Homemade MREs can come in handy whether you’re preparing for a zombie apocalypse or maybe just a weekend camping trip with the family. MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) are handed out in the military as standard field equipment. Military MREs come with many different entrees and sides – the problem is they lack flavor (or at least they did in the 90’s). You can, of course, make your homemade MREs the same way (just remember the flavor issue).
Why should you make your own homemade MREs?
A lot of the time in the past when I went camping, the only thing that forced me to go back home was lack of food. We’d pack enough food for a few days and pop it in the cooler with some ice. The problem was that half the food wouldn’t get eaten because it was either soggy from ice water or spoiled from the heat. This was back before I had any thoughts about making my own MREs. I wanted normal cookout food – hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, and other delicious goodness that could be cooked on a grill or over a campfire.
Packing homemade MREs ensures you will always have a little extra food. You could even do what my boys and I are planning to do sometime soon – go on a survival weekend. We’ll take our bug-out bags and just go somewhere for the weekend. No hamburgers and hotdogs… no water coolers full of ice and clean drinking water… just the contents of our 72-hour kits and nothing more. The purpose being to see how long we can last trapping, hunting, fishing and foraging. We’ll take the homemade MREs as back-up emergency food only.
Things to consider when making your MREs:
Choose foods that have a long shelf life. The shorter the shelf life, the faster the item will need to be replaced or remade. Freeze dried foods are usually your best bet.
Choose foods that are light weight. Heaver foods mean more bulk in your bag and the less you can carry. Again, freeze dried foods weigh little to nothing in your pack. You can also opt to include some dehydrated foods, too. While I might buy freeze dried foods, I would probably want to dehydrate my own. You can get a really nice kitchen model dehydrator, or you can go more primitive with an eco-friendly one that won’t run up your power bill — both of which would do the job. One may take a little longer, but it’s still going to get the job done.
Choose foods that are high in calories. You might have to ration your food, but you can’t necessarily ration your energy. High calorie foods keep your energy up. Each MRE should ideally have approximately 1,200 calories. Mix some nuts, granola and dried fruits to make a high calorie trail mix that’s also light-weight.
What are in typical military MREs:
- Entree – the main course, such as Spaghetti or Beef Stew
- Side dish – rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes, etc.
- Cracker or Bread
- Spread – peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread
- Dessert – cookies or pound cakes
- Candy – M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls
- Beverages – Gatorade-like drink mixes, cocoa, dairy shakes, coffee, tea
- Hot sauce or seasoning – in some MREs
- Flameless Ration Heater – to heat up the entree
- Accessories – spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, etc.
Sample homemade MRE contents:
BREAKFAST: 2 breakfast bars, dried fruit, instant coffee.
- LUNCH: Tuna, cheese crackers, dried fruit, 1 mini Hershey bar, fruit drink mix.
- SNACK: On grueling hikes, you have to keep your blood-sugar levels up, so these have 2 packages of peanut butter crackers and several packs of Peanut M&Ms to be eaten between meals.
- DINNER: Ramen Noodles, cheese crackers, mini Hershey bar. I also pack freeze dried vegetables and some beef jerkey to break up and add to the soup.
Substitutions could include:
- Entree – canned/bagged tuna, canned/bagged chicken, canned sardines, spam, or instant oatmeal
- Side dish – freeze dried/dehydrated veggies, packaged instant noodles/rice/potatoes
- Crackers/Spread – peanut butter or cheese crackers, graham crackers, individual packets of peanut butter, jelly
- Dessert – dried fruit or ‘100 calorie packs’ of cookies
- Candy – 2 Hershey’s Minis, small pack of M&Ms, a sucker, hard candy, gum
- Beverage – Gatorade mix, fruit drink mix, instant coffee (which I can assure you will be in my pack) or instant tea
- Seasonings – individual packets of ketchup, mustard, relish, salt, pepper, hot sauce, non-dairy creamer, sugar, jelly, bullion cubes
Homemade MRE Ideas for Packaging
There are many options for packaging. You could use mylar bags, a vacuum sealer, or just plain old zipper bags. I put mine in a quart size zipper bag, then put a full day’s meals (1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner) all in a gallon size zipper bag. I used zipper bags because I don’t have a vacuum sealer yet. When I get one, I will be using it to be sure I’m getting all of the air out of the package, thus prolonging the shelf-life of my homemade MREs.
- These might not technically be completely ready to eat as you might have to add water and cook them a little depending on what you choose.
- With canned foods, be sure to get the ones with pull tabs or make sure you pack a can opener.
- If you use a vacuum sealer to seal your homemade MREs, be sure to pierce your packs of rice, potatoes, noodles, and crackers with a pin or something, otherwise they may bloat under vacuum and cause your MREs to be bulky. Piercing won’t harm the contents, as you’re delivering them to a vacuum state, and contamination is not a factor if you’re not using a dirty pin.
- You may also want to include multivitamins if you’re preparing for an occasion where you can’t carry a lot of food. You might need to eat these daily.
- Once you seal everything in, your homemade MREs should have a nice shelf life of about 3-5 years. Be sure to mark the date on the package with a Sharpie or other permanent marker.
- In the event the world doesn’t end, you’ll have plenty of lunches for your kids or plenty of meals for your next, long-term camping trip.
- Vacuum sealing the meals not only helps to preserve them longer but also waterproofs them. The added bonus is that they are also organized and very compact – 2 essential qualities of a well packed bug-out bag!
- Be sure to pack napkins, toilet paper, matches, spoons/forks, hand sanitizer, etc.