How to Eat and Live Well During Power Outages

I live in an area of the Midwest that periodically experiences power outages because of snow storms, ice storms, or severe thunderstorms. Sometimes, the power goes out while the sun is shining and there’s hardly a breeze. Thankfully, most times these outages are brief, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. However, over the years we’ve had some severe storms that have knocked out power for several days, forcing my husband and me to be creative in how we store and prepare food and how we manage other day-to-day necessities.

Foods to Store in Case of Power Outages:

Keep a stash of shelf-stable, nonperishable food that does not require refrigeration. Examples include:

  • Bottled water (Store several gallons in your home in case of boil orders when the tap water is not safe to drink. I purchase the large gallon-sized plastic jugs.)
  • Canned tuna (Both regular canned tuna and the little box kits with tuna salad and crackers are good.)
  • Canned fruit
  • Applesauce cups
  • Dried fruit
  • Jerky (Commonly made from beef, but you can find other meats, too.)
  • Crackers and Pretzels
  • Granola bars
  • Trail Mix
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Peanut Butter
  • Dry cereal
  • Chips
  • Cookies (Not too many!)
  • Bread
  • Canned soup, if you have a gas stove or other way to heat it (My family likes tomato soup and clam chowder. This is also a good time to make the boxes of mac and cheese that use the gooey cheese pouches and don’t require adding milk or butter.)

How to Store Food and Cook During Power Outages:

It helps to have a few basic items for food preparation and food storage.

Cooler(s) and ice jugs

If power is out for more than a few hours, you may be able to save some of your perishable refrigerated food such as eggs and milk by placing it in your freezer. I cleaned a few empty plastic milk and juice jugs, filled them with tap water, and stuck them in the bottom of my deep freezer. These ice jugs help keep my freezer cold for longer if the power goes out. The ice jugs also are useful if I want to keep food cold in a cooler. I simply grab a few ice jugs and stick them in the cooler.

Gas stove

If your stove is powered by natural gas, you can still light it when the power is out by turning on the igniter and lighting the burner with a match. You can heat canned soup, make boxed macaroni and cheese, or boil water for tea or coffee.

Barbecue grill (either propane or charcoal)

You can still grill even if the power is out. Just be sure to limit how much you open the refrigerator or freezer to pull out meats for grilling, or your food won’t keep as long.

Other Comforts that are Useful During Power Outages:

Battery-powered radio

This is useful if you don’t have access to news through the television or computer.

Portable charger

These are useful for charging devices such as phones and tablets.

Gas water heater

If your home’s water is heated via a gas water heater, it will still function when the electricity is out. That means you can take hot showers, even if the air will be cold when you step out of the shower.

Gas or log fireplace (for cold weather)

A wood-burning fireplace is a great option when the power goes out during cold weather. The family can gather around it to stay warm.

Indoor-safe propane heater (for cold weather)

If you don’t have a fireplace, this is an option to use with caution. My husband and I own one that is safe for indoor use and has an oxygen sensor and emergency shutoff feature, and we run it for a few minutes every hour during power outages in the winter. The house still gets cool, but this takes the edge off.

Clothing that can be layered (for cold weather)

If you are without power for any length of time during cold weather and you’re staying at home, you’ll want to layer long underwear under your regular clothes, and on top of everything you’ll want sweaters, jackets, and even hats and gloves. Fingerless gloves can be useful during times like these. One of my friends recalls a winter power outage when she was a child, and she wore snow pants in the house to keep warm.

Generator (for those who really still want all the modern conveniences)

We don’t own one of these, but they sure are helpful if you want to retain all of your creature comforts.

Flashlights/battery-operated lanterns

It will get dark at night. Really dark.


These provide some light in addition to flashlights and lanterns, and they’re kind of fun and old-fashioned to use, but be careful using open flames, especially if you have kids or pets.

Entertainment During Power Outages:

When the power is out, you can’t watch television. You can’t easily charge electronics. Be sure to keep some old-fashioned fun on hand for these times. I especially like this link with ideas for entertainment during a power outage.

  • Read books and magazines
  • Play board games or cards
  • Play musical instruments (if you play them)
  • Make art (bring out coloring books and crayons/markers for kids, adult coloring books and colored pencils for adults)
  • Do crossword puzzles and word searches
  • Write in a journal or diary
  • Knit, crochet, or sew something by hand

What You Need Most to Survive Power Outages:

Patience and a Positive Attitude

It can be fun to go without power for a short time. You feel like you’re channeling your inner pioneer self using candles and snacking on beef jerky. However, after a while, it gets frustrating, especially when you’re facing the prospect of potentially having to throw away a large amount of spoiled food.

Remind yourself that food is just stuff. It’s something you can buy more of.

Be patient. Adjust expectations. Eat some Saltine crackers and peanut butter. Know that eventually your power will come back on. And, well, consider it good training if you ever want to go camping. Good luck!

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