MRE's on the Cheap




About: Thought it was time to update the profile some so here goes... Still married to a wonderfully sweet beautiful woman, still have 5 kids 3-23, we live in the Rocky's about 60 or so miles West of Colorado Sprin...

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

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!

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    64 Discussions


    7 years ago on Step 4

    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.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 months ago

    alternatively, one of those turkey-baster syringes might work. Leave at least 3/4'' at the top of the bag to ensure you don't get peanut butter into the seal zone and bollix it up.


    2 years ago

    is it possible to make these with normal bags? like ziploc seal bags with sandwhich bags stored inside?


    2 years ago

    I guess I should start thinking about getting my son a food saver. When you are out back packing, what do you do with the empty package when you are done. Is there a biodegradable version or do you carry your trash out with you?

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    We pack them out to a trash can. They do make a biodegradable version but they are hard to find..


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is a good alternative to the MREs which are getting too pricey. I have strated dehydrating foods and vacuumsealing them.


    4 years ago

    A lot of great ideas here, I wanted to add that I use a lot of "restaurant packets", they're free! For Tabasco sauce (which is a must for me), it is available at some chains (chic-fil-a) in packets and Texas Pete is available in packets too!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    The C-rats we got always tasted better with "liberated" mess hall Tabasco. A larger bottle in a snack size zip-loc bag works. If you needed to you could go back to a packaging mix with C-rat style canned goods. Not so light, but edible

    I have been making my own MRE accessory packages to use them as barter items if needed.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    What a nice, easy plan for backpacking meals! I am a huge fan of freeze-dried food, I have made great meals with fruits and veggies from Honeyville, which is the only way to get some foods without additives. The pineapple is to die for.


    4 years ago on Step 6

    hot sauce source.....


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Protein is a honest concern for time in the field, be it hiking or more aggressive challenges. For people looking for Ideas:

    Canned Tuna, Canned Chicken, Bagged Tuna, Bagged Chicken, Chili beans, Bacos, Pre cooked bacon, Peanut Butter, Nuts, Pepperoni, Hard Cheese

    and many others, but these have been in my experience, the most popular


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    Train to Survive!


    5 years 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.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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 (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.