Survival is becoming a big business today, with multiple companies making and providing products to those who want to be prepared for anything that might befall them. While I have nothing against any of these companies or the products they provide, I will say that some are more useful than others. I’ll also say that sometimes you end up paying more for someone else’s work, than you might expect.

I’m a firm believer in doing things myself when I can. That’s one of the best money-saving hints I’ve learned in my life. By doing things myself whenever I can, I essentially avoid paying for someone else’s labor. Of course, this means that I have to have the time to build it myself, which isn’t always the case. But some things are simple enough to build, that it’s really worth doing myself, rather than paying someone else to do it.


Building a car from scratch is obviously not cost-effective, due to the amount of work, special equipment and special processes involved in the build. Likewise, it’s not worthwhile to try and build a watch. But there are a lot of things we use in prepping and survival, which are actually quite simple. Those are well worth trying to build ourselves.

Survival food buckets clearly fall into this category. If you were to add up the cost of the components used in making them, you’d find that that total falls well short of the cost that you’re being charged. In that case, it’s definitely worth you spending a little time putting them together yourself. Not only that, but you can customize them to be what you want, rather than what somebody else thinks you should have.

Are Survival Food Buckets Even Worth Having?

Before going any farther, we need to ask ourselves the question of whether it’s even worthwhile using survival food buckets, rather than just buying and stockpiling food. I’m not talking about the value of using five gallon buckets here, but rather how our food is stored in those buckets. Those of us who have built a considerable stockpile generally fill those buckets with one item per bucket. The idea of those commercial food buckets is that a bucket will contain all the food you need for X number of days.

The thing is, while these are obviously two opposing views on packing food, it’s clear that both are useful and both have their place. When you’re stockpiling a large amount of one item, like rice or beans, it only makes sense to fill buckets with one item. But how many of us collect enough beef jerky or dried apricots to fill a bucket? Wouldn’t it make more sense to mix those items.

Actually, for items that we will use in smaller quantities, full buckets may not be the way to go. An entire bucket of pasta would probably be used up in a matter of weeks or months. But an entire bucket full of walnuts would not. Considering that walnuts have a limited shelf life in the open, that might be a problem. If we can’t reseal the bucket of walnuts properly, we’ll either be forced to use them up quickly or end up losing some of our walnuts when they go bad.

Basically, we don’t want to be opening any package that we can’t use up before it has a chance to spoil. As that amount of time is different for different kinds of food and we use different kinds of food at different rates, there is no one magic amount that we can say is an ideal package. We have to make that determination based on our expected use of each type of food.

There are then two ways of handling that. One is to fill a bucket with smaller, sealed packages of a particular type of food. This is something we might want to do with our dried fruit, meat or nuts. Rather than have a single five gallon Mylar bag filled with apricots in a bucket, we’d probably be better off creating 10 – half gallon size or even 20 quart sized packages of apricots, and then seal them all in the same bucket together.

The other way is to make ourselves some mixed food buckets, much like the commercial buckets that are the focus of this article. Whether those are buckets that are full meals for several days or just the more perishable items that we’ll use in smaller quantities, having a them packaged together in smaller quantities helps us to ration our food stockpile better, with less chance of food spoiling.

The nice thing about this latter option is that we can set ourselves a schedule of how often we open those buckets; every two weeks or every month. Then, when we open them, it’s a bit like Christmas, suddenly getting some extra variety in our diets, eating special things that our survival diet may not allow us to eat every day.

One of the really great things about the commercial type complete meal buckets is that they provide you with everything you need. So, if you need to establish caches of food, they are ideal. One five gallon bucket can provide a week of food for a family, so placing or burying the buckets in strategic locations can provide you with the ability of moving from cache to cache, always having a fresh supply of food to eat.

These are also excellent if you have to bug out and can’t take everything with you. Rather than having to check what you are taking, to make sure that you’re taking an appropriate assortment of food, you just need to make sure that you grab enough buckets. Each one will be self-contained enough, to ensure that you will be able to eat for several days.

Before buying a bunch of commercially prepared buckets, take a look at making your own. Not only will you save money, but you’ll end up with something that your family likes, not merely tolerates. Remember that when they talk aobut “enough for a family” they mean a family of four. If your family is larger, you’re going to end up having problems. Better to make your own and have them the right size for your family’s needs.

Packaging Food in Buckets

Regardless of how we create our food buckets, we need to know how to package the food in them. The idea here is to make it possible to store the food for 20 years, without spoilage. So, proper packaging is a key element in making any food bucket.

Basically, we’re talking about dried foods here. Wet foods are canned and as such, most are able to keep for 20 years, regardless of what the expiration date say. There are exceptions, of course, especially with foods that are packaged in plastic jars and bottles, rather than glass ones. It seems that plastic jars won’t keep foods as long, either due to air leaking in or not being canned at as a high enough temperature.

But other than canned goods, just about all the food we stockpile is dried food. So, understanding the right way to do it, so that it will have the maximum possible life expectancy is important. We want to protect our food from everything that can destroy it, especially bacteria, insects and rodents. To do this, we’ll need:

  • Clean five gallon food grade buckets (they’re white, so they’re easy to identify)
  • Six gallon Mylar bags
  • Oxygen absorbers
  • Electric iron or hair straightener
  • Vacuum cleaner with hose
  • Permanent marker
  • Rubber mallet

Finding the five gallon buckets isn’t a problem, as the major home improvement centers carry them. Be sure to buy the food grade buckets though, and not the others. Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers are available from a number of different sources online, which cater to the prepping market.

When buying your oxygen absorbers, you need to take into account the types of food you are storing. Not all foods need the same size oxygen absorbers. The suppliers will have a chart, telling you how large an oxygen absorber you’ll need, for each type of food. Or, you can do like me and avoid having a number of different sizes, simply by using the largest size you need for all your food buckets.

With all the right materials gathered, and a supply of food that you’re going to pack, you’re ready to begin. Make sure you have a large enough area to work in, with room to stack the finished buckets. You might want to have an assistant or two on hand, to make the job easier.

  1. Open the Mylar bags and place them in the buckets, one per bucket; open side up.
  2. Fill the Mylar bags with food to about an inch below the rim of the buckets.
  3. Mark the outside of the bucket in various places with the contents.
  4. Seal the top of the Mylar bag with the clothes iron or hair straightener, leaving about 2-1/2” at one end that isn’t sealed.
  5. Place an oxygen absorber in the opening.
  6. Place the end of the vacuum cleaner hose in the opening in the bag, keeping it as far from the food as possible.
  7. Turn on the vacuum and draw out as much of the air that is in the bag, as possible.
  8. Working quickly, remove the vacuum cleaner hose and heat seal the bag the rest of the way closed, using the clothes iron or hair straightener.
  9. Fold over the bag’s flap, laying it flat in the space at the top of the bucket.
  10. Place the lid on the bucket and drive it home by striking the edge with the rubber mallet.

One key point about doing this procedure is that the oxygen absorbers are very fast-acting, so you need to be careful about how you use them. Basically, you want to keep them sealed until you are ready to put them in the buckets and then you want to seal them in as quickly as possible. That way, they won’t be drawing the oxygen out of the room air, but just out of the air in the bucket.

You might want to give one assistant the job of dealing with the oxygen absorbers, and nothing more. That will allow them to open the container, retrieve an oxygen absorber, put it in the bag and reseal the container quickly.

Don’t worry about the excess flap material at the top of the bag. Having this gives you the option of opening the bag, removing some of the contents and resealing the bag. That’s a good way to prolong the life of your food, especially those food items that you might not use a lot of.

The Mylar bags are really what is protecting the food from bacteria, along with the oxygen absorbers. Since the oxygen is being removed from the bags, any bacteria will die. That will also serve to kill any insects or insect eggs that happen to make it into the food. The bucket adds a sufficiently strong barrier, that rodents won’t be likely to gnaw their way into your buckets.

Making an Assorted Food Bucket

As I already mentioned, there are two different types of assorted food buckets we can make; the kind that mirrors what is available commercially and a type which just has “extras” that we will add to our diet. We’re going to look at both.

Building a Complete Food Bucket

One of the things that the commercial complete food buckets have going for them, is that they have everything you need for a week’s meals. You don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ve missed anything, because they took care of that for you. They even provide such things as salt, pepper and fire starters.

But there’s nothing to say that you can’t create something just as good, if not better. While these meals might be nutritious and able to keep your family going, they’re not necessarily the tastiest thing you’ve ever eaten. But then, neither are MREs, the military version of survival rations.

Before actually building the bucket, we have to understand a few things about how these meals need to be created. First of all, we’re talking two meals a day, not three. This is survival, not vacation. Besides, three meals per day usually means that we’re eating too much. So, rarely do you find any survival rations talking in terms of three meals per day.

These meals are also high in carbohydrates, along with fats and proteins. Little effort is put into providing any sort of vegetables or even fruit. In a survival situation the human body can do just fine without the micronutrients that nutritionists talk about all the time.


Building a diet that follows those guidelines really isn’t all that hard. You’ve just got to pick the right combination of foods and create a menu. Then you put the foods together and pack them in a bucket, according to the directions we’ve already discussed.

This is one place where it’s a great help to create your own premixed dry meal starters. That’s, in effect, what you’re going to receive in one of those buckets. Let me give you a few examples:

  • Bean soup – package several types of dried beans together with some rice, bouillon and spices.
  • Rice & pasta casserole – either use Rica-a-Roni or mix your own. That would consist of minute rice, small pasta or cut up spaghetti, seasonings, dried vegetables and dried meat (either dehydrated or freeze dried beef or chicken).
  • Chili – dried ground beef, beans, tomatoes, tomato powder and spices.
  • Mac & cheese, with beef – take your common packaged mac & cheese and add freeze dried hamburger.

There are many more possibilities that you can do, besides what I’m showing here. The idea is to have everything in one package. People often refer to this as a “meal in a jar” and will put it in a canning jar. Instead, you can make the same mix and either vacuum seal it or seal it into a small Mylar bag.

An alternative you might want to think of in some cases is to use canned meats, rather than dried ones. You can buy a fair variety of canned meats, including corned beef, salmon, chicken and the ever-famous Spam. Adding a can of meat, instead of putting dried meat in one of your recipes, might provide a nice change of pace for your family.

In most cases, you’ll want to round the meal out with some sort of side dish. There are actually many of these already on the market, at your local grocery store; and they’re even packed in airtight bags. I’m referring to various potato and pasta dishes that you can get, designed to be quick and easy side dishes to go with your meals.

Other options for side dishes would include dried fruit and granola bars. If you’re making chili, you might want some crackers. These can also be used as a snack, as you’re only doing two meals per day. That’s going to be difficult on your family, until they get used to it. So a snack might help them make it through the day.

The same thing can be done with breakfast meals. While the recipes may not be as plentiful on the internet, there are still a number of breakfast meals that you can do, which provide hearty nutrition and lots of calories to burn.

  • Pancakes – use the type of mix where you don’t need to add anything but water. Add either a small container of syrup, jelly or apple butter to go with it.
  • Oatmeal – a lot of people like oatmeal for breakfast anyway, especially on a cold morning. Make your oatmeal a bit better by adding some dried fruit to go with it.
  • Granola – if you want something that will stick with you for a while, granola is hard to beat. While powdered milk isn’t most people’s favorite, you can mix the powdered milk in with the granola and just add water to eat it.

Each meal has to be separately packaged in an airtight package. That’s not only to protect the food, but also to make sure that the food odors don’t intermix. Eating pancakes that smell like garlic might not be all that appetizing to your family.

Speaking of spices, I recommend going heavy on the spices when you create your mixes. Meals that are well seasoned are generally more appealing to people when they otherwise might not feel like eating. So if you have a family member who is depressed by what has happened, giving them a well-seasoned meal is more likely to help than a bland one.

Before investing in making a huge batch of these mixes, make sure that you make a single batch of each and try them out. They probably won’t be your family’s favorite, but it would be nice if they all passed judgment and decided that they could eat it, without gagging.

If we’re talking a week’s worth of food in one bucket, you’ll need a total of 14 meals; seven for breakfast and seven for dinner. Of course, you can make your buckets for any number of days you want, and if you have a large family or are going to make really good meals with side-dishes, you might not fit a whole week’s food in one five-gallon bucket. That’s okay; just be sure to label the bucket correctly, so you know how many days its good for.

But there are other things you should add to those buckets as well. If we’re trying to make something as good as the commercial buckets, then we don’t want to miss any of the necessities. We can assume that you’re going to have some sort of cookware to use, as well as plates and utensils. Those should be part of your bug out bag, as well as being in your home. Nevertheless, some things may not be available, especially on a bug out. So, be sure to add:

  • Salt and pepper
  • Matches or a butane lighter
  • Water filter
  • Small bottle of cooking oil or survival butter
  • Powdered drink mix
  • Coffee or tea
  • Sugar (use individual restaurant packs)
  • Non-dairy creamer (use individual restaurant packs)
  • Hard candies

Building an Extras Bucket

The extras bucket is a great way of adding foods to your survival diet, which you may not need to have large quantities of or which you can’t afford to use large quantities of every week or month. By making these buckets, you’ll be able to better ration those foods, helping them to last longer and giving variety to your survival diet.

Some of the things you’ll want to put in this sort of bucket are food items which are essential, but used in small quantities. These include:

  • Survival butter
  • Dried eggs
  • Baking soda and baking powder
  • Spices
  • Beef and chicken bouillon (soup broth)

You’ll want to add these items not based upon their cost, but based upon their anticipated usage rate. Take baking powder, for example. You’re probably going to have to be baking your own bread and rolls, as well as any cakes and cookies you’re going to eat. So you’ll go through a whole lot more of this than normal. So, you’ll want to put a small box in the bucket for every month or two. That way, you won’t run out.

Then there are the items that are the focus of this type bucket, the food items you want to add to your survival pantry to give variety to your diet, but which you won’t use a large amount of each month. While you’re going to have to decide for yourself what would be included in this category, some items you might want to add are:

  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Jerky
  • Hard candies
  • Fruit roll-ups (either commercial or homemade)
  • Coffee & tea
  • Hot cocoa powder (either commercial or homemade)
  • Cheese (must be triple-dipped in wax to protect it)

Each of these food items should be in its own airtight bag, either vacuum sealed or smaller Mylar bags. That way, the aromas won’t mix while they are in storage.

In Conclusion

While having commercial food buckets or making your own isn’t a requirement for survival, it’s one of the easiest ways of stocking food in caches for later retrieval. The fact that everything is in one place, all together, makes this extremely convenient, especially in a bug out.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to pay the high prices of buying the commercially available ones. As you can see here, you can make your own much cheaper, and they’ll probably be better than the commercial ones. All it takes is a little imagination and a little elbow grease.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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