The 20-dollar 20-day Emergency Food Kit

As promised in yesterday’s prepping and survival blog post, today I’m explaining my cheapest-possible entry-level stored food kit. I purchased all of the items in this kit yesterday (at Walmart), for a total price of a few pennies under $20. Your prices may vary. I chose store-brand version or little-known brands of foods to get the cheapest prices. You might opt to spend a little more than $20, if you think name-brands are preferable.

For this blog post, I chose to consider the bare minimum of food for 20 days. It is survival rations, not 3 square meals a day. However, I don’t suppose that anyone would be living off of just these foods for those 20 days. In all likelihood, you would have some food still in your kitchen. You might have various spices, some random cans of vegetables, some odds and ends in the freezer. These food items, when added to the macronutrients of this 20-20 food kit, will make the meal more palatable, and add more flavor, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Spreadsheet for the 20-20 food kit (PNG image, opens in new window/tab)

The above spreadsheet analyzes the 20-20 food kit in terms of calories (technically called kilocalories or kcal) as well as macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. There are only 5 foods in the kit — I told you it was the bare minimum — pasta, long grain white rice, dried legumes, granulated sugar, canola or soybean oil.

The oil provides dietary fat. Canola oil and soybean oil are each good choices because they contain both essential fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3. The total amount of fat as a percent of total calories may seem a little high at 26.2%. Similarly, the total kcal of just over 2500 may seem high. But I consider that if you are dealing with some disaster scenario, you may be more physically active than usual, and therefore need more calories. Vegetable oil has a high caloric density and keeps well. It is an easy way to store dietary fat and calories.

The pasta should be plain white pasta, not whole grain. The rice should be white rice, not brown rice. The oils in the bran of any whole grain will go rancid after some number of months. Refined grains and refined sugar keep very well, even indefinitely. So although whole grains are more nutritious, choose the refined grains for long term storage. The rice should be long-grain, not medium or short grain. The reason is that long grain rice has more protein than medium or short grain rice (according to the USDA). Rice is not high in protein to start with, so pick the long-grain variety.

I chose 6 lbs. of pasta and 10 lbs. of rice for this kit, rather than 8 and 8, mainly because the rice was less expensive and came in 10 lb. bags. If you don’t mind breaking the $20 limit, you can choose more pasta and less rice. Pasta has more protein than rice, but less carbs. The 20-20 food kit is a little too high in carbs at over 65% of total calories and a little on the low side for protein, so that trade-off would be fine.

Pasta and rice provide plenty of carbs and some protein. Theoretically, just in terms of macronutrients, you could survive for the 20 days on just rice or pasta and vegetable oil. But let’s add some fiber and more protein; that’s what the dried legumes provide. The 20-20 kit provides only 52 grams of protein per day, at just over 8% of total calories. That amount is sufficient, but on the low end of recommended amounts. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 10% of total calories be from protein. However, we have 52 grams of protein per day, which is just about 10% of a 2000 kcal diet. The math is 52 grams times 3.87 kcal per gram of protein (an average value), divided by 2000 kcal, equals 10 percent. Also, the IOM recommended amounts of protein are 56 g/day for adult men and 46 g/day for adult women. These numbers average to 51 g of protein per day. So, at 52 grams per day, this food kit does have sufficient protein.

By the way, the 20-day food kit is not necessarily 20 days food for one person. It is 20 person-days’ worth of food. So that could be 10 days’ worth of food for 2 persons, or 5 days’ worth of food for 4 people, etc.

For the dried legumes, I chose one pound each of lentils, split peas, and red beans. The spreadsheet just uses 3 lbs. of lentils for the nutritional analysis. These legumes all have approximately the same percent protein, about 23 to 24%, and they are each complete or nearly complete in terms of essential amino acids. Pair any of these legumes with a grain such as pasta or long-grain rice, and you have all the protein and essential amino acids that you need.

Finally, we come to the granulated sugar. Is this food choice just empty calories? Yes, but what’s wrong with that? You need calories to survive. Sugar also makes any meal more palatable, which is important if you are living off of rations for some number of days. But if you think that this food kit has too many calories (over 2500 per day), you can simply use less sugar and less vegetable oil. You will get the same amount of protein. You don’t literally have to eat all of this food in 20 days.

The purpose of this exercise was to show that you can store food as a preparation for various possible emergencies without spending a large amount of money. But I have plenty of food stored in addition to this one $20 kit. See my previous post for my 90 person-day food kit. So if I was to make a recommendation to readers, I’d certainly suggest spending more than $20 and storing more food than 20 days’ rations. See our advertisers for a wide variety of foods of every kind for long-term storage and many other prepping supplies.

– Thoreau

33 Responses to The 20-dollar 20-day Emergency Food Kit

  1. i’m not sure which rice to get. since you got it at walmart….could you tell me the exact name on the box (if indeed its in a box). also… should these foods be stored in their original containers or something else?
    also….how do you prepare legumes.

    you can see i’m a bachelor by my questions :) BTW i read your site every day along with SHTFplan site. keep up the good work.


    • Any long-grain white rice will work fine. The larger the bag of rice, the cheaper the price per pound. I bought the Walmart store brand called ‘Great Value’, in a large plastic bag. Anything in plastic can be kept in its original bag: rice, pasta, legumes. The sugar is usually packaged in paper; I pour it into a large plastic container with a lid.

      Here is a dried beans recipe that will also work with peas, lentils, chickpeas, any dried legumes. After cooking, the beans can be added to the rice along with whatever spices you like. I suggest adding vegetable oil and sugar, to improve the taste.

      For the pasta, cook as usual and drain. Don’t overcook the pasta; it should be firm in the center. After draining, you can simmer the pasta in a pan with some vegetable oil and spices. Make sure you do NOT add the pasta to hot oil; it will splatter the oil. Put the oil in a cold pan, then add the pasta and heat. Garlic powder and red pepper and basil are good spices to add. It is better with cheese, but in a pinch it is fine without. Check out the Pasta With Garlic and Oil recipes at

  2. But what do you DO with the sugar? It wont taste good with the rice and beans. I would probably skip the white pasta and get oats. That way you could have sweetened oatmeal for breakfast instead if three meals of rice and beans. And I would probably get honey instead of sugar, it has some nutrition and keeps forever and doesn’t get ruined if the bag gets wet.

    Let me tell you, in the south you absolutely cannot leave rice in the original plastic bags. Rice weevils will get it. I store most of my rice in the freezers if I’m keeping it in plastic. Parboiled rice is more nutritious than plain white rice btw

    • I would use the sugar on the rice and beans. I would also put it on the pasta. If you don’t buy the sugar, you’ll have 2175 kcal/day, but you’ll be fine for proportions of protein, fat, carbs. You would also have $2.48 to spend to keep the price at $20.

      Let me try your suggestion, to get oatmeal instead of pasta, in my spreadsheet. OK, that works fine. We still get just over 2500 kcal/day and a good balance of macronutrients. I’m not sure what the cost of the oatmeal would be though.

  3. Milehimama: in order to keep your rice lasting without worrying about bugs, use mylar bags & O2 packets. Your rice can last up to 30 years if sealed properly this way. Actually, store ALL of your dry-goods this way. Rice would taste just fine with sugar, especially if you have stored dry-milk, then it would make a good breakfast & high-calorie snack.

  4. My son loves Ramen noodles, but he does not like the flavor packets that come with them. He just peppers and butters the noodles, so I save the packets. I have a feeling that they would come in handy once other spices and flavorings are gone, plus you can make broth if you are low on food. I have tons of them stored in a cool, dry place and they are in my bug out bag as well. You can also keep the flavor packets from fast food places. Ketchup, mustard, soy, etc. are all long lasting if kept in a cool, dry place.

  5. P.S. Once placed in mylar and the O2 packets have obsorbed all oxygen, put bags in a Food-Grade 5 gallon bucket and seal. If you are worried that there are weevils already in the rice, place the already filled mylar bags in the freezer for 24-48 hours. This isnt nessasary, other than your own peace-of-mind because once the O2 packets have absorbed the oxygen, there is nothing left to keep the weevils alive. Good luck in your prepping!

    • I remember back in the day, I mean WAY back, we’d put a small piece of dry ice in the can or, jar, with the rice, wheat etc to kill any critter eggs etc, AND, to remove O2.

  6. If you weren’t figuring prices and were just putting a supply together would canned beans be an acceptable choice? We have quite a few already and tend to keep a good stock of them. So if I put an emergency supply together, I don’t really want to buy more beans. Do dry beans keep longer?
    Also, thank you for this list. I try to not get too riled up about this sort of thing, but it would be kind of silly to not make any preparations. And this seems like a good place to begin. I’ve looked at other lists and they are just so extensive and we have a small house, I wouldn’t have any room for our regular stores if I followed those lists. This would at least get us by in the case of a small emergency.

    • Katrina: Yes, you could use canned beans. By my math, you would need 16 1-pound cans of baked beans to get the same protein as in 3 lbs of dried beans. The canned beans are more expensive, and they don’t keep quite as well. But they are much tastier than reconstituted dry beans.

  7. My Mom remembers WWII rationing. Sugar was 1 of them.
    I like talking with people that remember what it was like, you will learn from history on how to prepare for the future.

  8. Wouldn’t the Oats eventually get weavels(?)?. I know I have come across them (yuck BTW but another great source of protein =) ). I came across an EXCELLENT site regarding food dehydrating, I’ll look it up and post if you like. Vacuum sealing and storing in Mylar packaging are excellent food storage techniques. A homemade food dehydrator under $20 and try pawn shops, Craigslist, for vacuum sealers some are $20.
    I would think one could make season packets for the legumes and rice could be made taking up minimal storage space, all dry of course. Dry herbs from own garden…super easy. I could go on and on. Just extra ideas to “spice” things up a bit. Dry your own onions garlic, great for heart health and many other things. Sorry again I seem to have diarrhea of the fingers. =)

  9. One could make their own flavored oils for flavoring normally bland foods.

    • Jennifer: You should be careful about adding anything to stored oils. Food immersed in oil and kept in storage can grow botulism (an anaerobic bacterium).

  10. Love this site! Thanks for the 20 day and 90 day lists. I have just found out that I am going to be homeless so the 90 day will help my husband and I that we can eat for 3 months for $180. I need recipes however. Can you help with that so it can all be worked out? Will gladly pay for a recipe book.

    I bookmarked you, this site is great.

    Rhonda Morin

    • Rhonda, The 90-day food kit was priced at $300, when I bought the items last year. It is 90-person-days, so that’s one person for 90 days or 2 persons for 45 days. Sorry to hear about your financial problems. I don’t have recipes for the food kits.

  11. A couple of bay leaves in with the rice or pasta will keep out the bugs.

  12. Any recipes made from the item in this kit????

    • I don’t have any recipes right now. But I’m open to suggestions. One tip for the pasta, though. You can take leftover pasta and fry it in oil. Sprinkle with sugar after cooking.

  13. If there’s a disaster, wouldn’t water be scarce and everything on here needs what to cook. Or is that what the oil is for?

  14. I have been buying dry beans and canning them. In case of no elec or gas to cook on or even all the water they use to cook, All I have to do is open the jar and heat and eat.

  15. One really yummy and simple way of cooking dry beans is to put them in the crock pot overnight with the water about three inches over the beans. I tend to buy the packages of 15+bean soup mix and I don’t use the flavor package.Set the crockpot temp to low overnight and by the next afternoon they should be soft and ready for the seasonings.I add my own seasoning…tumeric,cumin,ginger,garlic and if you want a small amount of cayanne but,you can add whatever seasoning you prefer. I also as they run out of liquid add V8 Hot and Spicy,stir it in and leave the crockpot on low. This adds more nutrition and is soooo good…and not spicy.
    Actually once the beans are cooked(soft) you can add whatever you want to them…they also make excellent chili.

  16. I would not recommend keeping rice in its original bag. I have had Indian Meal Moths before and I now keep all my food stuffs in glass or thick plastic containers with a well sealing lid.

  17. You can use some FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth in your grain storage jars, that will kill any insects that might get in or hatch if there were eggs and you didn’t see them. My friend puts about a teaspoon/tablespoon of sea salt instead, says it will kill/dry out any pests. Both of these additives will not harm you if you eats them, most probably will just filter to the bottom and not even get into you food. Diatomaceous earth is a wormer, btw. Get food grade, NOT pool stuff.

  18. Great site and great list. A few thoughts:
    I keep most of these things “in stock” as we have a large pantry and I love to cook! As a cook I recommend buying things you *will* eat and rotating them through your emergency stock over a years time or so. That usually means better brands. Buy larger quantities when they are on sale. Most hardware stores will sell you brand new 5 gallon plastic buckets (and lids) very cheaply for mixing paint, etc. These make great air-tight, critter proof containers and in a pinch can be used for transporting and storing clean water as well. Any good asian market (or try amazon) will sell you premium grade “jasmine” rice. This is a long grain white bred in Thailand and in my opinion tastes far better than any alternative, also very easy to cook with great results every time. We go through about a 25lb bag every year and this is certainly the best value (about $1 a pound) but smaller bags are also usually available. I also recommend considering a good quality extra virgin olive oil… look for it in larger tins up to a gallon. It’s a bit more expensive but tastes better and is better for you than most of the lighter varieties of cooking oil. E.V.O.O. made up the majority of the daily fat content of many romans hundreds of years ago and it’s still my #1 pick today when meat is not available. It does have a low smoke point so forget about deep frying with it! Don’t forget basic seasonings! The word “salary” comes from the fact that salt was once used as a currency… and it could be again. It’s also good for preserving meats and some vegetables and fruits. A few pounds of kosher or sea salt is a cheap investment. Some dried hot peppers take up little room and weight and can be used to season dishes too.

  19. Thanx CJ, I have copied your recipe and plan on trying recipe real soon. Sounds good.

  20. For rice and beans long term storage, I buy the 20 lbs bags and place them in the freezer for 1 week, this will kill any eggs or larvae, then they are stored in 5 gallon buckets that I get from the local bakery, a 5 gallon bucket stores about 40 lbs of rice and 30 lbs of beans, I tried both oxygen packets and a piece of sheet rock stripped of the paper backing and wrapped in paper towels(make sure the sheet rock is not the older chinese tainted one), both ways seem to work the same, even in high humidity.
    Also the stores sale pouches of prepared rice and/or pasta for about $1.00, local brads are cheaper, Knoors brand is the best.

  21. I also have stored quite a few dried beans, but they all have a big problem: to be edible, they need to be cooked up to 2 hours. This will require a lot of fuel. Consequently, I’m packing away a lot of canned beans which can be eaten cold or briefly heated so they taste better.

  22. &, How do you plan to cook this with no electricity?

  23. Ok thanks Thoreau, will check it out. :-)