Ready to eat meals, which are more commonly known as MRE's, are a staple when it comes to food planning. The military uses them in their kits as it allows soldiers to stay fueled and ready for combat, and they come in handy when you're wanting a quick and easy meal.
But there's a couple of downsides.
First, they don't always taste all that great. It's like prison food. Enough to give you the carbs and nutrients your body needs, but it's not Masterchef level cooking either. Don't get me wrong, some brands are much better than others, but for the money I don't think it's worth it.=
Second, MRE's are rather expensive. It's around $10 for a decent MRE, which quickly adds up if you're planning on using these to feed your family these for 3 meals a day for any extended amount of time. I don't really want to drop $270 on food each time we go camping on a weekend.
So, I decided to make my own.
And there was one side-effect that I was quite pleasantly surprised about.
If you've ever been camping you've probably run into this same problem. Packing a bunch of food and meat into a cooler, but by the third day your ice is long gone and you end up simply tossing the spoiled meat and soggy food and stopping at a diner on the way home.
Since I started making my own MRE's this hasn't been a problem.
Because we've now got plenty of food to eat, which is usually supplemented with whatever fish or game we've caught. All my family needs to do is grab our bug out bags, which are packed and ready to go. More than enough gear to last 72 hours, which is 3 days in the wild.
And we've got tasty meals already prepared, just in case we're not able to forage or hunt.
Before we get started though, there's a few rules when it comes to your meal planning:
- Include foods that have a long shelf life, so you don't have to replace them as much
- Include foods that are (relatively) light weight so you don't weight down your kit
- Include foods that have a high number of calories to keep your energy levels high
If you're a numbers person, I recommend getting about 1,200 calories into each meal, or aiming for a total around 4000 calories a day. During a disaster or a real bug out, you're focus should be on keeping your energy levels up, not losing weight. Oh, and don't forget that you will also need water if you're planning to reconstitute any dehydrated food, and a source of heat if you're planning to cook (or have a hot coffee).
Here's what I've packed in mine (for a 3 day kit).
- 3 x instant coffee sachet (single servings)
- 9 x packets of instant oatmeal (just add water and heat, I use two at a time)
- 3 x packets of mixed dried fruit to add to oatmeal and water as you cook
- 6 x protein bars (I eat two at a time)
- 3 x packets of beef jerky (small sized packets)
- 3 x packets of peanut butter and crackers
- 3 x packets of chocolate chip cookies (individual servings)
- 3 x packets of mixed nuts (small sized packets)
- 3 x packets of powdered electrolytes (to keep your salt levels up)
- 3 x individual packets of pop tarts
- 3 x packets of instant soup (dried, just add water and heat)
- 3 x packets of instant mashed potato (just add water and heat)
- 3 x vacuumed sealed bags of Beef Stew (I mix it with the mash)
- 3 x packets of cheese and crackers
- 3 x Earl Grey teabags
Of course, you could swap out the Beef Stew for a rice dish, or get some tuna and dehydrated vegetables to add to your soup. It just depends what you want to be eating while you're living out of your bug out bag. For me, I'm quite happy for beef stew for a few days, though my wife prefers the curry chicken. Just buy what you like.
Oh, and as you're making these, be sure to check the expiry dates on everything that you're packing in. Especially if you're not going to be testing your kit anytime soon. Most of these items I've recommended will have a shelf life of a couple of years, but check their packaging just in case. The last thing you want is to be reliant on your homemade MRE's only to find that what's in your kit is no longer safe to eat.
Now, I've intentionally made my MRE's as simple as possible, and while I wouldn't recommend eating these without heating them up, you've still got plenty of options if you're on the run and don't have the time or ability to get a fire going to heat up your food. Nearly all of what I've included can be eaten cold, it just may not be all that appetizing, it will help to keep your energy levels up, and keep you alive.
Finally, when you're preparing your kits, I'd recommend keeping most items in the packs they're originally prepared in. So, pay attention to what you buy. You don't want canned items. You don't want big bulky items. Think small, metallic or plastic packaging. This will help keep the weight down in your kit, and also save space in your bug out bag. If you've got a vacuum sealing kit this can help keep your meals together, but I've had just as much success with using heavy-duty zip lock bags.
Making your own MRE's isn't as hard as you may first think. It's just a matter of figuring out what you want to be eating, and making a few smart buying decisions when you're at the supermarket. Everything on my list I can find at my local grocer, which also makes it easy to restock after I've spent a weekend in the woods testing my gear and my bug out plans. Plus, it's tasty. And to me, that's the most important part.