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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Homemade MREs

For quite a while now, I've wanted to make up my own "MREs"  for my Get Home Bag (GHB).  I was recently out scouting some properties, and realized that my GHB only had some packs of tuna and some candy in them.  I had broken my own Cardinal Rule - If you use it, replace it immediately.

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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Andrea said...

Very clever, CI! My mind is working overtime now, trying to come up with some kid-friendly versions. The Beefaroni would go over fairly well, but I don't know about the kippered fish!

Chief Instructor said...

Andrea, I was pleasantly surprised by finding the Chef-Boy-R-Dee(?) single serving cups. I've got MREs with Mac and Cheese, Pasta Shells and meatballs, Beef-a-roni and Beans and Franks.

All very edible when cold, and downright tasty when heated up.

Shy Wolf said...

ROFL... didn't even finish reading the post and I headed for the preps to dig out a can of smoked oysters! Dang, you got me salivating- and now I gotta remember to get more next trip to town.

Chief Instructor said...

Shy, smoked oysters sound great. I think I might just crack open a can or two to have with an adult beverage this evening!

Selous Scout said...

Here is my version of the home made MRE.

Peanuts will get rancid if you store them too long. Perhaps if they were vacuum packed?

liteluvr said...

since you're vacuum sealing the whole pack, toss the peanuts into a snack bag, seal it up, and poke a pinhole in the side of the bag.
Then include that bag into the overall bag. When you seal the big bag, the sealer will suck the air out of the inner bag as well.

I had 10 1lb bags of dried beans I just did this with. One pound per ziploc bag, 5 bags per vacuum bag. When I sealed the big bag, it sucked every bit of air out of the inside bags, and I had two big 'bricks' or beans.

AnnA said...

This is great! I do not own a vac sealer yet (I did not get one on my holiday wish list) and now I am even more determined to get one.
Cost is the biggest problem for us and I am slow going at all of this but this is a great cost effective idea.
One thing remember if you store these in your car they will not last as long with summer heat.

Donald C Phinney II said...

They forgot a few critical components of the MRE. in MREs there is always TOILET PAPER!!!! if you eat you will need to.... and if your a woman you will need more than the army provides so it makes sense to include a bit more. They also add MATCHES as water is more important than food boiling water is the cheapest way to purify (Average person will die after 3 days with no water, but we know from the bible you can go 40 days without food). there are usually more things in the MRE accessory pack like salt and pepper (salt is good for wounds if nothing else exists, and pepper in the socks helps in cold weather among a multitude of other alternate uses for these things) also a MRE contains closer to 3500 calories (the kit in the article was under 1500) as this is what a person on the move in a stressful situation needs to stay mobile and combat ready. Remember this is not life raft provisions for people sitting and waiting to drift towards rescue, but rations for your car to help you get from where ever it strands you to the next place you might get help. I also recommend either doing what the army does and including a lot of lightly waxed cardboard and other wrappings inside the MRE for firestarter or perhaps including some trick birthday candles, or Vaseline soaked cotton balls to act as ready tinder. Fire can makeup for lack of proper clothing or shelter, and purify water so it is a good idea to include a lot of things in the MRE with packaging that burns well. Remember the rule of 3s 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without proper shelter or clothing (hypothermia), 3 days without water. 30 days with no food and build your car kit with this priority list in mind. I do like the vacume pack idea though it makes for a lot tighter package than the MRE, also with very little though it would not be hard to improve upon the standard MRE (I would consider adding a space blanket and/or a cheap disposable poncho along with a small metal cup/or something in a can for boiling water). I really like the idea but matches and at least 3000K would be a must for a MRE in a kit intended for a person who might have to walk.

Anonymous said...

I didn't look at the best buy dates but how about the foil pack single serving tuna fish?

Anonymous said...

In two words "parmesan cheese" proteins and fat to keep you going, it will keep "fresh" for a long time and is tasty.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is am old article, but the calorie count that Donald C. Phinney Ii gave is way off. That is a common misconception. There is an average of 1250 calories in each MRE.