Out of meat, dairy, or eggs? Here are some common, unexpected items many of us have at home that give a significant shot of protein.
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The most important resource in a disaster?
You certainly need water, food, warmth, and light. But what about a clear head?
All the preparation in the world will do you little good if you aren’t able to think clearly and apply your plans when the time comes.
That’s why our team at Emergency Essentials never ceases to encourage anyone who will listen to fill their long-term supplies with plenty of protein-rich foods like meat, dairy, and eggs! These amazing foods produce chemicals in your brain that promote alertness and activity—a life-saver in disaster.
Foods high in protein are also more satiating than ones packed with carbs and fat, keeping you feeling fuller, longer. In emergencies, that means you’ve got more time to focus on staying safe rather than hunting down your next meal.
The problem with proteins, though—especially complete protein sources like meat, dairy, and eggs—is that they tend to run out quickly in disaster. For starters, even frozen, they spoil relatively quickly. They’re also the first thing most of us reach for in the fridge and pantry, especially when we’re under stress.
If you find yourself short on these go-to sources of protein, never fear! We’ve put together a list of unexpected foods most of us have at home that can fill in as great protein sources when all else fails.
IMPROVISED PROTEIN IN YOUR KITCHEN
You may not know it, but your kitchen is bursting with unexpected protein options most of us never consider. There are dozens of foods to choose from, but these are a few of the most common and protein dense.
It’s been called bachelor’s steak, and while it may not pack the punch of a rib eye, that humble box of cereal in your cupboard can actually be a significant source of protein—especially when it’s made from whole grains. Somehow, cereal always seems plentiful in emergency and it has a decent shelf life (for grocery store food) so it should last you months unopened.
The totals listed below don’t include milk, which contains about 8 grams of protein per cup (for two percent). If you’re in an emergency, powdered milk (also with 8 grams protein) is a great option, too. Add that to what’s already in the cereal and you’re approaching fitness bar protein levels.
Protein Content - Kellogg’s Lowfat Granola: 9g (per cup), Special K Protein Plus: 10g (per .75 cup), Kashi Go Lean Original Cereal: 13g (per cup), Quaker Oats Brown Sugar Squares: 6g (per cup)
Where to Find It - The varieties listed above can be found at just about every major grocery store in America.
How to Prepare It - Milk. Cereal. Bowl. Spoon. You know the drill.
Other Important Nutrients - Lots of cereals are artificially fortified with B vitamins, vitamin D, folic acid, zinc, iron, and calcium—a hundred-year-old practice started to prevent nutritional deficiencies from the widespread use of processed foods.
On it’s own, the protein content in spinach may not stack up to meat, but it mixes well with a wide variety of foods (many of them on this list). Think of it as a protein power-up for all kinds of meals.
Protein Content - 6g (raw, per cup)
Where to Find It - In the grocery or garden.
How to Prepare It - Again, this is the perfect mix-in food. To illustrate, here’s a modified version of a Sicilian-style meal I love from Vicki Chester on Allrecipes.com. It contains three of the items on this list, so I had to include it. It’s also a complete protein!
The original recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts, but I don’t keep these around the house much (pine nuts can be expensive). When I make it I switch those ingredients out with plum tomatoes and frozen peas.
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 12 plum tomatoes
- 1 (8-ounce) package uncooked penne pasta (about 11g protein…you can see how this adds up)
- ½ cup frozen peas (4g protein)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 bunch spinach torn in bite-sized pieces or ½ cup freeze-dried spinach
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- I clove garlic, minced
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese (9g protein)
Bring broth to a boil. Reduce heat and toss in tomatoes. Cook for two minutes. Drain, reserving broth, and coarsely chop.
Boil pasta in salted water and cook till al dente.
Heat olive oil and red pepper flakes in a skillet over medium heat, and sauté garlic one minute, until tender and slightly browned. Toss in spinach and cook for a minute. Pour in reserved broth and chopped tomatoes and peas. Continue cooking for a minute or two.
In a large bowl, toss the cooked paste with the spinach, pea, and tomato mixture. Serve with parmessan cheese.
Other Important Nutrients Inside - Vitamin A, B vitamins, calcium, folate, and lots more.
3. FROZEN OR FREEZE-DRIED GREEN PEAS
Don’t write off that lowly bag of green peas in the freezer as food for toddlers (or an ice pack for sore muscles). A ¾ cup of peas has more protein than a ¼ cup of the “superfood” almonds—it’s a fantastic protein-per-dollar value.
We recommend frozen and freeze-dried green peas for a couple reasons.
First, freeze-dried peas from a dedicated emergency food producer can last up to 30 years and keep nearly all their nutrients.
And frozen peas, while not as well-suited for emergencies, are super convenient and about the most common kitchen item this side of cheerios. They also mix easily into many meals, for an extra protein punch.
Protein Content: 8g (per cup)
Where to Find It: Just about any grocery store.
How to Prepare It: Eat frozen, freeze dried, boiled, rehydrated, as a side, or mixed into a recipe (see above). Combine with rice or whole grain pasta for a complete protein.
Other Important Nutrients: Iron, phosphorus, minerals, and B vitamins.
4. CANNED LIMA BEANS
Lima beans are another nutrition powerhouse, especially when it comes to protein. Like peas, they offer an incredible value and provide more protein than most other beans.
For emergencies, you can store raw lima beans with an oxygen absorber for extra-long shelf life. For pure convenience, we recommend canned lima beans. Sure, they add sodium, but they keep many of their nutrients (including protein) and the taste is hard to beat. I have yet to cook a batch that tastes as good as canned.
Protein Content - 8g (per cup)
Where to Find It - In grocery stores and gardens.
How to Prepare - Combine with rice or whole-grain pasta to make a complete protein. Or mix with some freeze-dried corn, freeze-dried peppers, lemon juice, and salt for a quick, delicious emergency (or everyday) salad. Toss in with your favorite minestrone soup or chili for extra protein.
Other Important Nutrients - B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin E potassium, iron.
5. PARMESAN CHEESE
Like frozen peas and cereal, parmesan cheese is one of those foods that always seems to be hanging around the kitchen. It’s hard to imagine my crisper drawer without a bag of parmesan—raise your hand if you’re with me! I’m not always quite sure how old the bag is, but since parmesan can last up to a year, I rarely think twice about eating it.
And with one of the highest protein totals on this list, neither should you (barring allergies, of course).
Protein Content - 38g (per cup)
Where to Find It - Almost any grocery store in America.
How to Prepare It - The ultimate mix in. What food isn’t better with cheese!
Other Important Nutrients - Vitamin B12, riboflavin, vitamin A, calcium.
IMPROVISED PROTEIN IN YOUR YARD AND NEIGHBORHOOD
Let’s face it: most of us aren’t Jeremiah Johnson-level survivalists. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a few survival skills up our sleeves. They can be life savers in an emergency.
The list below is a great starting point. It gives some common forageables that are packed with protein. Depending on where you live, many of these may be right in your yard—or at least a short walk away.
And these are super protein sources—some of them on par with certain meats, ounce for ounce. A cup of chicken, for example, contains about 35 grams protein per cup. Wild walnuts and hazelnuts (listed below) each contain 34 grams per cup.
Again, unlike chicken, these foods are not complete proteins, but adding some beans or whole grains to most of them will fix that problem right away.
Acorns on your property can be a hassle, but did you know that they’re also quite edible? With some prep, they can be leached of their bitter tannic acids to provide a great source of protein.
Protein Content - 1.7g (per oz), 13.6g (per cup)
Where to Find It - 50 species grow in US, from the Atlantic to the Southeast, the Midwest to the Rocky Mountains, and out to the California coast.
How to Prepare It - Gather brown, fully mature acorns that still have their caps. Remove the shells and caps. Rinse the acorns in cool water to rid them of any bugs or soil.
This is where things get a tiny bit labor intensive.
To remove all tannins from the acorns, you need to continuously boil them until the water they’re sitting in is clear and clean.
To achieve that, you’ll want to run two pots of boiling water at once. Boil the acorns in the first pot for about 15 minutes, until the water turns dark brown. Remove the water from that pot, replace it with fresh water, and set to boil again. In the meantime, boil your acorns in the second pot for about 15 minutes. The water will likely still turn a dark brown.
Repeat this process between both pots until the water boils clear.
Spread your acorns over a cookie sheet and set them to dry in a warm place.
Acorns are delicious roasted. Cook them at 350 degrees for about 60 minutes and then salt to taste.
Other Important Nutrients - Vitamin A, vitamin E, potassium, iron.
Be Careful of…Acorns are high in tannins, which can be harmful if consumed in significant quantities, damaging your liver. Proper preparation, as outlined here, removes tannins. Acorns may also trigger allergies—avoid them if you’re allergic to tree nuts.
Also, pass on harvesting nuts that look like they’ve been handled by squirrels or other disease-carrying pests.
Walnuts are also a common wild nut that is very protein rich. You’ll find black walnuts growing on black walnut trees, a fixture in many a backyard, farm, and horse property.
Protein Content - 4.3g (per ounce), 34.4g (per cup)
Where to Find It - Walnuts grow in regions all over the country but thrive particularly well in parts of the central and eastern US.
How to Prepare It - Put on a pair of gloves to avoid tannins and collect your walnuts from under a walnut tree. The best time of year for harvesting is September to early October. If you can leave a finger depression in the husk, the nut is mature.
Remove the husks, wash the shells, then dry and cure for two to three weeks. Once cured, store your walnuts in a cool, dark place—or even better, shell them and freeze the meat. They last a long time stored this way.
Other Important Nutrients - Vitamin B6, vitamin E, folic acid, phosphorus.
Be Careful of…Allergic reactions. If you have any tree nut allergies, it’s better to play it safe and avoid walnuts.
Also, try to avoid harvesting nuts that look like they’ve been handled by squirrels or other disease carrying pests.
Hazelnuts grow on a hazel tree. They can be eaten raw, but when prepared have a mellower, sweet taste. Like walnuts, they’re just brimming with protein.
Protein Content - 4.3g (per ounce), 34.4g (per cup)
Where to Find It - US Midwest, East, and Southeast
How to Prepare It - Harvest hazelnuts in summer. Pick clusters by twisting them off and don’t break the twigs. Put a thin layer of nuts on a large pan to dry. Wait some weeks (two should work in most cases), husk nuts by hand (wear gloves), and then crack and eat, though you may prefer them roasted.
Other Important Nutrients: Vitamin E, thiamin, manganese
Be Careful of…Hazelnuts have fuzzy spines. Make sure to wear gloves when harvesting. As with the other nuts listed, avoid hazelnuts if you have tree nut allergies.
With a mild taste that many people prefer to spinach, the stinging nettle may be the healthiest food on this list. It contains a good deal of protein (only two amino acids short of a complete protein) as well as a long lineup of vitamins and minerals.
But you’ll have to work for all that goodness…it’s not called the “stinging” nettle for nothing! Harvest and preparation require more care but are well worth it.
Protein Content - 3g (per cup)
Where to Find It - The American East, Midwest, California, Rocky Mountain regions, Atlantic coast, Southeast, and Alaska.
How to Prepare - To harvest, you’ll want heavy gloves, a thick, long-sleeved shirt, jeans (no holes), and sturdy shoes. Look for young tender plants. Avoid those with white spittle on the undersides. Cut the leaves from stems and gather in a bag.
Set the leaves in warm water for about 10 minutes to remove the sting. Then blanch for five minutes and transfer to a bowl of ice and water. Remove and store in an airtight container for up to five days. You can use nettle the same way you do spinach: mixed in a salad or other entrée, or just eaten with salt and butter as a side.
Other Important Nutrients: Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and all but two amino acids (leucine and lysine if you’re wondering).
Be Careful of…Nettle needs to be cooked to remove the sting (caused by formic acid). Exposure causes burning, itching, and rash at the point of contact.
5. Maple Seeds
You’ve seen those flying little winged pods that fall from maple trees, but did you know they’re edible, tasty, and rich in nutrients? Just pick them up off the ground—the seeds can be eaten raw. They’re a long-utilized food of many native peoples of America, and they’re a great source of protein in emergency.
Protein Content - 43% protein per gram
Where to Find It - All maple trees produce these seeds. Red, silver, and Norway maples tend to produce the highest volume. Maple trees are found throughout US.
How to Prepare It: There are many ways to prepare maple seeds. Start by removing the outer covering to get to the seed pods. These can be eaten raw. They can also be can be steamed or boiled with butter or salt—they’re a lot like pumpkin seeds. They’re great as a snack, in salads, or even dried and ground into a high-protein flour.
Other Important Nutrients: Fiber and calcium
Be Careful of…Maple seeds are generally safe for humans but are toxic to horses.
The foods listed here are just a few of the many overlooked protein sources all around us—and they demonstrate the point that with some preparation and know-how, you never have to go without a solid protein source.
God bless and stay safe out there!
This is an excellent article. I have wondered how to release tannins from acorns and how to prepare nettles, now I know! Going to load up on Lima beans now also. I always read your information. And thank you for letting me READ it, I can’t get through those audio info ads. I also purchase your Essentials. Thank you.
Top 10 Improvised Emergency Protein Sources (For When All Else Fails)
Wow! What a wonderful resource and the best article I’ve read on this site! Great tips on how to prepare each of these! Thank you!