Instructables
Picture of MRE's on the cheap
MRE's are a good addition to any survival bag. They have a good shelf life, up to 5 years under ideal conditions, they have gotten better as far as taste goes over the years (for the most part anyway), they are compact, and offer a good caloric intake. Unfortunatly they are fairly expensive, usually running $79.99-$99.99 for a case of twelve meals depending on where you look, and there is no way of knowing how they were stored or handled and therefore no way of knowing how much "life" they have left.

The price of  MRE's and the "not knowing for sure" got me to thinking, "Why not make my own MRE's?"  I looked into freeze drying my own meats,fruits, etc. and even a small freeze drying set up was cost prohibitive for me.

So I started looking at foods I eat on a regular basis and their shelf life and came up with a simple DIY MRE that costs between $2.99-$4.00 a meal, depending on what you choose to add, that's $ 38.88-$48 a case, about half of what regular MRE's cost, and a lot better tasting!
 
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Step 1: Getting Started

Picture of Getting Started
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I was able to pick up everything in the pictures for $35.85 at the local Wal-Mart. The Kool-Aid, tea mix, peanut butter, salt, creamer, and gum will make 50-60 DIY MRE's. I buy the microwave Complete meals by the dozen, they come in 9 different flavors and cost $1.75 (at least where I live in Colorado). We buy enough boxes of cocoa mix, crakers, and pop-tarts to make a dozen DIY MRE's every other week if need be. The buillon cubes and coffee come 24 to a package so you can get 12-24 DIY MRE's out of them before they need to be replaced.

The main "cost" to the DIY MRE is the Microwave Completes meal, the rest of the "ingerdients" average $.04 each per meal, less if you can buy them in bulk or on sale.

One of the great things about the Microwave Complete Meals is they can be eaten cold (like a regular MRE), heated with an MRE heater (if you have them), by placing them in hot water, or by emptying the package into a canteen cup or mess kit and heating over the fire.



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jpiffr5 months ago

I like the idea, but if you use these for a survival situation I would like to have the proper nutritional balance while I can. A hot tasty meal is preferable. That's why I would just buy a case of the real deal. You only have to replace them every 5 years, and it will make surviving much easier.

I would use these when I need something convenient and quick. I will only be eating one, maybe two, on a camping or hiking trip, maybe traveling. So, the nutrional balance is not terribly important.

tomsweet65 (author) 6 months ago

Well it has been almost 2 years since I first wrote this Instructable and all of the MRE's On the Cheap (3 dozen of the little buggers) have been used up due to rotation. Since I first wrote this Instructable I have done a lot more research on MRE's and how to build my own. I have put together another "Set" of DIY MRE's that are currently about 8 months old and are holding up fine. I am working on "MRE's on the Cheap-Part Duex" Instructable For the "New and Improved MRE" which has a higher calories count, better variety, and uses some more homemade stuff. I am hoping to have it all photographed and written up in the next week or so.

Thanks for all the comments and I look forward to seeing even more of them!

Tom

Train to Survive!

www.vanguardsurvival.com

www.facebook.com/vanguardsurvival

jmwells6 months ago
A simple, yet time consuming way to freeze dry fruit is ten a self defrosting freezer. You can't mix different trays/products. Placing a computer fan to blow on the speeds the process. I've made tomato crystals this way for add water soup/catsup this way too. Still doing it. Just remember all one type of item for a week or so at a time.
Southpaw699 months ago

Another money saving way to do this is to just get the MRE entrees, and add the extras from deals you find at the dollar & grocery store.

I got a few dozen of the MRE entrees like the spaghetti & meat sauce (which I find to be very tasty, actually) from theepicenter.com (a great site with good cust service) along with some others- ravioli, beef patty, chili, and some others were pretty good too. They were only about $2 or so, some less on sale.

Get peanut butter, crackers, and snack packs and seal them all together with packets of drink mix, condiments from fast food joints, napkins, sporks, etc and customize for your taste & needs.

I keep a few of these in various packs in my vehicle and EDC bag, and they have come in handy a few times. I was stuck in traffic in the middle of the desert a few times due to wildfires and major accidents, sometimes for several hours, and having some things to eat & drink really were nice to have. It wasn't life threatening, but it was nice to be able to have a meal while sitting in the car with the radio.

kludge0009 months ago

you should try vacuum drying, freeze drying's, cheap little brother =)

TheCommander9 months ago
Its funny I was standing in Walmart the other day staring at the back of one of those microwave dinners my mouth fell open when I saw the expiration date. I though to myself you could store these for an emergency,,,but you my friend took it to a new level, well done.
tomsweet65 (author)  TheCommander9 months ago

Thanks for the comment.... LOL... Always trying to find ways to save $$$ on things like MRE's, food storage items, etc...

Train to survive!

www.vanguardsurvival.com

www.facebook.com/vanguardsurvival

alexinawe2 years ago
Hey love this idea you have here. I've been trying to find something like this for ages.

Kind of a big issue though:

- I've noticed that with your current set up you average about 1600 calories, which means if you're backpacking you'll need anywhere from 2-3 of these meals just to match the activity level. Also nutritionally these are pretty protein and fat deficient. Carbs are where the energy is but without protein to aid in tissue repair and fat to make things easier you won't (and shouldn't) be on these meals for long.

Possible solutions?
+I found at target they had these Archer Farms non-frozen microwave meals that were almost identical to the compleats meals only slightly more expensive ( got one on clearance for $1.52, normally 1.79). They have about 100 more calories and more protein than the meals in your list, taste varies on individual items lol.. Except that it's more expensive this jumped my "MRE" to 1700 calories and was a big protein increase.

+I was really trying to bump up the protein on this one, and I figured we already had coffee, tea and gatorade (used instead of kool-aid because of the potassium--again a price hike, but better quality drink mix and cheap in bulk). So I removed the cocoa mix and added instead the equivalent of 20 grams of chocolate protein powder instead. You can buy some really cheap stuff at costco or again at target, so your individual unit cost is pretty low, but the huge benefit is more protein.

So the difference here is about +150 extra calories, same carbs and about 30 more grams of protein.

My rough numbers of the before (for your mre as listed) is rounded to about 1600 calories 65 grams of fat, 230 grams of carbs (7.8 fiber, 100 sugar) 40g protein and about 10,000mg salt (kinda high, and that doesn't included the added salt packet, but backpacking you need the salt.. but probably only 6000mg of it).

Sorry to get all mathy for a second there, but balancing the meal with a good ratio of carbs/fat/protein is good for performance and overall meal satisfaction.

Any comments or tips from anyone about this or variations would be awesome! thanks again to the poster for making this awesome idea a reality!
Oh I forgot to add a few things (gosh I'm long winded) lol..

1 - These things are bad for you, but I love those slim jim beef jerkey and cheese sticks.. the ones at gas stations that come with two sticks, beef and cheese. That would be another protein boost (and tons of fat) but the salt content of these things is off the charts.. also I could only find them for about $0.80 each so unless you buy them in bulk (which I haven't found a price on) they're not going to be worth it.

2 - Cheese. I keep toying with the idea of cheese. Spray cheese is disgusting, but if you need protein... lol no, still no. But I want to add cheese because it would really up the ante on different meal types and variations. Also I have no aversion to dairy, and others might, so this may not be an ideal solution to the protein problem, but its something i've been looking into. It's going to be tough to find a cheese that would work in this though with out refrigeration.

3 - Meat pouches. thinking of stuff like the tuna that comes in pouches (which is expensive), but with crackers this could be a really good protein kick. So I'll be doing research into prepackaged meat "pouches" and seeing what's out there and what the prices are.

4 - Dried raisins or other dried fruits. This is going to be straight carbs so a step in the wrong direction, but they come packed with some vitamins. My hope is balancing the vitamins with this. Also fruit has potassium in it so another plus.

5 - Sauce packets. I love soy sauce and hot sauce, and both tend to come in free packets from chinese and fast food places. Real MREs have mini tabasco bottles in them and I have to say they can save a bad meal or revitalize pallet fatigue (from eating the same stuff over and over). Also on a side note, instead of making a separate salt and pepper packet, you can get these guys for free from your local burger shop, just grab a few extra each time you go. That way you can save the extra bag/pouch and you don't have to buy salt or pepper. ;)
gorth alexinawe11 months ago
Don't forget the nuts :-)
tomsweet65 (author)  alexinawe2 years ago
Thanks for the comments!

I have tried the "Air Cheese" thing by spraying into a vacume pouch and sealing right away. Unfortunatley it doesn't last that long. It goes rancid after about 3-4 weeks. Not sure if it has to do with it hitting the air when it comes out of the can or what but I have since dropped it from the meal.

I have tried to find the little Tabasco bottles to add to the meals but no luck yet. I got in touch with the Tabasco people directly and they do have them for sale, if you buy them in 2500 unit cases (which I can't afford).

I have allergies to fish so I have stayed away from the foil pack tuna, but I agree it is a good idea and have looked into finding other meats in foil packs that have a good shelf life. I will keep you updated on what I find.

I too love the little Slim Jim's! Lots of fatty, meaty goodness! Since first posting this Instructable I have started adding homemade jerkey to some of the meals. It is cheaper then the store bought stuff and once sealed has about a 24 month shelf life.The same with home dehydrated fruits. I personally have an aversion to bannana's but apple, peach, and pears are being dehydrated weekly to add to the meals.

I have begun to toy with using cheese wax to seal portions of cheese to add to the meals.I seal the cheese in the wax in portions for the meals and let them sit on the counter, in a dark cupboard, and the fridge. Once a week I taste test one of the wax sealed portions. The experiment is only about 6 weeks old but so far the only issues I have had are with Swiss cheese. It seems to go bad after about 3 weeks. Cheeder and Jack cheeses are still going strong, so we will see.

My daughter has kind of gotten in on helpping daddy with these and has begun to make a "trail mix" for addition to the meal that has nuts, dried furits, and M&M's. Tastey for sure and adds a quick snack to the meal.

I have begun using your suggestion and started grabbing a few extra salt and pepper packets from various fast foood joints and convience stores as well as "sauce packets". I have found a convience store that has chopped onions in small portion control packets and have also begun to grab an extra couple of those when I stop in for a hot dog and soda.

I will be posting an updated MRE Instructable in the next few weeks and I plan on incorporating many of your suggestions as experrimentaion plays out.

On a side note the original idea behind these meals was as a survival meal in case you found yourself stranded in the car on the side of the road in the middle of no where or stuck in a snow bank (likely wherre I live). If I can get the calories count up to at least 1900-2000 calories adding them to more then my BOB and car kit will be on the list.

Thanks again for the comments!
minimus.biz has the small tabasco bottles, as well as about a zillion other individual sized things to put in these.
DIY tabasco (instructable to come!): Mash your chillie pepper (select your peppers according to taste, and steep in white or malt vinegar for a week or 3.... add a dash of salt to taste then bottle in whatever - I woukld suggest "Eppendorf tubes". I can get 100 1.5ml tubes (in plastic) for about 9 bucks (7.50 euros). They are what labs seal samples in before running them through a centrifuge...
Have you tried "Babyvel" cheese I believe that you can get in the states? Individual cheese portions covered in a wax container. You could also try soft spreading chese sold in sealed foil portions - "laughing cow" sort of stuff in the UK but I guess you can find the same sort of stuff unbranded anywhere in the world - I just had one that had just gone hard - new pack, just been hidden in the fridge for 18 months.... if it was sealed in an airtight bag, I think that it would still have been good!
bpfh bpfh1 year ago
Babybel. Sorry. Spealong Misstook :)
Yeah I guess my plan is to make more of a performance meal for stuff like I did in the army, basically backpacking with high caloric output. So my MRE goal is a bit different than yours.

I gather from reading your reply that we are rather similar. I too hate banana (just can't stand the flavor, texture, etc) and we seem to have a lot of the same ideas.

The only cheese I've found that has survived a week for me is the prepackaged ones that come with the jerky (as I mentioned above), but then I'm also in a high heat area 105F avg daily. So I've been testing room temperature as well as high heat test. A lot of the meals survive and don't go bad even at temperature so I think you were spot on with the Compleats meals. Although I probably wouldn't recommend leaving the meal out in the heat very often. Eventually it's not going to be ok haha.

I really like your homemade jerky and dehydrated fruits idea. That'll add to the protein and nutrient count. I've been toying with the idea of making my own meals and packaging them. I'm guessing it will be cheaper than buying the meals, but I'm wondering how long it will survive before going bad and what I can do to make it last longer. This is a prelim thought process though so I'll have to do a ton of research. Maybe leading to an instructable of my own? :)

Your daughter's idea is great. Trail mix has an almost perfect blend of protein, fat, and complex and simple carbohydrates. That will add greatly to the meal. I already make my own before I go backpacking but I tend to just zip lock bag it (less time consuming than vacuum packing it), and I'm carrying it on hand to snack on while I hike. For an MRE though, it'd be a good add a pouch of this to a meal type or two just to bump the calories.

Side note: I bought a grab bag candy mix just to get things like tootsie rolls on the cheap. I'm not a big fan of candy, but it's nice to have a bit of sweets in your pack for desert :]

I saw there's another "MRE" meal on here but it's more like a ration pack because a lot of it requires water to make and consume the food items. but there was a decent point on the ramen noodles idea. You can eat ramen noodles dry (not very tasty). But adding them might actually add something else to the meals. But the drawbacks is that they're not very calorically dense, takes up space, and best when cooked. I'm still working around the ideas, but I'm looking for something with noodles or some kind of asian flavored meal idea. That way all the take out packages of soy sauce will come in handy haha.

I'll keep you posted on ideas and successful trial runs. I really love this idea tom, thanks for posting it!! And responding too! :)
I often make my own MRE's and cheese always seemed like a hard to find option, but maybe this will help you out a bit.

Handi-Snacks. You know those little packs with pasturized cheese and crackers? You can easily cut off the cheese portion if you don't want the crackers.

www.internet-grocer.net sells a canned chedder cheese than you can shred and melt call Bega. It's not the somewhat liguid substance you think of when you think "canned cheese", it's solid.It has been designed for places that don't have refrigeration. It's pricier at about $3.99 a can but you get about 6 servings in 7.5 oz.

www.theepicenter.com sells 1.5 oz. of cheese spread packets. Two kinds i think reg cheese and bacon cheese at $11.88 for a 12 pack, sadly they don't sell individuals.also they have lots of other MRE stuff.

You can always collect up those packets of parmesan cheese that often come with pizza or pasta orders, better than nothing!

Well, hope that helps out, maybe i'll post my own MRE recipe some time.


What about pemmican? It would solve the protein/fat balance problem and keeps forever.
I know what you mean about using the tabasco sauce to help with pallet fatigue. My team was attached to the Brit's Royal Marines during the start of the Iraq war; the only way I could stomach parts of their rations was using the MRE tabasco bottles we had saved up.
getoffamycloud11 months ago
"Use by" dates don't actually mean anything!! http://www.nrdc.org/food/expiration-dates.asp
island7s1 year ago
How  do you vacuum the peanut butter and keep it from coming out?
Thanks
tomsweet65 (author)  island7s1 year ago
Thanks for the comment/question. At first I was just spooning the PB into the packet, after reading a few of the comments I received I put the PB into a zip lock bag, cut the corner off and squeezed the PB into the packet. As for sealing the packet, leave enough space at the top (opening) to fit into the food saver and vacuum seal. I haven't had any trouble with the PB being sucked into the food saver during sealing. If you over fill the packet and get any PB along the area that will end up being the sealed seam you don't get a complete seal. Hope that answers your question.

Thanks again and as always, Train to Survive!
island7s1 year ago
Great idea.
How do you vacuum the peanut butter? I haven't tried but seems that I'll have a Food Saver full of peanut butter.
Thanks
Protein is not the best source of energy in a survival situation. Carbs and fat are what you need. Protein requires more water from the body to digest. Back in the 1700's Rodgers Rangers damn near starved to death eating from the only thing available to them in the wild. Bambi and his friends.
i had a MRE once it was a bake-able one i took it to a event and some of my friends who shall stay nameless thought it was caching on fire. when i finished with the heater i thew it away( it was making hot and nauseous steam). the janitor eventually was called in to take it away. then my head counselor came to my table and asked about the chemical reaction that didn't happen. c'mon i didn't burn any thing down.
lmccurdy1 year ago
The Mini-Babybel cheeses are packaged in the wax. http://www.thelaughingcow.com/products/mini-babybel/

Not sure how shelf stable they are, but i've been known to forget and leave my lunch bag in the car overnight, in the Central Valley (California) summer heat. Still tasted okay, and i'm still alive!

Love this instructable, and the comments.

BTW- converted rice works well too. If you can't heat water, just soak it for an hour.
Babybel.jpg
gstephens12 years ago
To fill the peanut butter pouch, why not use a pastry bag? Put the peanut butter in the bag and put a fairly large nozzle on, then stick the nozzle in the hold and squeeze till its full. It would be faster, easier and cleaner.
FYI, the little Tabasco single serves are available at any restaurant supply house, or through Amazon.

I've never used a Food saver at home, but I've used vacuum sealers extensively in my work.  An important point is that the bags themselves have a lifespan.  The cheapest bags will start to admit air in as little as a month or two.  The best bags, with the longest lifespan & ability to preserve your food will be the most  expensive, but the cost amortizes better.  In the industry, at any rate, bags are rated by the months they retain their seal.  Not sure if that is true of home-type vacuum sealer bags.

My point is I would avoid cheapo Chinese dollar store sealer bags, since there is a direct correlation between price and quality here.  Foolish to go to the trouble of creating these nifty MREs and have the seal fail while in storage.
Robert522 years ago
I think that most of these comments are missing the point. The point really is with a little ingenuity and research, "homemade" MRE's can be created. It takes a little research to balance the diet of the MRE to the activity and level you plan on using it for.
Me, I just like having a "meal-ready-to-eat" while I am out camping, fishing, hiking, or whatever, when I don't have the time to cook or "prepare" a meal.

And, yes those MRE's are expensive and sometimes not as nutritious as you might think. They are generally meant as a "bridge" between hot meals.

Great idea, tomsweet65! Glad you gave us something to think about.
HollyMann2 years ago
MREs...I remember these very well. Helped me gain a good 5 to 10 lbs when I was in the army! But we got used to them! This is a great idea to make some on your own. I wonder if they'll last significantly longer if you seal them up in Mylar bags vs the ones you used. You can still use your vacuum sealer on it (i think you can anyway). And what did you put the bouillon cubes in there for? I am just curious as I don't care for that stuff at all - my stomach doesn't anyway! But in an emergency - having these things would be very useful. Great instructable! I spent some time about 6 mos ago buying rice and some items in bulk and sealing them up in Mylar bags.
tomsweet65 (author)  HollyMann2 years ago
I am not a really big fan either but they do make a good hot drink with some flavor on a cold night as well as adding some flavor to any of the little critters you may be having for dinner... Boil that rabbit down with a bouillon cube and it tastes a lot better and a bit more familar then bunny alone :)
Yeah that doesn't sound so bad - the hot drink with some flavor....and good point on the rabbit! :) I'd definitely prefer chicken flavored rabbit :)
I remember MREs when I was young. That is very good for my office emergency stash. Can this be used for traveling. I would save a lot of money at airports.
tomsweet65 (author)  mariaclemente20002 years ago
Not sure about the airport thing with all the DHS regulations.... Might be ok if you ate before flight...
Editmefree2 years ago
i have been looking for a cheap replacement for mre and this is the best thing i have come across before. Thank you!
totallyc2 years ago
This is awesome! I use my food saver a bit especially for camping but have never taken it to this level. Thanks for the idea.

Regards
strods2 years ago
Final note: If you want to reseal packages between meals a small piece of plastic, like and old phone card wrapped in duct tape a few times is awsome.
unclelar2 years ago
How do you heat your microwave meals in the field? Not trying to be smart or anything,would really like to know.
tomsweet65 (author)  unclelar2 years ago
I usually empty the microwave meal into my mess kit and heat it over the fire or on the little stove I carry in my pack... I have also placed it in a pan of hot water... They will also fit in a standard NEW heater if you happen to have one around...

Tom
Another option for some of the best results depends on you bringing Ziploc bags with you. But if you do empty the contents in to a bag, put the bag in a pan of boiling water and wait a few minutes.

I'm showing my age here, but this dates back to pre-microwave tech when boil and bag meals were the simple "heat and eat" rage.
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