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!
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:
- 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 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.
Until recently, freeze drying was an industrial process, now however you can freeze dry at home.
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:
- Dehydrator – See our guide to the best food dehydrator
- Mylar bags – See our guide to using Mylar bags
- Vacuum sealer
- Desiccant, such as Silica gel. Or you can use an oxygen absorber.
Which Foods Can You Dehydrate?
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:
- Mashed potatoes
- Pasta sauce
- 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)
- 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:
- Dried apples and bananas
- 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.
- 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?