How to Make Your Own MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat)

Are you tired of spending too much money on ready-made MREs? Does it seem like the growing prepper industry has been jacking up the prices of these convenient, nutritious necessities during the past couple of years?

I always went into sticker shock after tallying the bill for MREs I purchased online or at local supply stores. It seems like 80 percent of the retail price is actually a convenience fee. The food itself isn’t that pricey, so I felt like I was spending way too much money on packaging, vacuum sealing and menu planning.

After having a major “idea light bulb” appear over my head one day, I came to the logical conclusion that I already have the tools necessary to prep, arrange, and vacuum-pack my own MREs. What’s more, I can make MREs for about one-half the retail price per meal, include my own favorite foods and have fun doing it.

When I set out to learn the fine points about making survival meals with super-long storage times, I tripped over quite a few extremely helpful resources online, along with a few books about military rations, food storage principles that work, and general food self-sufficiency.

Cost-saving MRE Preparation

If you’d like to save massive amounts of money by making your own MREs, here are some of the guidelines that helped me get started:

  • Making your own MREs will cost between $2 and $3 per meal. Retail MREs, even when you purchase in bulk, cost at least twice that (usually more), and they’re not tailor made to suit your tastes.
  • Assemble your ingredients, making certain that everything can be eaten either cooked or raw, needing no refrigeration, butter, milk, etc.
  • The best ingredients are inexpensive, nutritious retail items that are already packaged, like tuna, crackers, instant potatoes, instant drink mixes, sardines, spam, canned chicken, ramen, tea bags, bullion, oatmeal packs, cereal bars, candy bars, all kinds of dried fruit, etc.
  • Take a long walk through the grocery aisle of your favorite store and you’ll get lots of useful ideas about menus, prices, etc. Take notes and make a master list based on what you learn during your “reconnaissance” visit to the store.
  • Build meal menus based on what you buy. Try to use basic nutritional principles and include protein and carbohydrates in every meal. A typical version might have a dinner consisting of canned tuna, crackers, nuts, raisins, instant coffee, fruit, ramen noodles, a piece of chocolate, sweetener and dry creamer for the coffee. Make up a variety of meals with different ingredients.
  • Pierce, with a needle or thumb-tack, all the items that are in packs or airtight wrappers like candy/cereal bars, noodles, nuts, etc.
  • Now place each “meal” in a plastic bag and use a vacuum device to remove all the air. In a pinch, you can insert a straw into the bag and suck the air out with your mouth. But a vacuum device costs less than $20 at most retail stores and does a much better job.
  • Don’t forget to add a multi-vitamin to some of the packs and to store them in a cool, dry, dark place for a 3 to 5 year storage life. Cost is about $3 each, including supplies. Store in a trunk or in suitcases in a closet if you lack specialized space.


Resources for MRE DIY Chefs

There’s more to making emergency meals than recipes and nutritional know-how. The long-term storage challenge is thoroughly addressed in two of the books below, while the other gives a succinct overview of the official U.S. military ration program, essential vitamins and minerals in MREs, and a short history of combat-ready emergency foods.

Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Safe in a Crisis, by Peggy Layton: Some books use the word “everything” for effect and to boost sales. Peggy Layton really means it. Her book covers all the key issues of food storage and survival. There are valuable discussions about short-term emergencies and how to store water for emergency use, two topics that are left out of many survival books. Her treatment of long-term food storage examines, in detail, both the logistics and economics of the challenge. Complete with nutritious and delicious recipes for stored food, the book also explains where to acquire food for storage and how to implement a practical storage plan for your family or just for yourself. For people who want to make their own MREs, this book is an invaluable resource because it deals with all the sub-topics behind the MRE philosophy and does it quite well.

Operational Rations of the Department of Defense (NATICK PAM 30-25) 9th Edition – MRE Meal Ready to Eat, Special Purpose Ration, History of Combat Feeding, Nutrition, Assault and Group Rations, a official U.S. government publication: Like all official government publications, this book is a bit on the bland side but redeems itself by providing useful information for MRE enthusiasts. The Dept. of Defense has what is called a Combat Feeding Program that puts together MREs for soldiers in the field. It combines some of the best scientific research about food rations with long-term storage know-how. The result is a rather dry government publication that contains some real gems of information about MREs, especially in the area of nutritional components, packaging, long-term storage, space-saving ideas, and much more. Operational Rations makes a worthwhile reference book for all survival-minded readers and anyone interested in convenient, long-term food storage.

Food Storage for Self-Sufficiency and Survival: The Essential Guide for Family Preparedness, by Angela Paskett: Here is a treasure of a book for people interested in MREs and all related survival topics. Paskett has packed her book as tight and dense as a combat ration, with extensive treatment of topics like short- and long-term food storage, standard emergency supplies for your home, a list of food storage and general survival blogs, where to store food, a master menu list, a food inventory check sheet, and a discussion about how to plan meals. There are separate, lengthy sections in the book on water storage, how to preserve your own food, and how to avoid wasting food once you store it. If you intend to make your own MREs, this book will serve you well in dozens of ways, and contribute mightily to your survival IQ.

Are You Making Your Own MREs Yet?

MREs, meals-ready-to-eat, are a common sight in the kitchens and food storage bins all over the world. Anyone who wants to be prepared for a disaster, whether man-made or natural, has a cache of MREs at the ready.

If you have ever tried to make your own, or if you’ve used the information above to make some, leave a comment and let us know how you fared. We’re especially interested in tips and suggestions that make the job easier and less costly.

Also please visit our Facebook page and leave some comments about your own attempts to make MREs. As more people get involved in personalized emergency preparedness, the market for MREs is sure to continue its vigorous growth. Share your emergency meal prep secrets with others so we can all save money and enjoy nutritious food during difficult times (hoping, of course, they never arrive).

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