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Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Homemade MREs and Other Preps

 I wanted to do a follow-up to the post I did back in March ("Homemade MREs") and see if I could beat the cost per 100 calorie numbers I got earlier.  My plan this time around was to bring the cost down as far as I could, so I decided to do my shopping at The Dollar Store. 

As a reminder, the MREs I put together for the first post had a cost/100 calories of $0.42 and $0.53.  Commercial MREs run around $0.51!

I figured I could drive the price down considerably, but I'd probably have to give up a good deal of the shelf life expectations. I set a minimum of 12 months shelf life for the products I purchased.

Once again, I was surprised by the results.

I started with the following "ingredients" and statistics -

For the items that have a price of less than a dollar, there was more than one item in a package.  For instance, with the cookies, there were 6 packs of cookies for a buck.  With the Tea Drink, that was one item that was not purchased at a Dollar Store (ten packs for $3.30).  Also, when compared to the last MRE post, the vacuum bag cost has been reduced, as much less bag is needed for these ones.

I tried to put these packages together in such a way as to make them enjoyable.  At least at this point, I was looking for a "complete" meal, so to speak.

First up, is MRE package number one -


Notice the milk?  It is a shelf-stable milk with a shelf life of a year.  Hmm.  Supposedly no hormones or other garbage is in there.  Hmmmm again.

Anyways, here are the stats -


Instead of being less expensive, the cost/100 calories went through the roof!

MRE 2 fared a bit better.  Here's what was included -



And here are the stats -


It's better than the first try, but still nothing to be proud of.  As with the first test, it looks like your best value is to go with commercial MREs, as they are the only solution that combines a decent cost/100 calories ($0.51) AND extended shelf-life (5 years).



Still, I wanted to see which of the foods I used would give me the greatest bang-for-the-buck, so I added a column to calculate this out -


From strictly a cost/100 calorie standpoint, the milk, nuts and salmon are all a bust.  The cookies are the best (YEAH!  Cookies rule!).  I keep a bunch of the Tuna and Crackers in my car at all times for a quick bite to eat when I'm out on the road.  You can also get them in Chicken and Ham, but IMO, they suck badly.  I really like the tuna.
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I've also been doing some other preps.  Strawberries prices were a steal, so I bought two, half-flats and made up 9 pints of jam.


One's in the fridge and two were given away as gifts.  BONUS!  I've got a buddy into canning now.  His first foray was with strawberry jam as well.

I gave him some of my canned chicken and canned Barley and Pork soup to see how they taste.  I'll be sending him the recipes and process for these, plus chili and clam chowder.  He really likes the "meal in a jar" concept.

I also made up another batch of beef jerky.  The price on the beef was excellent, so I made up 3 pounds of the stuff.


I still need to trim it up.  My friend asked a question about jerky that I couldn't answer:  How long would it last if vacuum sealed and put into the freezer?  I dunno.

I'm going to take a portion of this and put it into two vacuum bags.  I'll check on one in 6 months, and one in a year.  My gut says it will be perfectly good and edible, but I don't want to assume anything.  I'll post the results in the future.

Lastly, My Name is Chief, and I'm an addict.  To nicotine.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm trying to quit smoking, and have cut down significantly over the past year or so.  Still, if things get ugly, you don't want to be around me in a high-stress situation without an occasional nicotine fix.  Trust me on this!

So, I was able to buy a cigarette machine from a fellow member of a fraternal organization to which I belong.  I went down to a smoke shop, picked up some pre-made tubes and bought some tobacco.


After a couple of tries, I was able to get them made up pretty well.  The price per pack is less than half of what store-bought smokes run.  The problem is, they don't taste as good, at least to me.  For my preps, these will be strictly Nicotine Delivery Systems!  I'll squirrel away a couple of cases of tubes and bags of tobacco in my long-term preps.  Worst case, they'll make for a good trade/barter item.

Accept The Challenge

I'd really like to see someone come up with a homemade, cheap, nutritious and (at least moderately) long-life alternative to commercial MREs (yeah, that's a challenge).  I'm guessing it's an Economies of Scale thing with the commercial MREs.

Now is a great time to develop and practice your canning and dehydrating skills.  Even if you haven't grown or raised your own food, prices tend to drop in the summer.  Take advantage of this.

Also, foraging should be a part of your plans as well.  I will be doing a run along the Sacramento Delta levee system next month, gathering up as many blackberries as I can get (we got 6lbs in two hours last year).  Talk to neighbors with fruit trees about you making up jams and splitting the "proceeds" 50/50.  You can do the same with fish any time of the year, or with wild game during their hunting seasons.

Take a shot at pickling veggies, smoking meat and drying fruits and herbs.  Take advantage of Times-o-Plenty...


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22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have tried those little packets of salmon and they aren't tasty in fact they verge on inedible. The tune is marginally better. If you have never tried peanut butter and jelly on a hike then you don't know what you are missing. The jelly really hits the spot, sweet, tasty, a pleasant endorphin hit. The peanut butter and bread add flavor, calories and a real stick to it effect so you don't feel hungry again in an hour or two. I admit the bread is the problem for a MRE type meal. Try pilot bisquits or something similar.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, too funny - I actually prefer the salmon packs to the tuna packs! Yeah, PB&J would be great, but I can't find small packets of the peanut butter. I found the little jam packs at Costco, though.

Unknown said...

Jiff makes little disposable packs of peanut butter about the size of a slightly shallow can of tuna. Used to get them for the field. Don't remember what the cost was.

My friends rolled their own for awhile to save on money. The biggest drawback I noted was that they really needed to plan in advance and roll some before leaving the house.

suek said...

According to my nutrition professor many many years ago, total nutritional requirements for a mature male for one day would be satisfied by a quart of milk (contains calories plus minerals), a shot of whiskey (for calories) and a complete vitamin pill. Not especially exciting as a diet, but just for your information.

We generally consume more than we need, but I think the average male requires about 2000 calories per day, and about 80 grams of protein. You can up your calorie intake considerably by adding fats (9 calories per gram)* or alcohol (7 calories per gram). Alcohol is a diuretic - causes elimination of fluids from the system - which can be good or bad, depending. One egg per day is about all the protein you need. Proteins and carbohydrates are very low in calorie count - Proteins are 4.4, sugar is 4.0. Other carb sources depend on how much they're made up of complex carbohydrates. "leaves and twigs" - as I call them - are good for weight loss diets, but are good for vitamins. Seeds (if they're edible) generally have higher energy content. Think beans, peas and corn.

* for reference, 1 Tablespoon of fat (butter, for instance) is approximately 100 calories. The same Tablespoon of sugar would be about 35.

You probably also need to watch out for salt content - it can cause fluid retention, and is a big factor in making prepared foods taste good. Given an armageddon situation, water may - or may not - be a very large factor. You just have to know your situation.

Re freezing: I have a side by side refrigerator/freezer, and a standard upright freezer. I've found that many foods I store in the sbs get "freezer burned" within a month, even in good plastic bags. The same foods in the same plastic bags will keep for 6 months to a year in the upright with no significant loss of flavor. It's been suggested that the automatic defrost in the sbs is the definitive factor, but I don't really know.

suek said...

I've also been told that the military MREs are made up to anticipate 3500 calories per day energy requirement.

suek said...

One last comment - as a kid, I _really_ loved it when we ran out of bread and Mom made my lunch with peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers. Sweet and salty both, I guess. Even now, I still think "Everything's better when it sits on a Ritz"...!

Dustin said...

Your purchasing economy of scale is off, I think... look to the bulk stores (BJs Sams, Costco, etc.) for things like granola bars and stuff - you should find (for some items) better price/unit which will equate to better $/100 cal.

Chief Instructor said...

TOR, I've never seen those small peanut butter cans. I need to do some surfin' to see if I can find them. PB has a great cost per calorie ratio, and is high in protein as well.

suek, these meals are for immediate emergency situations, so I'm not as concerned with the salt as I am with having plenty of calories and protein.

Ahhhhh, PB&J on a Ritz - heaven! I like them on regular old saltines as well.

Dustin, yeah, I was hoping that by going to the dollar store, I'd get a better bang for the buck, but it wasn't to be.

I'm such a weakling when I go into Costco. I'm not sure I've ever gone in there and not spent at least $300 - and it's always "must have" stuff!

Anonymous said...

I feel confident you have considered pemmican (a native American MRE). I have seen recipies where peanut butter was used to substitute for both the protein and fat with honey and jam used to substitute for the berries in real pemmican. Sounds like a sticky mess but I think real pemmican required licking the fingers clean after eating it as well. I happen to love bacon (and bacon grease). I have often thought PB&J and bacon mixed well and stuffed in a baggy. Now I'm not suggesting it will keep as long as an MRE should but the taste and calories are there. By the way I make a great gravy using bacon grease that is perfect for chicken fried steak or bisquits and gravy. If you don't think you are a fan of bacon grease I have to tell you the gravy is absolutely mouth watering good.

Unknown said...

It wasn't in cans but was in a plastic thing with an aluminumish top, sort of like pudding.

suek said...

I found these: (the justin site isn't the main page - the main page has a video that won't stop - really annoying! in fact, the site seems poorly organized - can't get info easily)

http://onlinestore.smucker.com/display_product.cfm?prod_id=330&cat_id=22

http://www.jif.com/jiftogo/default.asp

http://www.justinsnutbutter.com/shop.php

I also ran across a statement that said that Costco has individual serving packages, but I've never seen them and I shop at Costco regularly. Of course, I've never looked, either! There's also a Costco "Business Center" that has an _extraordinary_ snack center, plus stock that's more oriented towards ready to eat stores. In my area, the only "Business Center" is in City of Commerce within the Los Angeles area. I don't know where others are located, but they _are_ slightly different from "regular" Costcos. More restaurant oriented. Their cooler room was about 100 x 300! They had _jackets_ for customers hanging outside the cooler room!!

suek said...

You know...I'm thinking peanut butter raviolis. Except you'd use aluminum foil. Take a square of aluminum foil, Put it on a flat plate/cookie sheet and put dollops of peanut butter in rows across and down. Put the whole thing in the freezer. When they're frozen, take out and put a matching square of aluminum foil on top. Press down with a ruler in between the rows, cut down the flattened lines and fold the sides up or down, multiple little folds to seal, if possible.

I don't know - it would be a lot of work...but it _might_ do the trick.

Chief Instructor said...

Anon, yeah, I have thought about pemmican, but I think of that in bigger scale uses. If you were setting up a retreat, for instance. I'm trying to build individual meals to be used in BOBs or GHBs.

Still, I do need to make up a batch simply to see what the stuff tastes like. I've seen recipes with the fat/nuts/fruit and others that also include powdered meat.

Let me be perfectly clear on your last point: Bacon grease rules! I make my chicken fried steak gravy with it, or with the fat from the sausage that gets put into the gravy.

TOR, yeah, after doing some research, I found the things you were describing.

suek, I found those sites as well - thank you for posting their URLs.

I've found the single-serve jams, but not the peanut butter at Costco. I need to make a run down there to see what the shelf-life is on these things (and if my Costco has the PB). A sturdy, long-life cracker/biscuit would complete this package.

I like the idea of what you're suggesting with the PB, but I don't think it would have the shelf-life needed. Most jars of PB are good for 6-9 months when unopened. I'm hoping that the individual services might have a longer life.

We shall see...

suek said...

Depends on the "why" of the shelf life, probably. I usually depend on my nose and sense of smell to determine "shelf life", rather than the printed dates. My opinion is that the "shelf life" of commercial products is very conservative - they have two reasons for that: first, they want you to have an optimum product with no off flavors, and second they want you to use the product and buy more. I have no problem with that obviously, but my decisions may be based on a slightly different rationale.
PB has a high fat content. That means that shelf life is probably determined by the tendency of oils/fats to get rancid rather than a biological safety issue. I'm pretty sure that it can be used well beyond that 6-9 months without any ill effects, but taste? probably also determined by storage temps as well. There's no doubt, though, that a commercially packaged product is likely to last better than a home job.

Chief Instructor said...

Yeah, fats and dairy are two of the things I follow the "Best By" dates pretty closely. Most other things, I at least double the amount of remaining time from when I made the purchase. Never had a problem.

terrie said...

I know this is not individual servings but during hurricane season I take one of those small hickory farms sticks that don't have to be refridgerated and a sleeve of crackers and a can of Kraft squirty cheese and seal them up can and all in my sealer machine keeps everything dry and ready to eat.(we always have a knife) No cooking, no utensils and everything goes into the bag to be thrown away when its finished.

terrie said...

Sorry ..ran out of room don't know what the cost per meal is but the beef sticks are around $3 and the cheese a little more, crackers not much and will feed about 4 people.

Chief Instructor said...

Terrie, that is a great idea. It's along the lines of the MRE Tray Packs you can buy that feed multiple people. I like it!

Joel said...

On the tobacco thing: You'd be many dollars ahead if you bought your baccy in those six-ounce tins instead of bags. A bag is good for 20-30 cigs, but you can squeeze 300 out of six ounces. Also the tins have better seals for storage than the bags. If you need smaller caches, you can easily vacuum-seal it.

I never did learn how to properly hand-roll a cigarette, (not enough drugs as a boy, I guess) and tried the pre-made tubes. They're okay if you insist on filters, but I've been rolling my own now for so long I don't care for filters. Besides, I generally roll mine skinnier than that. I use these little rollers made by Job that the local market sells. They wear out over a few months so I keep spares.

I wonder how many smokers have worked tobacco into their preps? The end of the world is the wrong time to quit smoking, IMO.

I enjoy your blog.

Chief Instructor said...

Joel, the bags I was mentioning were 3 or 6 oz bags (enough for a half carton or a carton, respectively). The shop I visited didn't have any tobacco in tins - I've seen that online though. I saw on one of the sites I visited that it's now (or will soon be) illegal to sell tobacco online. More of the government protecting us.

I need to look into those hand rollers as well. I've seen them and know what you're talking about. Back-ups for the back-ups!

suek said...

I've seen sites that sell tobacco seed. In fact - there are many varieties, apparently. I'm not a smoker myself, but I resent the limitations almost enough to buy some seed and start growing it myself. Think they'll also outlaw tobacco seed?

Kitchenopedia said...

I prefer to use salmon packs much ! PB&J is also good to be use, but the problem is that its not available in small packets.