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Shelf-Stable Foods Save Money and Help Families Stay Prepared

BROOKINGS, S.D. - Stocking canned, dried and other shelf-stable food items can ease concerns over running out of food due to finances or if winter storms prevent travel, explained SDSU Extension Family & Community Health Associate, Rachel Lindvall.

“Shelf-stable foods offer many ways of saving money and providing satisfying and favorable homemade meals for your family,” Lindvall said. “Using these foods when preparing meals can be pleasing and provide a sense of well-being to those who are looking to stretch their food dollars further or want to be prepared for emergency situations.”

Like the name suggests, shelf-stable references foods that are able to survive long periods of time on store or home shelves without spoiling. Unopened and in their sealed containers or packaging, these items can be kept in the pantry and do not need refrigeration.

Most shelf-stable foods can be found in the canned food section of the grocery store but, dried items, like jerkies and fruits or baked items like crackers, cereals and granola, are also shelf-stable.

“It is very important to keep in mind that some foods, like canned meats, fruits and vegetables, once opened, will need refrigeration for any leftover amounts,” Lindvall said.

While fresh foods are usually recommended for meal preparation, studies show nutritional content of canned foods is comparable to cooked, fresh and frozen varieties.

“Like their fresh, frozen or refrigerated counterparts, these shelf-stable items provide major vitamins and nutrients to the American diet,” Lindvall said.

However, she encourages South Dakotans to read labels. “Some canned foods can be high in sodium or sugars. Read the labels to look for fruits or vegetables that are low in these additives,” she said.

Lindvall added salty or sugary liquids can be rinsed or strained from canned beans, vegetables and fruits. 

Shelf-stable examples

Budget friendly, shelf-stable food examples can be found on the My Plate chart below.
Lindvall also lists healthy shelf-stable options here:

Proteins: Beans, lentils, peas - all either dried or canned, peanut butter, canned tuna, salmon, chicken and other meats, peanuts and other tree nuts

Dairy: powdered milk, shelf-stable milk, canned evaporated milk

Grains and starchy foods: rice, couscous, quinoa, tortillas, and pastas, crackers, cornmeal, wheat flours, along with baking powder and baking soda

Fruits and vegetables: So many varieties are canned or dried like raisins, apricots, prunes and unsweetened applesauce. 
Avoid fruit juices since they tend to cost more and often include extra sugars and preservatives.

Eggs: If you have access to refrigeration in your home, consider purchasing eggs. 
While they do require cold storage, they are versatile, an excellent and economical source of protein and, eggs remain fresh in the refrigerator for at least one month.


“Always remember to keep food safety in mind when choosing canned food at your grocery stores or community food pantries, never choose canned foods that are past their expiration dates or have any flaw such as dents or bulges.”

— Rachel Lindvall, SDSU Extension Family & Community Health Associate

Recipes featuring canned and shelf-stable foods can be found at these links: SNAP-Ed and Cans Get You Cooking.


a graphic illustrating canned goods helping with healthy choices
The Canned Food Alliance's Canned Foods Fill MyPlate factsheet.