What to Feed Your Family When the Power Goes Out

    Check out CR's no-cook meal ideas and food safety advice

    Canned food GettyImages-151572910

    When a storm causes an extended power outage, feeding yourself and your family becomes a major issue. There’s the question of how long the food in the refrigerator and freezer will last before it’s no longer safe to eat. And putting together satisfying meals without electricity can be a challenge. The food experts at Consumer Reports have some tips for keeping food safe and eating nutritiously.

    A Power Outage Grocery List

    Shop for staples to have on hand during the storm season when the weather is still clear.

    “Pick up an extra few packages of nonperishables you use regularly when you do your normal grocery shopping,” says Amy Keating, RD, a CR nutritionist.

    That way, you won’t have to run to the store just before a storm. Rotate the items occasionally so that your stock is fresh. Good options include low-sodium canned beans, vegetables, fruit (packed in fruit juice), breakfast cereal, peanut butter, pouches of fully cooked whole grains, nuts, whole-wheat crackers, snack bars, and shelf-stable milk or plant milk (the kind sold in aseptic boxes in the grocery aisle).

    “Don’t forget that you’ll need a manual can opener if the power goes out, too,” Keating says.

    How Long Can Food Last?

    “The food in your refrigerator and freezer doesn’t go bad immediately,” says Sana Mujahid, PhD, manager of food safety research and testing at CR.

    More on Storm Preparedness

    If you keep the refrigerator door closed, it will maintain a safe temperature—below 40° F—for about 4 hours, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. (Use a refrigerator thermometer to be sure.) A full freezer will stay cold for 48 hours, or 24 hours if it’s half full. “To load up a freezer, fill containers with water and freeze them,” Mujahid says.

    When a storm is predicted, see what ingredients and leftovers you have and plan to use them up first.

    Bread, butter, fresh fruit and vegetables, jelly, and hard cheeses (such as cheddar) will keep at room temperature, so if you have them in your fridge, don’t be afraid to eat them even if the power has been out for longer than 4 hours. (For information on other foods, see the list the FSIS has compiled.)

    Apples, avocados, citrus fruit, carrots, celery, cucumbers, grapes, green beans, peppers, snap peas, and tomatoes are fresh foods that can be eaten raw and will be good for days unrefrigerated, so consider picking up some of these ahead of a storm.

    “If the power is out for quite a while, these foods can help sustain you, and they’re also healthy sources of fiber, so they can help keep your body running smoothly,” Keating says.

    9 No-Cook Meals

    PB&J gets old after a while. Try these interesting and healthy ways to combine the foods you may have on hand, no cooking required.

    Overnight oats. Mix rolled oats with water and let sit overnight on a counter. In the morning, add peanut butter, raisins, or other dried fruit, and a little cinnamon.

    Chunky gazpacho. Combine a can of diced tomatoes with the juice, chopped onion, chopped cucumber, a little Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, and a dash of salt and pepper. You can also add chopped red or green peppers if you have them. Drizzle with olive oil and top with fresh parsley or cilantro if you have it. To make this a heartier dish, add a can of chickpeas (drained).

    Corn salad. Combine drained canned corn with vegetables you have on hand (tomatoes, peppers, and onions, for example), chopped. Add drained canned black beans if you like. Toss with a dressing made of 1 part apple cider vinegar and 1 part olive oil, fresh or dried basil, and a little salt and pepper.

    Grains and beans. Combine drained canned beans with a pouch of precooked grains, olive oil, and any herbs and spices you like. You can also add chopped veggies and nuts.

    Apple and white-bean salad. Toss a can of white beans (drained) with olive oil and apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Add chunks of apple, dried thyme, walnuts (or another nut), and a little salt and pepper, and gently mix into the beans. If you have celery or scallions, you can chop and throw those in, too, when you add the apples.

    Salmon or tuna tacos with avocado. Combine chunks of canned salmon or tuna with cubed avocado, chopped tomato, and cucumber. Toss with a dressing of lemon juice or white vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Stuff it in taco shells or tortillas, or just eat straight if you don’t have them.

    Smashed chickpea or white-bean sandwich. Drain canned chickpeas or white beans, drizzle with olive oil, and mash coarsely with a fork. Mix in a little garlic powder, dried oregano (or parsley, mint, or basil), and salt and pepper. Serve on bread or with whole-wheat crackers for dipping.

    Bean salad. Combine drained canned beans with chopped tomatoes, chopped spinach, and chopped onion. Toss with a dressing made with whisked balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, honey, and a dash of salt and pepper. Add canned tuna or salmon if you like.

    Carrots and chickpeas. Grate carrots and combine with canned drained chickpeas, raisins, nuts, and a little cinnamon. Toss with orange juice, lemon juice, or vinegar, and olive oil.


    Trisha Calvo

    I've covered health and nutrition my entire career, so I know how to separate science from hype. Whether it's about food labels, sunscreen, or food safety, my goal is to deliver information that makes following a healthy lifestyle easier. Healthy cooking is a favorite hobby, and friends think I'm crazy, but I can happily spend hours grocery shopping. Follow me on Twitter. (@TrishaCalvo)