What’s the Best Way To Prepare Food in a Survival Situation?


If you find yourself in a survival situation, one of your top priorities is to find food. Your body needs calories to function, especially when you’re doing high-intensity survival activities. Whether you lose power in a natural disaster or you find yourself lost in the wilderness, you should have a plan for how to survive without the modern conveniences of electricity and plumbing.  

The best way to prepare food in a survival situation is by boiling it. The boiling water eliminates any harmful bacteria from raw food and the water you collect from a nearby stream. You can safely eat your cooked food and then drink the water to get as many nutrients as possible.

Preparing food in a survival situation is about maximizing your nutrient intake, not about taste. You may find yourself eating things you normally wouldn’t. This guide will help you make a survival plan, from the best supplies to have on-hand to methods for cooking to finding safe, edible food.

How Do You Cook in an Emergency?

Steaming Food Over a Campfire

Cooked food is easier for your body to digest, and you reduce the risk of catching a food-borne illness. Even though it is possible to eat uncooked food, you’ll be saving yourself extra calories and the risk of sickness by cooking your food.

Canned foods are already cooked and safe to eat straight from the can. If you want to heat them, open the can and transfer the food to a pot. Or, you can warm the can over your heat source, but it is necessary to open the can first and remove the label.

Boil uncooked foods over a fire during an emergency, even if it isn’t all that appetizing. You’ll retain far more nutrients by eating boiled food and drinking the water after than if you grill or roast your food.

If you aren’t sure about how clean your water is, boil it alone for 30 minutes to eliminate all harmful bacteria and microorganisms. Then add in the food you want to cook.

Avoid creating a fire hazard. If you and your family are at home during a natural disaster, be mindful of open flames indoors. FEMA recommends only using grills and camp stoves outdoors to avoid a fire.

Cool Tip: If you’re able to keep a constant fire, you can even make a “hunter’s stew” or “perpetual stew.” This dish goes back to medieval times and is made by continually simmering your available foods in a stew, adding new ones as you find them. The constant simmering prevents harmful bacteria from developing. You can add meat, bones, root vegetables, herbs–whatever foods you find that need to be boiled.

The Two “Next Best” Cooking Methods

  1. Flat Rock Frying- Find a large relatively flat rock and set it in the middle of your fire. After an hour or so it should start getting hot enough to cook on. Note: Make sure you don’t gather a rock that was close to a water source, it may explode when heated.
  2. Roasting- This one is the simplest method of all and may seem obvious to you. All you do is put your food on a stick and hold it over the fire. Of course, this only works for certain foods that actually will attach to a stick.

While these two methods certainly work well, you should always stick to boiling your food in a survival situation when it is possible. It’s the most efficient way and only requires a pot, a fire, and water.

Of course, since you are reading this blog you probably already are a proactive type of person and will either already have a survival kit or be interested in building one. Please do it ASAP. Every family needs a minimum survival kit kept an easy to grab bag in case you have to run out the door quickly.

Incidentally, I provide a basic guide for free that can be obtained here.

Top 5 Foods To Keep in Your Survival Kit

You don’t have to stock up on expensive meal kits to make it through a survival situation. Those kits may be convenient and tasty, but there are plenty of great survival foods that you probably already have in your pantry. Below is a list of resources you’ll want to have for survival:

  1. Water is the most important nutrient you can ingest for survival. Try to drink at least a half-gallon of water every day and more if you’re in a hot environment. 
  1. Uncooked rice and dried beans have long shelf lives. When eaten together, rice and beans provide all the amino acids you need to survive. Use your pot and stove for cooking rice and beans for a filling, nutritious meal.
  1. Peanut butter is an amazing snack. It is high in fat and protein, and it has a long shelf life, making it an excellent source of nutrients in your survival kit.
  1. Energy bars and granola bars travel well and last a long time. Keep some in your car and backpack at all times so you can get an energy boost in a survival situation.
  1. Canned meats, such as Vienna sausages and tuna, are a must. They may not be particularly tasty, but canned meat is the easiest way to eat meat in an emergency.

Butchered meat does not last very long and typically requires refrigeration. Canned meat has a long shelf life, and you don’t have to hunt, dress, and cook your meat.

Other good foods for your survival kit include nuts, dried fruit, canned fruits and vegetables, powdered milk, and honey. You can even store candy. Candy may not be nutritious, but it can be a morale booster in a difficult situation.

What To Do if You’re Not Prepared

Not all survival situations will happen when you’re at home or have a backpack full of helpful gear. How should you prepare food if you’re in the wilderness with only the most basic survival supplies?

You can hone many survivor skills now just in case you have to survive without your gear. Joshua Enyart, AKA The Gray Bearded Green Beret, has extensive courses available. You can get access to his Elite Survival Series here and learn everything from wilderness survival to urban survival tactics and bug out. Pretty much everything is covered for a low monthly membership cost.

Collect Water

If you’re in a survival situation without your trusty container or pot, search the area for litter. Plastic bottles and tin cans can carry water just fine, though you’ll need to be mindful not to let the plastic melt when you boil your water.

You can also collect rainwater on a tarp or plastic bag. Get creative with the litter around you and prioritize finding drinkable water.

Start a Fire

Man Using Fire Starter

There are many methods for starting a fire in the wilderness, including a hand drill, fire bow, and flint and steel. You’ll also need to find dry wood, leaves, or another fuel source to feed the fire once you start it.

Consider keeping a magnesium-based fire starter on your person at all times, like this one. Simply scrape off some magnesium shavings, strike the flint rod, and let the sparks catch.

Forage for Plants

Familiarize yourself with your local plants. Purchase a local guide and learn which plants around you are edible and how to identify them. The Twin Eagles Wilderness School has an extensive list of wild edibles that you can get familiar with.

Many plants can be eaten raw, but boil the plants into a tea or soup if you aren’t sure. Even if you don’t eat the plant itself, the tea will be rich in nutrients.

Do not eat a plant if you are unsure of its safety. Dehydration from diarrhea can be deadly in the wilderness, even if the plant is only mildly toxic.

Hunt for Protein Sources, Including Bugs

Hunting in a survival situation is very difficult. You will probably not be taking down big game with a wooden spear, so set your sights on smaller sources of protein.

Depending on where you are, you can find protein from birds’ eggs, shellfish, snakes, frogs, and fish. Learn what species are native to your area and which are safe to eat.

You may even want to eat insects for nutrition. Grasshoppers and crickets are chock-full of nutrients, and they can be eaten roasted or boiled. Toss some grubs and ants into a stew with plants you’ve gathered if you can’t stomach the idea of eating insects plain.

Survival takes more than just know-how. You should also have a kit of supplies that will help you get by.

Keep your survival supplies in a dry place in your home in case of a natural disaster. It doesn’t hurt to keep these items in your car, as well, or to stow some in your pack when you go hiking or camping. This list contains the absolute essentials for preparing food in a survival situation.

Water and Water Containers

Water is the most important thing for survival. Not only is water necessary for boiling your food, but it is also vital for keeping you alive and hydrated. Survival experts state that the human body can survive for about three weeks without food–but no more than three days without water.

FEMA recommends storing a gallon (3.78 L) of water per person per day for a 2-week emergency stash. That means if you have a family of three, you should have at least 42 gallons (159 L) of water in your survival stash.

You can either buy sealed containers of water or fill food-grade plastic containers of your own. I recommend picking up some stackable water containers, like these. Try storing 60 gallons (227 L) of clean water in case of an emergency. You should store some water in your car, too.

Water Filtration Devices 

Consider purchasing some water filtration devices to avoid running out of water in case you run out of stored water or can’t access your stash.

The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter filters out microplastics and bacteria, making water from streams and lakes safe to drink. You don’t even need a container to put the water in–you can drink straight from the source using the straw.

The best way to purify water is by boiling it for at least half an hour. Still, the LifeStraw is an excellent portable alternative.

Metal or Glass Survival Cooking Pots

A container for boiling water and food is essential in a survival situation. Even though it is possible to boil water in a plastic bottle or even a paper plate, it’s better to go for a metal or glass pot as you can place them directly on a flame.

The GSI Outdoor 3 Qt. (2.8 L) Convex Kettle and MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot are great options for survival cooking pots. You can find them both on Amazon.com.

When you’re not cooking, you can use a lidded pot for storing your other survival gear while you travel.

Portable Stove, Oven, and Fire Starters

To boil your food, you need a heat source. Consider what kind of fuel you’ll be burning, how you plan to light it, and how you place your container over the flame.

The Esbit Ultralight Folding Pocket Stove from Amazon.com is a classic piece of survival gear. This tiny stove has been in use since WWII, and it can fold to fit in a coffee cup. You simply open up the stove, light one of the fuel tabs, and place your container on top.

For a solar-powered cooking device, consider the All American Sun Oven from Amazon.com. This oven uses nothing but sunlight to boil, bake, or steam your food and water. You don’t need any fuel or a firestarter, just sunshine. This oven is slightly more expensive, so think of it as a long-term investment to help you prepare food off the grid.

Be sure to have matches and a lighter in your survival kit, too, even if you opt for the solar-powered oven. Keep them stored in a waterproof container to ensure they’re useful when you need them.

Shelf-Stable Food

You should have at least two weeks’ worth of nonperishable foods in your survival stash. This includes canned beans, meats and vegetables, cereal or granola, peanut butter, protein bars, and dried fruit. All of these foods are edible without preparation.

If you can afford it, consider stocking up on survival meal kits. These kits are often individually packaged with an average shelf life of 20 years. They come in various flavors, usually American comfort food, which can be a great morale booster for you and your family during a disaster.

Amazon sells the Mountain House Classic Bucket, which has 12 2-serving meal pouches. Simply add hot water to the pouch as directed, and you have a nutritious meal. However, it is relatively expensive for one bucket, these meals aren’t cheap. You might be able to find much more affordable options at mypatriotsupply, who specializes in creating long term food for folks.

The Augason Farms Lunch and Dinner Variety Pail is much more affordable, but the meals require more work than Mountain House. They’re better suited to a survival situation at home, where you have access to your pots and pans, than if you’re camping in the wilderness.

If your family includes an infant, be sure to keep extra formula and baby food in your emergency food stash. And if someone in your family has dietary restrictions, make sure you store foods that meet their needs. The last thing you want in a survival situation is for a family member to go hungry or get sick because they can’t eat.

Always keep an eye on the expiration dates of your emergency food. You don’t want disaster to strike, only for you to realize that your food stores have spoiled.

Manual Can Opener

Imagine you’ve stored emergency nutrient-rich canned foods away. A natural disaster hits, you and your family are without power, and you’re ready to prepare canned beans and vegetables. But then you realize–your only can opener is electric. All of those nutrients in the canned food are suddenly inaccessible.

A can opener is essential if you plan on eating canned goods in a survival situation. You can also use a Swiss army knife, such as the Victorinox Swiss Army Evolution. This handy tool can be invaluable for survival, so make sure you keep one in your emergency stash.

Final Thoughts

To ensure you’ll succeed in a survival situation:

  • Prepare now.
  • Keep water, food, filtration, and other supplies in your home, car, and backpack.
  • Practice skills like fire-starting and foraging before you need them.

Boiling food is the best way to retain nutrients and to make your food safe for you to digest. All you need is a container, water, and fire, and you can prepare food almost anywhere.

When you’re in a survival situation, the food you eat will probably not be the tastiest food you’ve ever eaten. However, it will keep you alive, which is the whole point–surviving.

Thanks for reading!

For more, check out 10 Best Places to Practice Bushcraft and Survival Skills.

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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