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In Wyoming, we’re on the cusp between fall and winter, having had a few light snows and wintry storms. Living rurally, in an area known for strong winds and cold weather, we take our preparation for the season seriously. It’s highly likely we’ll have a blizzard that leaves us homebound for days. Likely, the electricity will be knocked out several times during the season. Winter weather is a reason we prep. Being ready for an incoming snowstorm or other natural disaster is a day-to-day possibility, and having simple no-cook meals on hand makes everything easier.
Prepping isn’t just relegated to end-of-the-world scenarios. Preparation for not only weather events specific to your area but things like unemployment and illness is smart. Imagine how wonderful it would be to know you have a pantry full of food if you suddenly find yourself out of work! That said, I believe it’s smart to consider society-changing scenarios when planning for an unknown future.
In addition to regular long-term storage foods, such as beans, grains, and freeze-dried items, have you considered guerilla eating? In my early days of preparedness, a good friend, who was a longtime prepper, shared with me her stealthy—or guerilla—food plans. I suspect many of us have heard of guerrilla gardening, which is essentially planting hidden caches of food and the idea of keeping rabbits for protein because they’re quiet and don’t require much space.
But have you thought about the foods in your storage? And have you thought about the odors those foods will give off while you cook?
My friend did! She focused much of their food storage on ready-to-eat items, no cooking required. I love the idea and added many of her suggestions to my own pantry.
No-Cook Meals & Food Items
There’s a multitude of no-cook or quick-cooking, low-odor foods available. I’ve compiled a list of a few that we store, shelf life, and some suggestions for no-cook meals. I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg and you’ll be able to add plenty of personal favorites.
Nuts and Nut Butters
These are a great addition for short-term food storage but don’t have the stability of keeping for years and years. Depending on the variety of nuts, expect less than a year when storing them in your pantry.
Nuts still in the shell and/or stored in the freezer will keep longer. We buy raw nuts in bulk from Azure Standard to vacuum seal, then keep them in a cool, dark location. We add in containers of roasted peanuts or mixes when we find a good deal on them. Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds are also good items to consider.
The oil in nut butters can go rancid, but commercial peanut or almond butter have a shelf life of about two years when unopened. I’ve stretched this to three years by keeping in a cool, dark closet. It may go past that date, but that’s when we use it.
If you buy natural peanut butter, without preservatives, these have a shorter shelf life. Use the best-buy date on the jars but figure on it being good for another six to eight months.
SunButter, or sunflower seed butter, is another option. The shelf life on this is officially about a year. Extend this with proper storage (cool and dark).
Like nuts, dried fruit is a great ready-to-eat option. Combining dried fruit and nuts makes a handy trail mix. We keep a variety of dried fruit on hand, including raisins, apricots, figs, dates, and coconut (both chips and shreds).
Depending on the fruit, the shelf life is anywhere from a year (again, when unopened and properly stored, this can just about double) to a decade. We’ve had unsweetened coconut shreds and chips vacuum-sealed since 2012. I opened a package a few weeks ago that is still as fresh as the day it was purchased!
Nuts and dried fruits not only make a great trail mix but also a snack bar when whirred in a food processor.
We have a solar system that gives us electricity even if the grid is down (unless there’s an EMP. In that case, will the solar system survive the pulse? A question that doesn’t seem to have a definite answer…) But having a manual food processor is still a good idea. I’ve found soaking the nuts and seeds in water before processing makes the process go easier. It’ll still take a little elbow grease but nothing like starting with unsoaked raw nuts.
Bonus! Soaking raw nuts makes them more digestible.
Now we’re talking! With proper packaging (mylar bags with oxygen absorbers stored in a sealed bucket), lentils will keep for a couple of decades. Sprouted lentils do not require cooking before eating.
A long 24-hour soak and several days of sprouting make lentils perfectly edible. Add a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper for a fabulous no-cook salad. This is so easy to make, I often bring along a sprouting bag to sprout lentils for a salad while traveling!
I share my love of lentils and favorite preparation methods in my book Stretchy Beans: Nutritious & Economical Meals the Easy Way and how lentils work in our travel plans in Real Food Hits the Road. And be sure to grab my free quick guide on sprouting seeds, grains, and legumes.
Once considered peasant food, quinoa has developed a reputation in recent years as a superfood due to being a high-protein plant food. Most resources I find show quinoa, a seed commonly referred to as a grain or pseudo-grain, with a shelf life of three years. Again, my own experience with airtight storage has proven much beyond that.
Like lentils, I soak and sprout quinoa, making it ready to eat. I’ve found older quinoa doesn’t sprout as well as fresh quinoa, but it still develops small tails and is wonderfully soft and edible. When sprouting, be sure to taste your sprouts at each rinsing to get the taste you prefer.
The nutritional profile of soaked and sprouted quinoa is similar to cooked, coming in at 222 calories, 39 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber per cup. Quinoa is also naturally gluten-free. Quinoa is another one of my favorite travel foods.
Check out Real Food Hits the Road for more info on how we eat away from home. And also grab my free quick guide on sprouting seeds, grains, and legumes.
These powerful little gems have a mild flavor, tending to take on whatever they’re mixed with. When added to water, they plump up into a gelatinous pudding-like dish and make a great egg substitute. I’m not overly fond of chia seeds because they stick in my teeth, but their nutritional profile is hard to beat.
Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They’re loaded with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and various micronutrients (source). And yes, they are the same seeds that are loved for growing “hair” on Chia Pets.
Other Grains, Seeds, and Legumes
Many grains, seeds, and legumes* lend themselves to no-cook eating. My favorite guerilla method…sprouting!
Sprouting radish, broccoli, and alfalfa seeds is a great way to add greens to your diet. I love sprouting during the dark days of our long Wyoming winter to help ease the strain on our grocery budget.
Sprouting is inexpensive and doesn’t require fancy equipment. When sprouting beans or large grains like wheat, my favorite device is a colander. For small seeds, such as radish, I like to use a simple sprouting lid that screws onto a wide-mouth mason jar. I’ve also used an old piece of pantyhose instead of a special lid with fine results! Grab my free quick guide on sprouting seeds, grains, and legumes here.
You can also let your sprouts grow out to become microgreens. Sprouting wheat, spelt, farrow, or einkorn takes several days to develop tails and when finished still tend to be a little too al dente to eat raw. However, growing out these cereal grains into microgreens gives them the ability to become no-cook food. Microgreens take about two weeks until they’re ready to eat.
Oats, both rolled and quick-cooking, are fabulous for food storage and no-cook meals. Their shelf life, when stored in mylar or vacuum-sealed, is many years. They provide healthy carbs, lots of fiber, and even some protein.
Soak rolled oats overnight for a cold breakfast cereal. Quick-cooking oats only need a few hours of soaking until they’re ready to eat. You can even use oats in no-bake/no-cook snack bars.
*Important note: not all beans and legumes are safe to eat raw. Example: You must boil and cook kidney beans to remove toxicity. More info here.
Whey Protein Powder
This is an easy just-add-water food storage option and also makes simple no-cook meals. The shelf life for these powders is only one or two years, depending on the brand. You’ll want to practice the “first in, first out” method and use whey protein powder in your daily life to make it realistic.
Be sure to check the ingredients when choosing your whey protein powder; many are heavily processed. Once you find a brand you’re happy with, consider purchasing it in plain and flavored varieties. Add whey protein powder to oatmeal or rice to increase the protein content, blend into homemade snack bars (see dried fruit above) or add to simple protein balls.
Collagen and/or Gelatin
While not the same, collagen and gelatin are similar enough to list together. Here’s a helpful quote about the similarities:
“Collagen peptides are simply amino acids of gelatin broken down into smaller molecules through a natural process. The main difference between the two is that collagen is more therapeutic and they also act a little differently in the kitchen. Gelatin gels when cooled after being mixed with liquids (think jiggly jello) while collagen does not. Some of the studies cited here may use the simple term ‘collagen’ or use other names for it like ‘hydrolyzed collagen’ or ‘collagen peptides.’ These are all different names for the same thing.” (From Trim Healthy Mama)
Collagen or gelatin mixed in warm water or tea can add much-needed protein. Either make a great addition to oatmeal, no-cook snack bars, protein bars, and more. Be sure to check out this yummy Creamy Rice recipe for one of my favorite ways to make both gelatin and collagen part of our regular diet.
Gelatin and collagen have a fairly long shelf life. While the recommendation for most brands is one year, I’ve used collagen that is more than five years old. The taste was fine, but I do wonder if the nutritional profile changed.
Like whey protein powder, use this in your daily life to help it make sense as part of your food storage program. Stronger nails and shiny hair are a bonus to adding these to your diet! There’s even some research showing collagen and gelatin can help you feel full and aid in weight loss while increasing brain function.
Canned Fruit, Vegetables, Fish, and More
We know that many canned goods, a staple in most kitchens, are easily opened and enjoyed. (Tip: make sure you have a manual can opener or two.)
I like to stock fruits, tomatoes (yes, I know, I know…it’s a fruit), tuna, salmon, sardines, (you will have odor with canned fish but less than cooking odors), coconut milk, and more. Ready-to-eat soups, baked beans, and canned beans don’t require heating. The flavor profile is less than when heated, but they’ll still fill your stomach and make easy no-cook meals.
Other items to consider include nori sheets (great stuffed with tuna or sardines and radish sprouts), thin rice noodles (soak until soft and then top with baked beans), rice paper (30 seconds in hot water turn these into a great wrap), and bulgur or couscous along with “instant” rice can be soaked until soft and used as a base or salad.
We often take instant rice flakes on backpacking trips. Put the rice flakes in a soaking container after breakfast (an empty, clean, lidded peanut butter jar works great) along with dehydrated refried beans. By the time we’re ready for lunch, it’s a soft spread ready to fill a tortilla. So good! The grain version of instant rice (Minute Rice) takes longer to soften when using cold water but only takes five minutes with hot water.
And Instant refried beans are a flavorful no-cook meal idea. When we’re getting ready for a backpacking trip, we make our own (cook, drain, puree, then dehydrate beans) but also keep a few different varieties in our pantry (like this or this black bean burger that we use as a spread).
Dehydrating my own no-cook meals gives me the advantage of knowing exactly what’s in them. They have a shelf-life of about a year (when properly dried and stored air-tight) and give us great variety for hiking, backpacking, and more food storage security. Some, in the case of jerky and yogurt bark, don’t even require water to eat.
Freeze-Dried and Ready-Made Snacks
While the bulk of our food storage is comprised of common everyday items with a long shelf life, we do keep a small assortment of freeze-dried items on hand. Most of these are in #10 cans and are individual items as opposed to meals, things like freeze-dried chicken, black bean burger, corn, strawberries (and other fruit), and the like.
Many of these freeze-dried items can be eaten as is. Freeze-dried fruit makes a tasty snack, and freeze-dried corn is a little like corn nuts. (These are a great addition to the rice and bean rollups mentioned above. Adding a bit of crunch makes the rollups really sing). These freeze-dried items are convenient and have a super long shelf life.
But this does come at a cost. We’ve chosen to add these in small amounts, concentrating our food storage money on less expensive items.
Commercial snack foods, such as granola bars, breakfast bars, and crackers, are other no-cook options. These, too, have a higher cost per ounce than many other options and the shelf life is limited. While we do keep these on hand, they’re a part of our everyday foods—quick snacks to grab on the way out the door—as opposed to food storage items.