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Wednesday, March 17, 2010
So, I went about making up some MRE packages. Now, these are not true MREs, in that their shelf life is less than half of the 5 years of a commercial MRE, but I figured they were WAY less expensive (remember this later on in the post...).
I assembled my "ingredients" based on "Best By" date, calories and protein content. The Best By date had to be at least 12 months into the future - I figured any of the foods would last at least twice that amount of time. They may not taste quite as good, and might have lost some of their nutrients, but for the most part, they would get the job done.
The idea was to put long-life food together and vacuum seal it in a FoodSaver bag.
For my first MRE, here's what I included -
It includes: One individual serving of Beef-a-roni, 2 ounces (by weight - about 1/2 cup) of dry roasted peanuts, one pack of Land-o-Lakes French Vanilla cappuccio, one Promax energy bar, 4 pieces of Jolly Rancher hard candy, and utensiles (plastic spoon, knife and 2 napkins).
Since the peanuts were loose, I wanted to separate them in the pouch. I took my FoodSaver bag - both ends still open - and did a seal about 3 inches from one end, to make a pouch (click the image - the seal is on the left hand side) -
I then filled that with the peanuts and sealed it. I was unable to get a vacuum seal, as there wasn't enough "lip" for the machine.
I then filled the bag with the rest of the goodies, and vacuum sealed the whole thing -
It was a bit unwieldy, especially with the extra peanut compartment. It was releatively flat, except for the Beef-a-roni, and was basically un-foldable because of the other contents.
Here are the stats -
Other than it being a bit unwieldy, I was pleased. It has a good amount of calories and protein. Two of these a day would give you plenty of calories, and around 170% of your daily protein requirements. And for around four bucks a meal, it seems pretty cost effective.
I decided to tweak it a bit, and went with another configuration -
For this package, I swapped out the Beef-a-Roni for two cans of kippered fish (I love this stuff!). I exchanged the napkin for two Wet Wipes, and I put the peanuts into a Ziplock "snack" bag (these are smaller than the regular sandwich-sized bags).
Here's the result -
It was much more compact (I was able to fold under part of the bag flap) and still had great nutrition numbers. The cost numbers increased a bit because of the extra cost of the fish and the Wet Wipes -
Again, very good nutritional numbers, with the protein now at 268% when eating two of them! The cost was a bit more, but it seemed like there was an offsetting benefit.
Out of curiosity, I decided to compare these numbers to real MREs. In my mind, they were about $7.50 each, with around 800 calories. My homemade MREs would kill them in terms of cost-per 100 calories.
Times have changed!
If you buy at least a dozen meals, your cost per meal is now around $6.25 each (about $75 per case, delivered). They have also increased the calorie content. As this site notes, MREs manufactured since 2005 are of equal quality and caloric value as military MREs. They now average about 1,222 calories per meal.
That brings the cost-per 100 calories in at $0.51, which puts it right between my two MREs. Plus, the real MREs last up to five years AND come with a food warmer.
While they do take up a bit more space, the cost/benefit calculation leans pretty heavily in their favor.
BTW, I repackaged the first MRE using the snack bags for the peanuts, and swapping the napkin for the Wet Wipes. It is much less unwieldy this way.
Also, I had intended on using the single-serving Crackers And Cheese packs in the MREs, but they have horrible shelf lives. Generally, 3 to 6 months was all I could find. The Promax energy bars were the only bars with Best By dates of greater than a year.
Accept The Challenge
Homemade MREs are very easily done, but the cost/benefit calculation indicates it might make more economic sense to purchase commercial MREs.
If you have certain food allergies or other dietary requirements, it would make more sense to make your own. With the homemade versions, you do get the benefit of having a re-usable bag, which can be used for carrying water, or being used to boil other foods.
The Just Add Water foods I've put together are significantly more cost effective than their commercial counterparts, so they will continue to be a part of my GHBs. The homemade MREs will likely be replaced with commercial versions.
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