While canned and preserved foods can sustain you for a few days or even weeks, they still have their negatives. Their containers tend to be heavy and bulky, taking up precious energy and space in your bug-out kit. Often, they require tools to open, cook and consume, and once opened they tend to go bad quickly.
This is where Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE) packs come in. MREs are light and compact, so they won’t take up too much space in your bag and are easier to carry so you can cover more ground. They also have a very long shelf life, even after being opened, and are very easy to prepare.
For these reasons, MREs are used not just by the military but by federal disaster agencies, explorers, campers, and of course, preppers.
Choosing which food goes into your MREs
While MREs are readily available in outdoor and camping supply shops, there are satisfying alternatives to buying off-the-shelf commercial ration kits. You can make your own MRE at home and, as an added advantage, make sure it suits your taste.
One of the first things you’ll have to consider is the choice of food to include in your homemade MREs. Foodstuffs that won’t require refrigeration are a must and they should be able to last a long time before going bad.
Dairy and fatty meats and fruits can go bad quickly and should be avoided. Items that can be eaten straight out of the pack are valuable for making your own MREs, as are those that will only need some water (and maybe fire) to prepare.
Another consideration is the number of calories or energy your food can provide. Your MREs should be able to give you the energy you require in the smallest package possible.
When you think about how active you can be during a survival situation (walking, hiking, running, out in the cold, etc.), it’s easy to see how this can be important.
When creating your own MRE packs, try to aim for at least 1,000 calories per pack, for a daily caloric intake of 3,000 calories, assuming you consume three meals a day.
Here are some suggestions for the items that you can include in your MREs:
- Instant ramen
Instant ramen is lightweight, pre-packaged and only require hot water to prepare. They come in a wide range of flavors and can be cooked in as little as 3 minutes. When buying instant noodles to be used for your MREs, choose ones in plastic packets instead of cups for easier packaging.
Aside from a long shelf life, oats are also a good source or fiber and minerals. You can buy them in different varieties (steel-cut, rolled, instant), and while cooking times, texture and taste will vary, their nutritional values are close to each other.
Because of its light weight, long shelf life and high level on nutrition, jerky is commonly found in military field rations. You can create your own jerky or buy them off the shelf in supermarkets.
- Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables
Freeze dried fruits and vegetables only take a small amount of space and can last for many months while still retaining their nutritional value.
Crackers come in many shapes, sizes and varieties. They can be eaten on their own as a light snack, or with other food such as fruits or meat. You can buy them in bulk in large cans or boxes, but smaller individual packs will serve you better when making your own MREs.
- Sugar, salt, pepper and other condiments
You can put salt, sugar and other condiments in small packets and include them in your homemade MREs, or tape them outside your MRE pack, and improve the taste of your food. A better way is to save the packets of condiments that you get from restaurants or with delivered food.
- Instant coffee, dried milk, powdered chocolate drink
Handy during cold days or when you have to put on an all-nighter, you can put your favorite instant coffee in small packs and include them in your MREs. Coffee makers also sell their coffee in smaller sachets for single servings and it’s something that you can also look into.
- Granola or energy bars
High-energy food bars such as protein, granola or muesli bars are commercially available in grocery stores, but you can also make them at home. They can provide you a quick boost and keeps you from bonking during physically-demanding tasks.
Making your MREs
Group your items in such a way that you can have a “complete” meal (comprised of carbohydrates, some protein, and vitamins and minerals) for each pack. You can mix it up a bit so you won’t have to eat the same combination every time.
You can also add individual packets of salt and spices (you can either buy these in bulk and separate them later in smaller packets, or just save the packets that you get when you go to restaurants or order food delivery), or just tape the small packets to the main packs later.
Put each group of food for a meal in a plastic bag and use a vacuum sealer to remove the air from the bag and make them compact. If expiration dates are marked on the individual components, match them as closely as possible when packing each ration.
If some of the dry items come in sealed packs of their own (such as instant ramen), consider puncturing their packaging with a needle or a thumbtack to let the air inside out before vacuum sealing to make your MREs more compact.
With these items, your MREs should be able to last you at least a year and provide you with emergency food packs that you can just grab and stuff in your bag during an emergency.
Even if nothing happens during the time that you have your homemade MREs in store, you can rotate and still use them as food packs for when you go out hiking or camping.