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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

20 tips for a better hurricane food kit: Advice from Janet Keeler

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Janet Keeler, a former longtime food editor for the Tampa Bay Times, says we should think outside of the soup can.

Listen to the episode:

Florida’s official hurricane season is June 1 to Nov. 30. But things really ramp up during peak season, which is between mid-August and late-October, according to the Florida State University’s Florida Climate Center.

So if your hurricane kit isn’t quite ready for a major storm, fear not. There’s still time to stock up on supplies. And when it comes to food, this week’s guest can help you think outside of the soup can.

Friend of the pod Janet Keeler is the former longtime food editor for the Tampa Bay Times and current freelance editor for the personal finance website The Penny Hoarder. So she knows a thing or two about prepping your hurricane food kit on a budget. Here’s Janet’s advice.

1) Take this seriously. “One of the biggest mistakes is just not taking it seriously,” Janet says. “This can be very serious stuff. Life-and-death stuff.”

2) Assess your household’s needs. There’s no simple solution, depending on whether you live with babies, kids, seniors, people with special medical needs or pets. “There’s a lot to think about,” Janet says. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

3) Start now. “Part of the issue with putting together a hurricane food kit is, it’s expensive, and you need other stuff besides food,” Janet says. “So I suggest that you start stocking up now.” If your budget allows, spend $10 extra on each grocery trip so you can stock up on water and nonperishables gradually. Try to catch items on sale.

4) Do some reconnaissance. Spend a few hours browsing the stores to get an idea of what you might buy to prep for a storm. Explore stores and aisles you don’t usually frequent.

5) Ban together. To ease the financial burden, chip in with friends or neighbors and split the cost of bulk items from Sam’s Club or Costco.

6) Buy what you’ll actually eat. “I’m very against buying food that your family doesn’t eat normally,” Janet says. “If you don’t normally eat Spam, don’t buy a lot of it.”

7) Lower the bar. Don’t worry about making a gourmet meal everyday. Just figure out what you’ll eat to survive for a few days until help arrives.

8) Prepare for a power outage. Janet says food may actually be more of a concern in a minor storm, as opposed to a major storm, when most people evacuate. “If it’s a cat-5 hurricane barrelling down on us, you’re gone, hopefully. You’re not riding it out,” she says. “But [during] these lower-category hurricanes, you’re probably going to stay there. And what’s going to happen here is the power’s going to go out. Now what are you going to do? What are you going to eat?”

9) Think like a camper. “If you’re a camper, you’re really in good shape,” Janet says. Items like camping stoves and MREs (meals ready to eat) are useful.

10) Grill what you’ve got. If you have a grill and the power goes out, cook up whatever’s thawing in your freezer before it goes bad.

11) Figure out where you’ll get your protein. Realistic options include defrosted freezer meats, peanut butter, canned chickpeas or canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise. To avoid opening—and spoiling—an entire jar of mayo, start collecting shelf-stable mayonnaise packets.

12) Beware of salty-sweet snacks. They provide little protein and will make you thirsty.

13) Buy more water than you think you’ll need. For drinking and sanitation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends one gallon of water per person, per day, for several days. “I’m sure that most of us fall flat on that,” Janet notes. Stock up on water well in advance—days before a storm, the shelves will be empty—and find a place in your home to stash it all.

14) Shop the aisles. “When you go to the grocery store, in general, don’t we always say, ‘Shop the perimeter’? Because that’s where the fresh stuff is. Well, for hurricanes, you almost want to look in the middle,” Janet says. Grab items like peanut butter crackers, granola bars, fruit cups and shelf-stable milk for cereal.

15) Buy some last-minute produce. A few days before the storm is expected to hit, do some last-minute grocery shopping. Buy a bag of apples, oranges or avocados so you’ll have something fresh to eat. If the power goes out or you need to evacuate, store the produce in an ice-filled cooler.

16) Respect the power of comfort foods. Before a storm, if you’re able, cook something simple yet special that you’ll look forward to. It feels like a luxury, but after a disaster, a pot of gumbo or pan of brownies can ease your anxiety. If you’ve really been affected by this, home has a different meaning, so we really long for that,” Janet says.

17) Remember non-food items. These include paper plates, hand wipes, a manual can opener, trash bags and anything else you’d bring on a camping trip or picnic.

18) Preserve hand-written recipes. This is a longer-term project, but if you have time, consider scanning and digitizing irreplaceable recipes or cookbook pages. This is a lesson many New Orleanians learned after Hurricane Katrina.

19) Prep for the worst. After a storm, be prepared to survive without help for a few days. “My goal is to not be the person in line for gas, cash or water,” Janet says. If your budget allows, keep your gas tank full and set aside a few hundred dollars in cash.

20) Hope for the best. With any luck, you won’t need to break into your hurricane food kit. In that case, don’t let the items go to waste. Cycle the food back into your regular eating routine or donate it to those less fortunate.

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