Emergency Prep: Why I store food in my car

Provided to the MPT

It started with a jar of peanut butter. We were a small family returning from a ski getaway and got stuck behind a line of cars, just the two of us and a restless toddler – and no lunch. I desperately unearthed a half jar of peanut butter left over from our trip. The toddler relished the adventure of eating with his fingers, and I felt thankful we’d had something on hand to make a stressful trip much less nerve-racking.

My toddler’s an adult now, away at college and taking care of his own food, and my empty-nest hobby is thinking about preparedness. As part of the Madison Park Emergency Hub, my fellow volunteers and I spend time thinking about The Big One and how we can help our families and neighbors when an earthquake or other disaster comes. I often visualize myself making my way to our Hub to staff a volunteer station and help people connect. I remember thinking, “What if I’m not at home when an earthquake hits?” I could be at the store, at the office, getting gas, or on the freeway. And I wouldn’t even have to be more than a few blocks from home to be stranded, away from my food, water, clothes, and warmth.

In an emergency, your car might be your home! And if a disaster makes your home unlivable, your car, out on the street or in a garage, might not be – it’s a redundant system, keeping food, water, and supplies with you wherever you drive.

My Hub co-captain and preparedness mentor, Sarah, has stressed that the most vital concern after the immediate impact of an earthquake is where to find safe drinking water. (And she’s reminded me that Lake Washington might end up full of sewage and toxins, thus can’t be counted on as a water supply.) So I started my car preparedness project by adding a one-gallon store-bought container of water to my trunk. Because of my dog, I already had a blanket and towel in the car that could be used for warmth, but I added other vitals: a rain jacket, hoodie, and socks. But what about food? If I was stranded overnight or longer in a situation where grocery stores couldn’t open, then I would need to feed myself – or go without.

I started developing a food car kit, repurposing a large 12-quart storage container to protect my emergency food from bugs/rodents and prolong its life. I filled it with some canned and packaged items from my cupboards, and yes, there’s indeed peanut butter in there (no crackers, though – they go stale too quickly). I really like having a container with handles: easily removable if I need to pick someone up from the airport or buy a large item at the store, and its square shape makes it easy to stack.


I’ve TRIED emergency rations and they are not for me. The U.S. government’s preparedness website, Ready.gov, recommends that you “choose foods your family will eat” – so I’ve stuck to foods that I like that are already prepared or just require you add water. (Although Cup Noodles are much better hot, they will eventually soften with cold water.)

Here’s the basic list of suggested emergency food supplies from Ready.gov/food:

• Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and a can opener

• Protein or fruit bars

• Dry cereal or granola

• Peanut butter

•Dried fruit

• Canned juices

• Non-perishable pasteurized milk

• High-energy foods

• Food for infants

• Comfort/stress foods

I would add to the government’s standard checklist “food for dogs,” at least if you have your dog in your car a lot, like I do. You might also consider water purifying tablets, for when you need to refill your water container.

Right now, my food kit contains items I like that are also decently nutritious. I now realize that mac and cheese is unrealistic without a heating source, but I had it on hand (and love it), so it’s still there for now. My favorite items are the Spam, the flatpack tuna, and the pre-cooked rice. Not thrilled about eating cold rice, but it’s more of a “dinner” item than granola bars, and both filling and a decent accompaniment to the Spam or tuna.


I polled some friends and family to see what they’d want to keep in a car kit, and some favorite recommendations were “granola bars, but not chocolate ones, since they’re prone to melting,” and “trail mix.” My friend Suzi, a fellow preparedness enthusiast, recently bought some canned water (it lasts a whopping 50 years!), and wisely suggested adding “jerky.” My Hub co-captain (and your usual columnist) Margie Carter said she’d put in a coconut curry sauce chicken packet from her local store.

Aside from the basic criteria, I also focused on items with a long shelf life. To help me keep track of contents and expiration dates, I created a small Car Kit Contents document to track the contents and expiration dates and to know when to rotate items out to eat and replace. If you’d like a copy of my Car Kit document, e-mail the Hub at madparkhub@gmail.com. [DA1]

Well, that’s two of the 3 W’s (water and warmth) covered, for my car at least. (The third W, [human] waste, is not something I can easily cope with in my car, although I hear Amazon offers a folded toilet.) For future columns, we’d love to hear your ideas about the three W’s or car preparedness: how have you and your family prepared? Let us know at the email above.

Postscript: After writing this column, I am newly inspired to rotate out some of the less realistic items in my kit (bye-bye, impractical mac and cheese). Margie suggested that comfort food is, well, comforting in an emergency, so I’ve got the perfect substitute: a four-pack of butterscotch pudding!

Dana Armstrong is a Madison Park Emergency Hub volunteer.