How to Make Your Own Survival Food (MREs) for Cheap

Before we get into how you can make your own Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) for survival, let’s take a second to clarify what survival food is. It sure isn’t a bunch of non-perishables that you stockpile in your pantry!

While it is definitely good practice to stockpile non-perishables, these aren’t going to help you through a long-term disaster like EMP, hurricanes, or any of the other likely disasters.

Sure, you can live off of canned peas for an indefinite amount of time, but most non-perishables will go bad quickly after you open them, require lots of water to prepare, and have extensive cooking times. And good luck carrying canned food with you if you’ve got to bug out somewhere!

For a food to be considered a good survival food, it must be:

  • Lightweight
  • Compact in size
  • Have a very long shelf life
  • Have a long shelf life after it is opened
  • Be easy to prepare
  • Require little or no cooking time

If you are new to survival foods, I recommend you read our articles about the 5 Types of Survival Food, Survival Foods List, and Stockpiling Mistakes.

If you are ready to start making your own MRE survival food, then read on!

 

Dehydrating versus Freeze-Drying

As I talked about in my post about types of survival foods, freeze dried foods are great for survival. The process keeps the nutrients intact, and freeze dried foods usually taste really good. The only issue with them is that freeze dried foods don’t shrink, so they do take up a bit of space.

Recommended Reading:

Unfortunately, freeze drying is a industrial process that you can’t do at home (you can read how it is done here).

If you want to make your own MREs out of fresh foods, then dehydrating is your only option.

However, you can buy buckets of freeze-dried foods and use them in combination with other ingredients to make your own MREs.

 

Supplies for Making Your Own MREs:

Don’t know how to use a vacuum sealer? Here is a good guide.

Which Foods Can You Dehydrate?

dehydrated tomatos

You’d be surprised at how many different types of food you can dehydrate.   There are the obvious ones like fruit slices (I like dried banana best), tomatoes, and jerky, but here are some of the surprising foods you can dehydrate:

  • Yogurt
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Pasta sauce
  • Hummus
  • Refried beans

To dehydrate these foods, just dry them as you would fruit leather.

Make sure they are pureed first (such as with pasta sauce or mashed potatoes). Then spread them out on parchment paper on your dehydrator.

The finished result varies.

Refried beans look a bit like cardboard when done. Yogurt becomes a crumbly paper.

 

Which Foods NOT to Dehydrate

You can dehydrate just about anything – but not all foods rehydrate very well.

I learned this on a backpacking trip where I made some vegetable soup to take with us. The tomatoes, kale, and onions re-hydrated really well – but the carrots and mushrooms remained tough little rocks, even after pre-soaking them and boiling them for a really long time. We ate them anyway, but it would probably be really harsh on our digestive system in a survival situation.

Here are foods you do NOT want to dehydrate:

  • Avocado and high-fat foods: The fat can make them go bad quickly, and it will destroy your entire MRE contents
  • Fatty meats: for the same reason
  • Cheese: You will be better off buying commercially-dried cheese
  • Eggs: They are weird when you try to re-hydrate them, and won’t work for baking or cooking needs; consider buying commercially-dried eggs instead.
  • Milk: This can be done, but only with low-fat milk because the fat can make it go rancid. You’d be better off buying commercially-dried milk instead.
  • Store-bought condiments: They have too many chemicals and additives in them that they will likely separate when you try to re-hydrate
  • Root vegetables: You CAN dehydrate these, but they will take a long time to re-hydrate and thus aren’t suitable for use as survival foods.

*If you want to dehydrate root vegetables (beets, carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.), then you should BLEND THEM INTO A POWDER. This powder can then be put into the MREs for added nutrition, or to make the base. For example, you can use carrot powder to make a great carrot soup.

 

Foods NOT to Include in Your MREs

Remember that survival food must be able to be cooked quickly and with little water. So, even though a lot of DIY MRE recipes include these foods, I am putting them in the “off limits” list:

  • Dry beans (though lentils work well because they cook so quickly)
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Dried root veggies (unless ground into a powder first)

 

Each MRE Should Have:

As a survival food, Meals Ready to Eat are meant to deliver maximum nutrition while still tasting decent (in comparison to survival food bars which are all about delivering calories in as dense of a package as possible to simply keep you alive).

To make sure your MREs are keeping you healthy, each MRE needs to contain a: carbohydrate, protein, and fruits/vegetables.

*It is also good to include fats in your emergency food.

Fats are necessary for nutrition because they are great sources of energy and are essential for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins.

However, since fatty foods go rancid quickly, be cautious about adding these to your DIY MREs. It is safest to buy commercially-made freeze-dried fats (such as freeze-dried cheese or freeze-dried milk) and carefully check the expiration date and storage methods before adding them to your MREs. Or keep these separate!

Carbohydrate = Energy

Examples Include couscous, fast-cooking noodles (such as ramen, soup noodles or rice noodles), oats, mashed potatoes flakes

Protein = Strength

Examples include jerky, freeze-dried meats, lentils, dried bean paste

Vegetables and/or Fruits = Vitamins, Minerals, and Fiber (constipation, anyone?)

Examples include dehydrated or freeze-dried tomatoes, peppers, onions, spinach, kale, bananas, apples, raisins, peaches

As a general rule, try to aim for as much variety as possible – especially when it comes to fruits and veggies.

You don’t have to memorize the nutritional qualities of each food, but do know that certain colors are associated with certain nutrients.

For example, bright red foods like tomatoes are rich in antioxidants which you will need to boost your immunity in survival situations.

Dark leafy greens have minerals like calcium and iron.

Example MRE Combinations:

Breakfast MRE

  • Oats
  • Dried apples and bananas
  • Cinnamon
  • Sugar
  • Dried milk

Tomato and Chicken Soup MRE

  • Dried tomatoes, carrots and peppers — blended into powder
  • Dried milk
  • Soup noodles
  • Herbs and spices
  • Freeze-dried chicken bits
  • Salt, pepper

Mashed Potatoes and Steak MRE

  • Mashed potato flakes
  • Dehydrated turnip or celery root powder
  • Freeze-dried steak or dehydrated beef jerky
  • Dehydrated spinach
  • Salt, pepper

Couscous and Hummus MRE

*Couscous is like the Middle Eastern version of rice. It cooks in 2 minutes and without much water. Hummus is made from blended chickpeas, and dehydrates really well.

  • Couscous
  • Dehydrated hummus
  • Dehydrated red peppers and tomatoes
  • Dehydrated kale
  • Parsley, cilantro and sesame seeds

For inspiration, check out MREs for purchase and then just duplicate the flavors.

Have you ever made your own MREs? What combinations can you think of?

I’m Jacob Hunter, founder of Primal Survivor.
I believe in empowering people with the knowledge to prepare and survive in the modern world.

More about Jacob here.

Leave a comment

  1. It would be helpful if there were some guidelines for amounts or ratios of ingredients, at least to start. I find pureed roasted pumpkin dehydrates very well and I make it into a powder with the VitaMix. It’s great added to soups, stews and chili. I’ve been experimenting with a cup o’ soup type recipe because the pumpkin flavor can be overwhelming and I haven’t found the right balance yet (pumpkin puree, powdered milk, a little sage and salt, a pinch of sugar. – add hot water and let sit to thicken.) I think a more equal ratio of pumpkin to milk will work out better (1T. pumpkin to 1t. milk is what I started with and that’s when I realized I needed to cut way back on the pumpkin.)

  2. This article was how to make an MRE. The second you used the word dehydrate, this no longer became an MRE. An MRE is by definition a meal ready to eat. Edible right out of the bag. Not a meal ready to be rehydrated. Nothing you have listed on this whole page can be considered MRE

    • Yeah, there is a lot of confusion about emergency food terminology. Often “camping meals” or “instant meals” are called MREs. The Wikipedia definition (which is what we used here) is this: “The Meal, Ready-to-Eat – commonly known as the MRE – is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging bought by the United States military for its service members for use in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available.”

      Frankly, a lot of those military MREs are downright disgusting. If you want something tastier but still lightweight enough to carry in your BOB and eat without having to cook, dehydrating is a good option. Most military MREs do use freeze-dried ingredients (not dehydrated), but freeze dryers are way out of most people’s budgets!

      If you are interested, here’s an ingredients list for common military MREs: http://www.mreinfo.com/images/aus/PR1M-Ingredients-2001-2002.pdf
      And this database gives info on military MRE nutrition: https://www.hprc-online.org/page/combat-rations-database-comrad

    • From Diane (our resident dehydrating expert!):

      I personally have never tried dehydrating in an oven. It seems like it would be a waste of energy and cause the house to be hot as heck. Also, I’m assuming the racks on the top and bottom would block heat to the racks in the middle — so you’d have to bend into the hot oven a few times to rotate the racks. I prefer the “set it and forget it” method with the dehydrator. I literally just turn it on before going to bed and have dehydrated food in the morning (though sometimes the top tray does need a bit more dehydrating since I’ve got a vertical-flow dehydrator).

      However, I have heard that it is possible to dehydrate in an oven. But, considering that a decent dehydrator doesn’t cost that much, I don’t know why you’d bother. Maybe try it in the oven one or two times and then decide whether you want to invest in a dehydrator (you really don’t need an expensive one, or you can just buy one used). As for choosing a dehydrator, we’ve got a post on that: https://www.primalsurvivor.net/best-food-dehydrators/

      If you want to learn more details about making your own MREs/dehydrated meals, I suggest you read this post on dehydrating. https://www.primalsurvivor.net/dehydrating-food/ It goes into a lot of detail! The only thing that this post doesn’t talk about is how to package the foods in Mylar bags for long-term storage. That post is coming soon. 🙂

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