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Don’t Ever Be in a Food Emergency Again

Don’t Ever Be in a Food Emergency Again

It may seem as though we live in a land of plenty. Everywhere you look there are vending machines, restaurants and stores offering an endless assortment of quick and cheap snacks and meals. And yet, the reality is everyday most Americans live in a constant state of emergency. Either they skip breakfast or they put themselves at the mercy of the local coffee chain feeding them high-sugar coffees and donuts or muffins or scones (which sound like a French health food but are really giant sugar cookies). And then, at work, there are bowls of candy and vending machines full of soda and on the way home, there are fast food restaurants and convenience stores luring you in. We live in a toxic nutritional wasteland where finding real, whole, fresh food is difficult if not impossible for most people.

What is a food emergency? When your blood sugar starts to drop, you are hard-wired to eat anything (and everything) in sight. To think you can use willpower to control your hunger or cravings contradicts the science of how your brain controls your behavior. The more willpower you use, the more it backfires, eventually. You find yourself automatically overeating and bingeing or just eating whatever happens to be in front of you.

But there is a solution, a simple, practical idea that most of us never think about: planning and bringing food with us.

If you were a type 1 diabetic, you would not leave the house without your insulin syringe or a packet of sugar. If you did, your life would be at risk. If you had a severe bee or peanut allergy, you wouldn’t go anywhere without your EpiPen. One sniff of peanut dust and you could die without your protection.

While you may not die in an hour, you will get sick and fat and live a shorter, poorer life if you regularly find yourself in a food emergency. You will repeatedly choose poor quality, high sugar, refined foods and eat more than you need.

Emergency Life Pack – Your Food Safety Net

That is why I recommend that everyone create an emergency life pack, a food safety net. Each person has to find their favorite things to include, and the choices are almost infinite. You need to stock your home, your travel bag or purse, your car and your workplace with key rations for any food emergency. What if you didn’t have time to have breakfast? What could you grab for the car? Or if you get busy at work, what can you find in your drawer to get you through the day? Or what is at the ready in the late afternoon if you start to droop? I definitely recommend including protein snacks, because protein controls your appetite and balances your blood sugar over long periods of time. These are snacks that keep on giving but don’t give that quick rush and crash we get from most “snack foods,” which leave us even more hungry and tired. If you wait until you are hungry, you will make irrational decisions. Just set yourself up to make better choices by having good things around you.

Here are easy-to-make or easy-to-buy foods that you can grab and go anywhere with. We all travel out of the house frequently, and with a little bit of planning and shopping, we can stay healthy and keep ourselves out of food emergencies. Get a few glass containers with lids and Ziploc baggies to put your snacks in. Buy an insulated lunchbox or mini-cooler to put your food in. These are just ideas and you can innovate, but make sure you include food with good-quality protein and fats that are also low in sugar.

Things That Last Forever:

  • Canned wild salmon or sardines
  • Flax or seed crackers (Mary’s Gone Crackers)
  • Jerky (bison, grass-fed beef or turkey—try Krave or Grass Fed Jerky Chews
  • Salmon Jerky (Vital Choice)
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and pumpkin seeds)
  • Nut butter packets (almond, pecan, macadamia nuts—Artisana makes individual packs)
  • Coconut butter packets (Artisana brand is great)
  • Whole food or raw food protein bars (Raw Revolution and LÄRABAR are my favorites)
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Roasted red peppers

 Easy-To-Prepare On-the-Go Snacks:

  •  Garbanzo beans with olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt
  • Hard-boiled omega 3 eggs
  • Hummus (Try Wild Garden single-serve packets that last a long time)
  • Cut-up carrots, cucumbers, peppers and celery in Ziploc baggies
  • Apple or pear


  • Dark chocolate (70%)
  • Dried figs
  • Dates

Dr. Hyman’s Go-To Travel Food Emergency Pack

When I am on the road, I find it a dangerous place: airports, hotel mini-bars, bad restaurants, food deserts. My health is in jeopardy every time I step out of my controlled environment. So, I bring food with me and make it a rule never to eat on planes or in airports (although increasingly, there is edible food in airports—you just have to know how to hunt and gather!). I never leave home without these things, and I keep a good stock in my pantry, so I can just throw them in my bag. They take up little space and pack a powerful nutritional punch.

  • Wild salmon jerky from Vital Choice or Patagonia
  • Grass-fed beef or turkey jerky by Krave
  • Packets of coconut butter and macadamia nut butter by Artisana
  • Raw Revolution protein food bars
  • Organic almonds
  • Organic macadamia nuts
  • Organic dates

For help creating your own emergency food pack, watch my how-to video here. Remember, with a little bit of planning, you can save yourself from food emergencies and stay healthy and well nourished wherever you go.

Now I’d like to hear from you …

What do you like to include in your emergency food pack?

Have you found some good sources of healthy, whole foods even while out on the road?

To your good health!
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman MD is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

Comments (22)

  • I’m usually good with breakfasts, but when I get to work, there are always unhealthy temptations. I keep a small container with Brazil nuts or walnuts in my desk, and a bar of 75% organic dark chocolate. And, there is a health food store a block away so if I have to run out at lunchtime, I grab a cold Kombucha and sip it all afternoon. During this time of year, I keep a cooler with my afternoon watermelon chunks which hydrates and satisfies me so well! Another thing I make for my husband and myself are green smoothies which I store in Mason jars, and these, made with a bit of protein powder, are a great pickme up in late afternoon.

  • For long driving trips, bags of baby carrots really help fulfill that desire to snack and CHEW… And they can be picked up in any grocery store. I have always been a road snacker, but this last trip…. Carrots, apples and almonds and plenty of water did the trick…. I DID stop for coffee, but had my stevia packets with me so avoided the lure of chemistry and sugar…. Mile after mile can get monotonous …audiobooks and carrots kept me from feeling the heat of the nutrition desert.

  • Thanks for the great list of non perishable foods to help with a real problem! It is nice to have a listing that includes healthy wholesome foods to curb that food emergency

  • We just competed 2 extended road trips. We brought a cooler with us each time with drinks(green protein, lassi[for digestion] and lots of fresh alkaline water [the most refreshing and satisfying]), protein bars, sandwiches (made with fresh organic no yeast bread) and our favorite, soaked fruit and nuts. We soak figs, apricots and sometimes black unsweetened cherries with nuts and seeds. I only eat one fig and one apricot (in Ayurveda I am predominantly a Kapha particularly sensitive to sweet fruits) nuts, seeds and enjoy sipping the soaking water. We also bring an assortment of nuts and seeds but the soaked nuts and fruits are great for digestion and elimination. I also use the fruit and nuts for a snack every day. Another favorite is celery with nut butter, crunchy and satisfying. Great health to every body!

  • Dales raw protein bars! They have many many flavors and 22 gm of protein per bar! Never leave home without them.

  • I have always been drawn to these foods. I would add cashews and hazelnuts with the proviso that nuts should raw, not roasted. Most nuts you can find “on the road” are salted to death.

  • Love your ideas Dr. Hyman. Didn’t know about healthy “Jerky”. I will have to try it out. It pays to mention that often times when you think you are hungry, you are actually thirsty. Drink water first, you may find it stops those hunger pangs. These are great “on the go” ideas, but I find my biggest problem is when I walk in my home. I immediately get the munchies and go directly to the kitchen. I love to cut up celery and place in a beautiful glass container of water in the refrigerator, dead center, so it will be the first thing you see. It keeps it crispy and delicious. How about frozen bananas when you are craving sweets? Blessings, June Kittay

  • I used to think that it was not cool to cook and take food with you. Dr. Hyman has turned that around and showed me that cooking, and now carrying food with you is in fact, joyful, nutritious and abundant resource.

    I live in the city of San Francisco, where I believe there are more per capita restaurants than anywhere in the world. Yet when I read Dr. Hyman words above ” We live in a toxic nutritional wasteland where finding real, whole, fresh food is difficult if not impossible for most people.”, I smiled and agreed because that is my experience as a vegan.

    There are many fun ideas in Dr. Hyman’s article and in the responses. I like to carry acai berry juice as that fills me up. But I am concerned about the plastic container in comes in. Jennifer, after you soak nuts and fruits, do you blend them and add flavors or just eat them like that? Protein bar recommendations are also helpful as there are too many choices at the grocery store (Rainbow).

    Well, thank you Dr. Hyman, your every blog is most educational and a pleasure to read.

  • Love all these ideas! One of my recent staples are these little bites, packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats from Oona Mansour, who collaborates with Jon Gabriel, from the Gabriel Method. They can be found in his cookbook of the same name. They are loaded with raw seeds and nuts and wonderful spices! I would gladly share the recipes with anyone who’s interested. Ingredient list is a bit lengthy for this format, but they are easy to make. Good health to all!!

  • Thanks Dr. H — love all your ideas. One suggestion – I make my own small packs of almond butter and nut butters. I get the large jar of nut butter; then I can put 2 tablespoons of nut butter in a snack size zip lock. When I am ready to use, I just snip a small portion on the corner of bag and squeeze out onto my celery, etc.

    Also, would like your thoughts on apple cider vinegar. I have been drinking this for a while: 2 capfulls of a.c. vinegar, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1 packet of Stevia. Add ice and filtered water. I find it so refreshing and really great thirst quincher.

  • Some ideas I thought for the food pack for the road was, mixing chia seeds in a juice and carrying it in a glass bottle. Also spreadable salads – two or three of – carrots, celery, beets, or red cabbage chopped in a food processor. Mixed with lemon juice, tahini, scallions, dulse, and dill. This with rice cakes or rice crackers. Another thought was making spreadable cheese with soaked cashews and brewer’s yeast. K*eraw makes them good commercial. Getting a mini cooler is a great idea, then the foods for a meal can be carried instead of just trail mix and apples.

  • Oh my goodness! What great ideas! Slowly learning to do things like this to make it a lifestyle change and feeling better all the time. Are there any “plastic ” containers that are safe to use short-term? Worry about breakage in my old age.

    • Dear Roberta,

      Thank you for your interest in Dr. Hyman’s work. You dont necessarily have to use glass, although it is the safest as fat as the toxins in plastics are concerned. If you use plastic, use it once and recycle it! But you can use other creative mediums to transport your food such as cloth or even a napkin to wrap a snack up and carry it with you. Look for glass tupperware with a secure plastic lid-chances are you wont drop it 🙂

      For more personalized nutrition advice, Dr Hyman’s virtual nutrition coaching team would be happy to work with you on an individual level to help you reach your goals. To work with the nutrition coaching team please go to: OR call (800) 892-1443 to get started.
      In Good Health,
      The Nutrition Team

  • On our last road trip I brought along a crockpot and two wide-mouthed thermoses, a small cutting board, knife, and my own glass bottles of RO water. I would go to the grocery store and buy a lamb shank or chicken pieces, along with vegetables such as zucchini, leeks, and a couple carrots. It was very quick and simple to make a stew overnight in the motel room. In the morning I filled the thermoses with it. I also brought along some sprouted almonds, walnuts, organic beef jerky, and some dried fruit. Occasionally, we ate out at restaurants, but I could keep to my organic, Paleo diet a lot more easily by bringing along some staples and stopping at grocery stores.

  • Not having to travel much and working from home but can recall fellow associates saying, “It takes you all hour to make your lunch”, because of all the vegetables that had to be washed, cut and prepared for the best vegetable sandwich in the world. Even Dagwood would have eaten it. Now reluctant to eat much bread.

  • My new favorite: Lindt Excellence 85% Cacao Dipped in Justin’s Maple Almond butter. A real treat. (Limit to 40g of chocolate per day, or four squares).

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  • What is also clear is that through crop rotation, planting cover crops, the use of
    compost-based fertilizers, and other biodynamic farming techniques, organically
    grown foods are generally more environmentally friendly than conventionally produced agricultural products.
    Everything under this practice is kept chemical free and thus considered being an extremely health and eco-friendly practice.
    169th St. American Bistro has always stocked their kitchen and bar with fresh, local and
    sustainable goods. Non-organic livestock are treated with antibiotics and
    hormones to prevent infection and stimulate growth.

  • I am mostly gluten free, I avoid dairy, and also do not eat meat except for fish and limit sugar. However due to skin (rosacea/acne) issues, I also react to tomatoes, strawberries, eggplant, coconut, chocolate and dried fruits including dates and figs. When I take the time to bake, gluten free “cookies” (not too sweet) with tiny amounts of chocolate or dried fruit can be a treat. The best quick treat I make is a cashew milk, banana, almond, oat shake. I also make cashew carob butter. But day to day I could really use more easy options. Feeling SO limited gets me frustrated, and I tend to go off my healthful eating as a result.
    I’d love more treat options that aren’t so heavy on dried fruit.

  • Why is 70% Dark Chocolate included in this list?? Even dark chocolate contains refined sugar and should be avoided for optimal health– Your blog stated that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine, so including this item in an emergency pack certainly won’t help anyone who is struggling with sugar addiction– which is almost everyone 🙁