*Thoughts on New and Improved Homemade MREs*
30 July 2019
More than a decade ago, a few Rubies began putting together their own MREs. Since then, the civilian prepackaged food market has expanded dramatically. If you are in the market for highly portable meals requiring minimal cooking and that more closely resemble what you eat on a daily basis, read on.
I started thinking about this one night after watching a prepper's YouTube video reviewing various countries' versions of MREs. The French equivalent caught my interest because it is heavy on chocolate. The Norwegian editions contain items you might otherwise only find on a restaurant menu.
When you're under stress, it's great to eat familiar foods that you associate with normal life. If you blanch at the thought of emu with cranberry sauce (a real thing), stick with roast beef and gravy.
On the other hand, appetite fatigue is also a real thing. Sure, you could eat tuna and instant rice for days, but you would find yourself eating less and less when you became thoroughly sick of them.
Retort pouches are those combination Mylar-and-plastic bags you can find nearly anywhere—dollar stores, supermarkets and online. While they weigh more than dehydrated or freeze-dried foods, they are precooked. If you are in a situation where potable water is scarce or building a fire is inadvisable, these are a good option.
Years ago, I settled on instant rice as a carbohydrate source in my own first attempts at DIY MREs. It seems to hold up well over time, with some sources saying it has a shelf life of four to five years. Minute Rice and similar brands are available nearly anywhere. On the other hand, instant rice still requires water for preparation.
Ready-to-eat rice is available from several vendors now, and one of my favorites is Tasty Bite. To avoid appetite fatigue, I tend to keep a few different varieties on hand—basmati, sticky, long grain and jasmine, for example. There are also a few rice-based meals flavored with various vegetables, herbs and spices included.
Tasty Bite also makes several entree pouches that can be heated up and served over rice. These are all vegetarian, but the combination of rice or quinoa with potatoes, lentils or beans ends up making a complete protein—one that provides all the amino acids that humans need for good health. And the even better news is, Tasty Bite's Indian entrees are not heavily spiced.
For animal-based protein sources, you can find seasoned tuna and tuna salad in one-serving retort pouches. Similarly, some companies now offer ham, chicken and salmon salads packaged the same way. They definitely save weight, but they do have a downside. The portion sizes tend to be about 3.5 ounces, a recommended serving during normal times but probably way too small if you find yourself walking a long way or doing a lot of manual labor.
Man cannot live by tuna salad alone, and you buy Spam Singles at the dollar store or on Amazon. The downside is that the single-serve pouches are only available in the original flavor.
Consider picking up a pouch of instant mashed potatoes. Granted, these would be unappetizing if you didn't have a source of potable water to add to them. In my part of the country, ground water is abundant and a personal-size water filter is very nearly an everyday-carry item. They work well to round out a meager portion of meat, too.
Condiments are also available in this form. Single-serve olive pouches are out there, and I just saw small packets of avocado oil done up the same way. These seem like silly tidbits for spoiled people, but they are a good source of dietary fat. Without edible fat, you're going to get hungry fast, especially if you're felling trees or moving a long distance on foot.
These tend to be heavy if they are the only form of storage food available to you while bugging out. On the other hand, the smaller three- or four-ounce sizes will work, and an occasional eight-ounce can shouldn't be a problem if you only include one in each MRE. Canned foods also give you more food choices.
Some people swear by Vienna sausages and potted meat product. I tend to swear at them. If you have never eaten these foods, buy one can to see if you like it. If you do, congratulations. You can buy them by the case on Amazon. I would be more inclined to use them as ammunition for a slingshot.
At the Dollar General stores in my area, I have found chicken salad and buffalo-chicken salads in five-ounce cans. These are located near the small cans of roast beef and gravy, pulled pork and similar canned meats. During normal times, I usually buy the brand with the lowest fat content. For my MREs, I grab the ones higher in fat. Your mileage may vary with these, so try out a few different brands to determine which ones taste good to you.
On Amazon and even on eBay, there any number of canned single-serve entrees that are a step above what you find in a dollar store (although most of those tend to be pretty tasty). I can't give any recommendations yet because I'm just testing these for the first time. For instance, I like stuffed grape leaves, and there are several canned brands out there. The product reviews are all over the place, and you way want to sample a few brands before stocking up.
Fortunately, you can also buy single servings of fruits and vegetables, the ones intended for lunchboxes. In this case, you definitely want the canned type and not the plastic cups. Having a plastic cup explode or leak inside your backpack could make a really bad day even worse.
As well as tasting pretty good, the small cans of fruits and veggies add much-needed fiber to your diet, along with small quantities of water and valuable vitamins.
Breads, Crackers and Cookies
These are all good sources of carbohydrates which your body needs for quick energy. There are so many options available that I won't delve deeply into specific brands—except for maybe one or two because I like them a lot.
The dollar store is a fantastic place to find single-serve goodies. One of those favorites I mentioned is a type of Dutch waffle cookie found at Dollar General. I think they would hold up well in an MRE, but mine never last long enough to find out. There are two flavors, honey and chocolate.
Packs of peanut-butter or cheese crackers are go-to items, but you might want to give them some extra cushioning before adding them to an MRE. That said, they remain tasty even if they end up as a handful of crumbs.
During the Christmas shopping season, you can also find single gingerbread cookies packed inside small tins. These are great additions, but they tend to be hard even before their expiration dates. I suspect they are made that way to enhance their survivability for several months. If you eat the cookies before they wind up in a homemade MRE, you can still use the tins to protect other goods.
While a lot of people stash ketchup, mayo and mustard packets away for a rainy day, a few Rubies have mentioned how their contents lose quality after about six months. Their purchase date is also questionable and they may have been stored in a warehouse or restaurant pantry for many months.
That said, you can buy these in various sized lots through Amazon, eBay or even resort and country-club suppliers. You probably won't need 600 packets of something, but a smaller box of 48 can be found at a reasonable price. Or, if you have friends and family who will split the cost and the products, the larger quantity might make sense for you.
You can buy everything from salad dressing to balsamic vinegar to raspberry jam this way. They are all morale boosters and add variety to a monotonous diet.
This is another area that has undergone an explosion in the past 10 years. At that time, the choices were pretty much limited to instant coffee and Crystal Lite. Now you can find instant lemonade, Hi-C fruit drinks, and margarita mix, to name a few. I try to find ones that offer at least a little vitamin C.
Preppers grab extra plastic flatware when they go to a fast-food restaurant. This is an individual choice and, if a plastic fork works for you, go for it. In my mind, this is a false economy. Most folks don't blink at buying hundreds of dollars' worth of ammo and yet get cheap when it comes to eating utensils. Kids get a little disappointed if their spoons melt while eating hot soup. Don't be "that person." Cough up a couple buck and buy a 48-piece box of the sturdier stuff from the dollar store's party-supplies department.
How you package your MREs is up to you. Sometimes I put together a few in gallon-size zip-top plastic bags. Other times, I'm more ambitious and vacuum-seal a few.
MREs are not intended to make up the majority of your diet for long periods of time. They will be deficient in certain nutrients no matter how well you plan. Multi-vitamins can help make up the shortfall, but humans need fresh food to thrive.
As with military-spec MREs, you will want to rotate your own periodically. There's no hard and fast rule here, but I tend to rotate short-term preps every six months. Store what you eat and eat what you store. Preppers bang on about this a lot, but it is the best way to make sure that little kids and older folks eat what is available. They're the ones most likely to suffer from appetite fatigue, too. And your body needs to be exposed to all different kinds of foods so that your digestive system can get used to producing the right enzymes to digest them.Gottin_Himmel
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