The past week has been a doozie!
I sure hope if you are reading this your electricity, wifi and internet are back, your fridge is stocked, and most importantly you are warm and sane, I mean safe!
Snow-and-ice-pocalypse descended upon us with ten inches of ice-covered snow around the city and many found themselves in a survival scenario with no electricity for days, stuck at home with no access to fresh foods. The first 24 hours might have even been fun with candles, cozy blankets and fires in the hearth, family huddling comfortably in one room. Then you start to realize your refrigerator is warming up and the freezer is no longer freezing your foods, and you can’t get in your garage for supplies because the only door is the electric one. You’ve tried to turn on the lights around your house twenty times already.
The fun is over 4-5 hours into the outage and the kids start to get cranky and everyone is on edge, unless you were fortunate enough to book a hotel room before half the city showed up and created a no-vacancy situation.
Unfortunately, once the storm hit it was too late to stock up on food. Even if you were able to drive or walk to the grocery store, the shelves were cleared, some totally empty. The Fred Meyer in my neighborhood was out of butter, running on a generator and had thrown dozens of pounds of food away, hiring police officers to guard the bins so people would not raid them. If you were lucky enough to find the food you needed, you may have learned the store was unable to access the internet to take credit cards.
This was the scenario that Covid-weary Portlanders experienced this past week. We’ve seen this week how a prolonged winter storm can quickly spiral into chaos at a minimum, or worse, a life-threatening scenario. So, what do you do to prepare for next time?
Investing in a generator might be the all-in-one solution for the next disaster. It’s a smart move but can be an expensive one, setting you back hundreds or even thousands of dollars. An easier solution is to simply ensure you have access to stored water (purified for drinking, and distilled gallons for cooking), a stash of nutrient-dense superfoods, a heat source like a propane cooker and extra propane cannisters. Of course, candles, matches, headlamps/flashlights and batteries are a must-have.
The best option to help you weather the storm is a nutrient-dense food stash worthy of prepper praise. These superfoods provide deep nutrition with long shelf life in a small form factor that are vital to survival. When we are not in feasting mode, the primary nutrients needed to support healthy function during prolonged emergency situations are carbohydrates and protein. Healthy fats, vitamins and minerals are an added plus but not as important for long-term storage. If a food can provide multiple types of nutrients, without cold or heat preservation for up to 3 years or more, it’s a win-win. Just be careful storing nuts as they can grow rancid due to their high fat content. Their insides should be opaque or off-white, sour smell, darkening or translucency is a sign they are past their prime.
Consider packing up a box with some of the following items to keep on hand during prolonged emergencies, or even as a quick grab for your next impromptu camping trip.
Grains and pasta
Consider portioning bags of oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley, teff and dried pasta. Oats provide more soluble fiber than any other grain and contain slow-release low-GI carbohydrates to help lower blood sugar and help you feel full for hours. Teff and oats both contain vitamin B1 which helps your body convert food into energy. Teff is gluten-free and high in protein with a low glycemic index, meaning your body converts it into sugar more slowly, so it doesn’t enter your bloodstream readily spiking blood-sugar levels. It also contains resistant starch, which helps keep the colon healthy and encourages the growth of good bacteria since it passes through the digestive tract undigested. Quinoa is a gluten-free, complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to grow and repair tissues. It is also high in iron and manganese.
All the grains listed here can be boiled in water over a propane cooking mechanism. Quinoa can be cooked along with oats, topped with coconut flakes, dried fruit and chopped almonds and sprinkled with monk fruit for a sweet breakfast on the fly. Note: sprouting quinoa before cooking maximizes access to the B vitamins in the grain but not required.
Herbs and spices
Herbs are packed with flavorful aromatics that can elevate even the most boring can of food. Having an array of dried herbs and spices on hand in your emergency box ensures the food you can eat will be tasty and palatable (even out of the can), especially if you are on the road or want to double a stash to use for camping or backpacking trips. Keep containers of single dried herbs like garlic, onion, cayenne, chili pepper, basil, parsley, oregano, and mixed herbs like garam masala, za’atar, and other blended combinations The Spice and Tea Exchange carries handy small Ziploc bags of some the best herb combinations for about $5 each. Some favorites are salt-free Vik’s garlic fix, Italian Herb, Big Kahuna (contains salt) and Kimchi Seasoning)
Nuts and seeds
An array of bagged or Mason-jar nuts and seeds or seed blends provide a rich source of healthy fat and phytonutrients. Walnuts and linseeds are a good choice for their high omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid content. Both of which are vital support for brain function and cellular health and growth.
Beans and legumes
Canned, boxed or dried chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, favas, kidneys, lentils and limas, and/or an array of mixed dried beans and legumes provide a rich plant-based protein source in a pinch. Dried beans of course last the longest but require longer soaking and cooking to prepare them for meals. A mix of both canned/boxed or dried is ideal for long storage and food in a pinch.
Dried fruit, herbal teas and low glycemic, no-sugar sweeteners
Our cells require glucose to make energy. Dried fruit is great natural source and provides a sweet treat for kids. Get dried fruit with no added sugar, or experiment with dehydrating fruit and storing it at home. Kids love it and many air fryers on the market now have a dehydrating function, which makes prepping in advance more fun for the family. For sweeteners, buy an extra package of erythritol, monk fruit or Lo Han to keep in your emergency kit. Swanson is a good brand for pure Lo Han that does not add other sugars.
High omega-3 fatty fish
Canned and flash-frozen fish supports cardiovascular and mitochondrial health. Canned tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon or codfish are simple and small for storage kept on-hand will ensure everyone gets heart-healthy fatty acids, protein and nutrients such as iodine, calcium and B and D vitamins while staying low in cholesterol. Wild Planet is a good brand with an array of choices
Tomato, peanut and milk (if tolerated) powders all can be kept in an emergency kit to create a nutritious base to add to beans and legumes along with herbs and spices to create amazingly flavorful one-pot meals. Nutritional yeast flakes provide a somewhat cheesy flavor to pasta and beans in a pinch. Sprinkling tomato powder over warm pasta with herbs and dried garlic is an amazingly tasty meal. Even butter can be stored as a powder and reconstituted or sprinkled on pasta. Great for the camping box too.
You probably aren’t going to be preparing a nutritious and savory meal by candlelight over an open fire most likely (unless you are in a rural area). But thinking and taking action to prepare in advance to having healthy, nutrient-dense food on hand during an outage keeps things simple and helps support energy needs and brain function and may even help lower the anxiety and stress levels too.
Ensuring you have a good source of clean water and an alternate, portable water-heating source on hand and accessible when the power goes out longer than 12 hours can make life much easier during an outage. So next time you are at Costco, get a week’s worth of purified water in your basement or garage along with a propane camp stove somewhere easily accessible. Just don’t put it in your garage if you only have the electric door as your only way to get in!
Julie O’Connor is a holistic nutritionist, writer and health/wellness coach based in Portland, Oregon who specializes in supporting people who are experiencing digestive distress, anxiety, fatigue and brain fog to optimize their health and/or repair their relationship to food. After over two decades in the computer hardware and corporate venture capital industry, she was inspired by her own well-being challenges to return to her behavioral science roots and pursue graduate study in clinical nutrition. Julie grew up in Kentucky eating processed and fast food but now is a self-described seasonal foodie who enjoys recipe development and writing for publications, other practitioners and medical doctors. Her mission is simply to help make amazing transformations possible. You can check out her website here!