Last year I wrote about the home-made MREs I keep in my emergency food stockpile. Like most people’s my food store leans towards bulk dry goods, but there’s something to be said for having a reserve of individual ration packs that can be quickly grabbed and thrown in a rucksack.
At the same time military-surplus MREs can be expensive, hard to find or of dubious quality, so I tried to make my own lightweight, convenient and long-lasting packs. That was what my last MRE-related article was all about.
Some of those home-made MREs have been stacked in my shed for well over two years, though, and recently I’ve been wondering how they’re doing.
I tried to select foods that would last a long time in storage, but did I succeed? Or am I in fact relying on rations that are no longer safe to eat?
Last week I decided it was time to answer that question, so I dug out two packs from the first batch I made and had a look at them. Nothing looked obviously wrong; in fact they looked pretty much identical to how they looked when I first packed them.
But were they still edible? It was time to test them out.
For breakfast I had a pack of instant oatmeal, which is a quick and easy way to get something hot.
I avoided messing up my cook pot by just opening the sachet, propping it up and carefully pouring in some hot water.
Then, I let it stand for a few minutes.
While that was soaking I ate the other half of the meal – a vacuum-sealed portion of Cheerios, eaten dry because I didn’t have any milk (and don’t honestly like it much anyway).
A lot of the cereal had stuck together in clumps, probably as a result of being firmly squeezed together by the vacuum-sealing process, but the clumps broke up under pressure from a spoon and the Cheerios tasted just fine.
The other part of breakfast was a hot drink. I’d added four packs of instant coffee to this MRE, but I hadn’t added any sugar. This was a mistake, but rules are rules, so I had a mug of unsweetened instant coffee.
The main element of lunch in this pack was flavored couscous with chicken and mushroom, which I’d transferred from its original sachet to a larger bag then vacuum sealed.
This meant I could prepare it by just pouring boiling water into the opened bag then leaving it to stand for ten minutes. While I waited I ate five graham crackers that I’d also vacuum packed.
These were in perfect condition, and they’re also surprisingly filling, but with nothing to put on them they were a little dry. On the other hand the couscous was very tasty.
When I make MREs I like to split each one into separate sub-packs, one for each meal.
The lunch pack also contained some snacks – a granola bar, a Snickers and a vacuum-sealed bag of Haribo gummies. I stuck these in my pocket to eat through the afternoon.
My main meal of the day started with a packet of instant chicken soup, which had suffered no ill effects from its two years in my shed.
After that I had instant mashed potatoes, which I’d livened up with some Cajun spice mix and a quarter cup of dried vegetables.
For protein I’d packed two snack sausages, a sort of thicker and less chewy Slim Jim.
I started off by boiling enough water to reconstitute the potatoes while I chopped the sausages into half-inch chunks, then dropped them in the water to heat them through.
Then I dumped in the potato mix, gave it a good stir and left it to soak up the water while I enjoyed my soup.
It turns out that mixing the vegetables with the potatoes had been another mistake; they could really have done with being simmered for a few minutes before the potato granules went in, because they were distinctly chewy.
From now on I’ll seal the vegetables in a separate packet so they can go in the water first.
Apart from that, though, dinner was tasty; all the ingredients were in good condition even after two years, and nothing made me even slightly nervous about eating it.
I finished off the meal with the gummies, which had somehow escaped being eaten earlier, and a mug of coffee.
Once again breakfast was instant oatmeal and Cheerios, but I’d also added a protein bar to this one.
I didn’t actually feel any particular urge to eat the protein bar, because to my slight surprise I hadn’t woken up starving, so I kept it for later.
In this pack I’d supplied myself with four teabags and, happily, a considerable amount of sugar. I topped off breakfast with a nice hot mug of sweetened tea.
What was I thinking when I packed this lunch? Two packs of five graham crackers, and that was it. I was glad I’d hung on to the protein bar from breakfast.
I ended up eating that and one pack of crackers. I definitely need to improve my lunches.
Again I’d thrown in some snacks – a cake bar, a Snickers, a cup of salted peanuts and some more gummies – and that gave me something to eat through the afternoon, along with another mug of tea.
For dinner I started with instant soup again, while the main meal soaked in boiling water.
To make that I’d emptied two packs of instant pasta, the kind that’s supposed to be dumped in a mug with some boiling water, into a vacuum sealed bag with a big spoonful of grated hard cheese.
I’d also added two ounces of sliced, dehydrated chorizo in a separate sealed bag.
After I wrote my last article a couple of people in the comments had some doubts about the chorizo.
It turns out they were right.
Although dehydrating it should have removed any water, a good bit of oil had seeped out. Vacuum sealing would probably have protected that from going rancid, and when I opened the pack and sniffed it nothing smelled off, but it just didn’t look too happy.
In the end I binned it and ate the pasta without protein. It tasted fine, but some sausage would have been very welcome. Then I finished dinner with the other pack of lunch crackers and the gummies.
What I Learned
The first, and probably most important, thing I learned is that these improvised MREs work.
Apart from the suspect chorizo – which I think was probably still safe to eat, but I didn’t feel like risking it – everything had survived two years at room temperature in my shed.
I never felt that I hadn’t eaten enough, and I didn’t feel short of energy either. There was enough food in each of these packs to keep me in good shape for 24 hours.
However, they did get a little boring in places. I chose graham crackers for lunch because they can be eaten on the go, I figured they’d last – which they did – and they’re reasonably energy dense.
But, while not unpleasant to eat on their own, they’re not all that exciting either. I’m now looking at one pack of five crackers for lunch, along with a shelf-stable pouch of tuna.
I’m also not going to mess around with meat anymore. My little packs of dehydrated chorizo will be replaced with snack sausages, jerky or other prepacked, long-life meat.
I do like having some proper protein that can be added to the main meal, but I need to be sure it’s safe. The snack sausages worked; the chorizo… well, after taking a look, I didn’t want to risk it, so it failed the test.
My dehydrator is still going to get some use, though, because I’m going to take another suggestion from the comments and add some dried fruit to future packs – not to replace the candy, but as well as it.
I’ll also make sure every pack has sugar for hot drinks (and some extra to add to the oatmeal) and look at adding Kool-Aid or something similar to make water taste a little more interesting.
Overall, I learned a good bit from eating these rations and most of it was positive.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be overhauling my existing stockpile, removing things I don’t trust anymore and replacing them with better alternatives.
My lunch meals will get more interesting, and I’ll add more healthy, fruity snacks. But the main thing is I know my home-made MREs will stay edible and provide enough nutrition to keep me going when I need them.
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