily routine, comfort, and even our access to essential life necessities such as food.

Nutritional sustenance, though sometimes overlooked in the face of immediate dangers, plays a vital role during these challenging times, helping to maintain health, energy, and mental clarity.

This article aims to guide you through the essentials of nutrition during natural disasters, providing a comprehensive overview to help you stay prepared and resilient during these crises.

Nutritional Planning for Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can strike with little to no warning, making it essential to prepare beforehand.

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A key aspect of this preparation involves nutritional planning. A robust nutritional plan will ensure that you and your family have access to nutritious food that can support your health and wellbeing during a crisis.

Here’s how to go about it:

  • Assess Nutritional Needs: The first step in nutritional planning is understanding your family’s nutritional needs. This includes daily calorie requirements, which can vary based on age, sex, and physical activity level, along with any specific dietary needs or restrictions. Consider the needs of all family members, including infants, elderly, and pets.
  • Select Nutrient-Dense Foods: Choose foods that offer high nutritional value per serving. Nutrient-dense foods include whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. As fresh produce may not be available during a disaster, consider canned or dried versions. Remember to check for added sugars or sodium in canned products.
  • Diversify Your Food Choices: Variety is not only the spice of life but also a key to balanced nutrition. By diversifying your food choices across different food groups, you can ensure a wider range of nutrients. This will also help prevent ‘palate fatigue’ or boredom from eating the same foods repeatedly.
  • Prioritize Long Shelf-Life Foods: Since it’s unclear how long a disaster might last, opt for foods with a long shelf life. Canned goods, dried foods, and freeze-dried meals can last for years if stored properly.
  • Include Hydration Options: Hydration is critical during a disaster. Ensure your plan includes ample water supply, but also consider alternatives like coconut water, which provides hydration and electrolytes, or even powdered drink mixes that can be added to purified water.
  • Plan for Cooking Limitations: You might not have access to your usual cooking facilities during a disaster. Therefore, your nutritional plan should include foods that can be eaten without cooking or with minimal preparation.
  • Food Safety: Last but not least, your plan should take into account food safety. This includes proper food storage to prevent spoilage, understanding how long foods can safely be consumed in the absence of refrigeration, and having a plan for safe food preparation and handling to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Implementing a comprehensive nutritional plan before a disaster strikes can make a significant difference in managing the situation.

Such planning can help maintain strength and stamina, reduce stress, and improve recovery during and after the disaster.

Remember, proper nutrition is not just about surviving the disaster, but also about maintaining health and resilience in the face of adversity.

Staying Prepared: Ensuring Your Disaster Supply Kit is Nutritionally Balanced

a group of people preparing food after a natural disaster

Emergencies and disasters typically do not provide the luxury of time for preparation, making a well-stocked, nutritionally balanced disaster supply kit an invaluable resource.

This kit should contain a variety of foods that cover your nutritional needs, while also being non-perishable, easy to prepare, and palatable.

Here are some key considerations to ensure your disaster supply kit is nutritionally balanced:

  • Diversity of Nutrients: A variety of foods in your kit ensures a broad range of essential nutrients. Including different food groups is crucial. For instance, whole grains provide complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, canned lean meats and legumes offer protein, nuts and seeds give healthy fats, and canned fruits and vegetables contribute vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Water Supply: Hydration is paramount. The kit should include at least one gallon of water per person per day for drinking and sanitation, according to FEMA guidelines. Additionally, consider options like water purification tablets or life straws for situations where the water supply is questionable.
  • High-Energy Foods: During emergencies, you may need to be more active than usual, increasing your energy needs. High-energy foods like nuts, dried fruits, granola bars, and trail mix can quickly provide this needed energy.
  • Special Dietary Needs: Consider the specific dietary needs of each family member. Infants may require formula, older adults might need softer foods, and those with dietary restrictions such as allergies, diabetes, or hypertension will need appropriate options.
  • Vitamin and Mineral Supplements: Even with a well-rounded food supply, it may be challenging to meet all your nutritional needs during a disaster. Having a supply of multivitamin and mineral supplements can help cover potential nutritional gaps.
  • Easy-to-Prepare Foods: Given the uncertainty of cooking facilities during a disaster, your kit should include foods that require minimal preparation. Canned foods, ready-to-eat meals, and meal replacement shakes are good choices.
  • Food Rotation: To ensure the freshness and safety of your food supplies, remember to rotate them every six months. Check expiry dates and replace any items that are close to their expiration or appear compromised.
  • Can Opener and Utensils: Don’t forget to include a manual can opener and eating utensils in your kit. In the rush of packing, these can be easily overlooked but are essential for accessing and consuming your food supplies.

By carefully considering each of these elements, you can create a disaster supply kit that not only supports survival during a crisis but also promotes health and wellbeing through balanced nutrition.

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Remember, the goal is not just to endure a disaster, but to emerge from it as healthy and strong as possible.

Key Nutritional Needs You Need to be Prepared for

During a natural disaster, some key nutritional needs become more critical:

  • Hydration: Water is a non-negotiable need. Dehydration can exacerbate stress and cause serious health issues. Always prioritize safe, clean water storage and consider having water purification tablets or filters.
  • Energy: High-energy foods like nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and energy bars can provide a quick energy boost and are crucial during disaster scenarios.
  • Immunity: Multivitamin and mineral supplements can help ensure your immune system is functioning optimally.
  • Special Dietary Needs: Infants, the elderly, pregnant women, or individuals with specific health conditions may have unique nutritional needs. Ensure their dietary requirements are considered in your planning.

What the Experts Say About Nutrition During Natural Disasters

As the significance of nutrition during emergencies gains attention, numerous health organizations and experts have provided guidelines and recommendations. Here’s what they suggest:

  • World Health Organization (WHO): WHO emphasizes the importance of a balanced diet during emergencies [1]. They recommend incorporating a mix of staples like cereals and legumes, along with fruits, vegetables, animal-sourced foods, and fats. They also stress the need for safe water and sanitation to prevent waterborne diseases and highlight the necessity of breastfeeding for infants.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC advises storing at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, choosing options with long shelf lives, and considering special dietary needs [2]. They also recommend using foods before their expiration date and replacing them regularly.
  • American Dietetic Association (ADA): ADA promotes the idea of “eating from the rainbow” even during disasters, suggesting a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to ensure a range of nutrients. They also recommend whole grains for sustained energy and lean proteins for muscle maintenance.
  • Red Cross: The Red Cross advises including foods that are high in energy, easy to prepare, and liked by the family in your disaster kit. They also emphasize the importance of staying hydrated and suggest having a two-week supply of water.
  • Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): FAO stresses the importance of nutrition in disaster situations, particularly for vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women, and older adults. They advocate for the provision of nutrient-rich foods and the use of fortified foods and supplements when necessary.

These expert recommendations underline the critical role of nutrition during natural disasters. They provide a clear roadmap for individuals and communities to plan and prepare effectively.

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By prioritizing nutrition in disaster preparedness, we can better equip ourselves to face emergencies, support our health and wellbeing, and foster resilience in challenging times.

Final Tips to Consider

When planning for nutrition during natural disasters, here are some additional pointers to keep in mind:

Food Preferences: While nutrition is essential, don’t forget about taste. Include foods your family enjoys eating. Familiar flavors can bring comfort during stressful times.

Cooking Limitations: Many disasters may limit your ability to cook. Thus, choose foods that can be eaten raw or require minimal preparation.

Food Safety: Be aware of food safety rules, especially if power outages occur. Foods in the fridge can spoil if the power is out for more than 4 hours. Always discard any food that looks or smells off.

Pack a Portable Kit: If evacuation is necessary, ensure you have a portable kit with essentials like bottled water, high-energy bars, nuts, and dried fruits.

Diversify Your Food Choices: To prevent palate fatigue and to ensure a range of nutrients, diversify your food choices. This can also contribute to better mental wellbeing.


Natural disasters are inevitable, but our readiness for them isn’t. Taking steps to plan for nutritional needs during these crises can significantly impact our resilience and capacity to weather the storm.

Key considerations include ensuring a balance of macronutrients, providing for special dietary needs, and maintaining hydration.

Experts underscore the importance of a diverse diet, food safety, and consideration of individual dietary requirements.

Ultimately, personal preferences, cooking limitations, and the need for portable supplies should be part of any disaster nutrition plan.

By understanding and applying these principles, we can turn the tide from feeling helpless during a natural disaster to being empowered, knowing that we are prepared to nourish ourselves and our loved ones effectively during a crisis.

After all, nutrition is not just about survival; it’s about sustaining health, vitality, and wellbeing even in the face of adversity.

Cited sources

  1. https://www.who.int/emergencies/emergency-health-kitshttps://www.who.int/emergencies/emergency-health-kits%MCEPASTEBIN%
  2. https://emergency.cdc.gov/