Introduction: 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!
Step 1: Getting Started
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.
Step 2: Food Savers Are Your Friend
The Food Saver Vaccum sealer is one of my best survival preps. It has paid for itself a hundred times over. For the DIY MRE you need the Food Saver, the 8 inch roll bags and the 11 inch roll bags.
Step 3: Making the Pouches
First make all the smaller pouches you will need with the 8 inch roll bag. You will need to make 4-5 of these smaller pouches depending on what you choose to add to your DIY MRE.
I used 5 bags for this DIY MRE. The first bag was cut approx. 3 1/2 inches long, sealed along the bottom edge and then further divided into 4 compartments.
The next bag was also cut 3 1/2 inches long, seealed along the bottom, and divided into 3 compartments.
The next 2 bags were cut approx. 6 inches long, sealed along the bottom, and then a small compartment of approx 2 inches was seealed along one edge.
The bag was cut approx. 4 1/2 inches long, sealed along the bottom, and divided into 3 compartments.
Step 4: Adding the "extras"
Place 2 beef buillon cubes, 2 chicken buillon cubes, 1tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper into the bag you made with 4 compartments and seal it up.
In one of the 6 inch bags with 2 compartments carefully spoon peanut butter into the smaller compartment. If you get any peanut butter around the top of the bag (and you will) clean it off witha paper towel or you won't get a good seal. In this DIY MRE I placed 8 saltine crackers (the recomended serving size) into the largr compartment and then sealed it all up. In other DIY MRE's I have made I have used graham crackers, triskets, and Wheat-Thins use whatever yor taste buds say is good!
In one of the 3 compartment bags you made place a package of cocoa mix, 3 tsp of sugar, and a coffee single into the comaprtments and seal it up. I personally don't use the original package of cocoa mix because if you look, most of them have a small notch in them to make it easier to tear them open and it is not 100% air tight.
In the other 3 compartment bag I placed 2 tbls of coffee creamer, 2 tbls of Kool-Aid, and 2 tbls of iced tea mix and then, you guessed it, sealed it all up!
In the other 6 inch 2 compartment bag I placed 4 peices of chewing gum (Juicy Fruit), TP, and a box of water-proof matches and then sealed it up.
Step 5: The BIG Bag
Cut an 11 inch roll bag approx. 10 inches long and seal the bottom. Place the Pop-tart, main meal, the little pouches, and a spoon into the big bag in such a way as you minimize "dead space" and protect the more fragile items (crackers mainly) and seal it all up.
Step 6: The End
I recomend you keep the label from the main meal and place it where you can see it so you know what you are going to be eating for dinner.
Each of the DIY MRE's I have made have some sort of breakfast item (Pop-Tart, instant oatmeal, cereal bar, etc) a package of instant soup, and a main meal. Depending on what is in the different DIY MRE's you get between 1200-2000 calories in each package (based on the nutritional info on the various packages). Once sealed they are a good bit smaller, package wise, then standard MRE's so they take up less space and for about the same weight.
I base the "shelf life" on the shortest shelf life item placed in the bag. The Microwave Complate meal has a 16 month shelf life, based on the "use by" date on the package. Most everything else has a 2-3 year shelf life once vaccum sealed. I mark each DIY MRE with a "packaged date" and a "Use By" date that is one month less then the expected shelf life just to be on the safe side.
While not the 5 years a standard store bought MRE has these DIY MRE's will last 12-16 months just sitting in a pack, which is about what one of the more expensive MRE's will last. The 5 year shelf life on MRE's is based on keeping them at 37-40 degrees, out of sunlight, and away from rough handling. Something that isn't going to happen in your pack.
As always I look forward to reading your comments, questions, and suggestions!
Train to survive!