Canned and preserved foods are found in the pantries of most preppers. And they have also been popular when packing for survival.
However, there are a couple of drawbacks to using canned foods for survival kits.
One is their size and bulk, taking up a lot of room. That utilizes significant space and energy when packing and traveling with that kit.
Another issue is that once opened, canned items need to be consumed rather quickly before going bad, especially if you don’t have access to refrigeration.
That will lead to consuming larger than desired amounts of the same item in a short period, or a lot goes to waste.
A great alternative to canned and preserved foods is MRE packs (Meal ready to eat). They are compact and often lightweight, making it much easier to store, as well as pack and carry.
And the long shelf life doesn’t end, just because you open the main package. I say “the main package”, because a homemade MRE will typically consist of a lot of small packages within a large one.
Because of all this and that they are easy to prepare, MREs are used not just by preppers, but also by federal disaster agencies and military.
Choosing Items for Your MREs
One thing to consider is nutrients. Make sure to put a balance of proteins and carbs in each bag. You will want both to sustain you throughout the day.
If your pack is for one meal, the goal should be around 1,000 calories. That might sound like a lot of calories, but if you are in survival mode, you could burn through those quickly. Remember, if you pack it right, you can easily save what you don’t eat, for later.
Another consideration is shelf life. Pick items that are known to last a long time before opening. Now, each bag can be for 1 meal or 1 day.
So, no need to worry too much about it having a long shelf life after opening. Just make sure nothing requires refrigeration.
Preparation is also key in choosing foods to put in your MRE. You won’t want to put in items that need to be cooked. You might get lucky and have the ability to cook over a campfire. But don’t bank on it.
So ready to eat foods are the best options. Some foods taste better when warm, but don’t necessarily require cooking. Those foods are fine to put in the pack.
Other than the above, it will come down to your own personal taste, but here are a few options to consider when making your own homemade MREs:
- Instant Ramen Noodles – A pack is lightweight, there is a variety of flavors and only require water.
- Instant Oats – They are a great source of fiber, and only require water
- Jerky – Good source of protein and flavor. Some jerky can be expensive. A less expensive alternative is Slim Jim sticks, which are individually wrapped (another perk!).
- Dried Fruits – Raisins and other dried fruits such as cranberries, cherries, and blueberries are nutritious and add a punch of flavor.
- Crackers – These make a good filler by adding calories, and can be a nice replacement to bread for other foods.
- Tuna – Small packages of tuna are lightweight, have a long shelf life, are easy to eat, and represent a great source of protein.
- Granola or Energy Bars – Easy to eat and great for adding fiber, nutrients, and protein. There is also no preparation required.
- Candy – If you like sweets, add a pack of M&M’s, Skittles, or a candy bar. This is not meant to replace an energy bar, but to satiate a sweet tooth. The added boost of sugar could be a good thing as well. Just make sure this is just a small addition.
- Seasonings and Condiments – Add small packets of seasonings, such as salt, pepper, or sweetener, as well as packets of condiments that you can save from a meal out. They are easy to pack and can add some flavor to your meal.
- Dried Instant Beverages – Instant coffee, dried milk, tea bags, and powdered protein shakes can all be added in small packets; they only require water.
You can consider other prepared items from the store that have a decent shelflife, such as Hormel ready to eat meals. Just take the pack out of the outer box to save room.
Homemade items are a great option if you have time to prepare them. Here are a few good ideas that will add a good balance of calories and proteins, as well as nutrients for survival:
- High-Calorie Ration Bars (our step by step recipe & pictures here)
- Dried Plums or other Fruits (our step by step recipe & pictures here)
- Bean and Rice Soup Mix (our step by step recipe & pictures here)
- Matzo Bread or Hardtack (our step by step recipe & pictures here)
- Dried Meats, such as Jerky or Pemmican (our step by step recipe & pictures: for Pemmican here and for Jerky here)
There are non-edible items to consider throwing into your MRE, so they are readily available to use each time you open a pack.
I would consider throwing in the following if it would help with the other items in your pack:
- Matches (our step by step guide with pictures here)
- Wet wipes
- A utensil
Get creative with your choices, because there are many options.
Putting Your MREs Together
Group the items you choose in a manner that provides a complete meal, keeping in mind it should be at least 1,000 calories for a survival situation, and be a good mix of carbs, protein, and vitamins/minerals. Make each pack a little different, so your meals won’t be the same.
Also, note the expiration dates, keeping them similar in each pack.
Place each MRE grouping into a plastic bag that can be used with a vacuum sealer. The sealer not only helps with freshness but also space. Speaking of space, some pre-packaged items, such as instant ramen, should be pierced slightly to let the air out before vacuum sealing. However, doing that with a tuna pack would be messy.
You can make notes on the outside of the package with a marker, such as the date it was packed, the seasonings in the pack, calorie count, and whatever other information you would find helpful.
In addition to the MREs I prepared above, I also prepared 2 more that could be for breakfast and lunch, with simple products that I either had in my pantry or quickly threw into my basket at the market. I marked the date I put them together, as well as the number of calories and protein in each pack.
To sum up, vacuum sealing your MREs will help keep them fresher. It will also make it more compact for easier storage. Just make sure to choose ingredients that will have at least 6 months to a year’s shelf life. If they are approaching the expiration date, open and enjoy, rather than waste them. Then, make new packages to be prepared at all times.
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