MRE’s for $120 a case??????? Screw That!!

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    To MRE or not to MRE that is the question…….Many BOB’s and food storage plans feature MRE’s as a staple. Since Y2K, more so after Hurricane Katrina, MREs have been the ‘go to’ emergency foods for most people. They have many advantages; a long shelf life, ready to eat (with or without cooking), and are packed in a compact package. Some disadvantages I discovered were; they are a tad on the heavy side if you need to keep a weeks worth in a BOB, they have a tendency to wreak havoc on your bowels if you don’t eat them regularly (they don’t call em “Meals Reluctant to Exit” for nothing), and the generic versions NOT made to military specifications are pretty bad buys.

    After weighing the pros and cons, I looked at the possibility of buying some myself for a bug out situation. The cost to benefit ratio was just a little too high. At $70-125 a case for 12 meals the cash outlay was a lil too steep for me. After Katrina, MREs were nearly impossible to find as there was a shortage due to the hurricane as well as needing to be able to send them to our troops abroad. Since they were overpriced IMO and so difficult to acquire and I still wanted to have them for emergency situations, I started to look for alternatives.

    I began to think that even though I had not dumped millions of dollars into research developing the perfect balance of calories to fat, carbohydrates to fiber, and designing the perfect packaging, I COULD pack my own ‘MREs’, but how to accomplish this? I first looked at what exactly made up a MRE package. I found a very informative web site to help me in my planning,” onclick=”;return false. They consist mainly of; a main entrée, side dish, dessert, some sort of bakery item and condiment package that has the appropriate accompaniments to go with the particular meal. As the name implies they are Ready-To-Eat with or with out heating but can be heated. They consist on average of 1250 calories (13% from protein, 36 % from fat, and 51 % from carbohydrates). This represents what the military considers 1/3 of the necessary daily intake for soldiers in an operational situation. Its way over the RDA for sedentary couch potatoes, but in a stressful bug out, run for your life situation the average person will need the extra calories as well. As for packaging, all the items were enclosed in a sturdy plastic bag. Inside, each component was individually packed and the condiment package had a variety of items inside. I thought, “I COULD DO THIS!”

    I figured any monkey could toss food into a plastic grocery bag, tie it up and eat it later. Hell most brown bag lunches are done up this way but I wanted to make sure my ‘MREs’ were going to be as nutritionally valuable as the expensive military spec counterparts. Since the RDA information is readily available, I began there and took the 2000 calorie a day plan and added an additional 50%. I thought that this should help to compensate for the extra bodily needs in a tough situation, but I didn’t double the totals bringing them closer to the military numbers of 3500-4000 calories because, well let’s face it, I have a few extra fat reserves already around my middle LOL.

    I developed a MS excel spreadsheet to track my meal plans, listing for each item: the total calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber and sodium. I made a master list of all items I was going to use. I cut and pasted these totals into a section for each meal bag. I’ll post up a copy of my spreadsheet if I can find it LOL. For those who don’t have MS office, you may be able to find something else to open the file.

    I went to the local dollar store and began to look for items that would work well. I found a treasure trove of items. Since they all came from the dollar store, the price was right. Multi-packs of items such as cheese and crackers were 8-10 per package so those items were $.10-.12 per portion, while items picked for entrees were $1. I made sure that the entrée items could be eaten as is, or were in packaging that could be heated (no plastic containers). I knew that for my BOB I have a small stove so heating items needed to be flame proof. This adds a bit to the weight, but if you have a mess kit you could cook in that and save weight with plastic containers. Keep in mind plastic containers won’t take the abuse that can occur in a bug out situation. You choose.

    Also acquired from the dollar store were 1 pound bags of hard candies $1. Individually wrapped biscotti biscuits were 3 for $1. Packages of plastic spoons were 25 for a $1; small Ziploc bags for the condiment kit were also $1. You get the picture.

    I raided my local fast food and coffee joints for an extra package or two of ketchup or sugar when I bought something from them. You could purchase these from Sam’s or Costco but unless you intend on making 100’s of MREs, it isn’t cost effective as you would have a few MREs and an extra 200+ mayonnaise packets. However if you have a cooperation agreement with a couple families you could do this and offset the cost. For the cheap, errrrr…ummmmm…frugal prepper, stick to getting a few freebies from the fast food joint, coffee shop or the truck stop.

    I found some small packages of instant coffee at Big Lots. They were $2.99 for a package of 25. Wal-Mart had electrolyte powders in individual sleeves that flavored a 16-20 ounce water bottle, 12 per box for $1.99. I also picked up some of the same style Kool-Aid from the local grocery store just to try them. I felt I was on my way.

    To assemble the MREs I planned to use my Food Saver bags. They would be sealed, leak proof, and relatively strong. The plastic isn’t as sturdy as the Mil-Spec MREs, but they are tougher than Ziploc gallon bags. If you are forced to use Ziplocs, make sure you use the freezer bags as they have a thicker mil than the standard bag.

    I began by assembling the condiment packages. I used sandwich sized Ziploc bags for the these. Into each I placed a plastic spoon, napkin (which was actually a piece of high quality paper towel), drink mix, salt, pepper, instant coffee, tea bag, sugar packet, powdered creamer, and 2 hard candies or 2 small chocolates. For specific meals I later added appropriate packets such as, a relish packet and mayo packet to make a ham salad with a small can of chopped ham.

    I put together the MREs with a protein based entrée (e.g. Spam singles), a side dish (e.g. fruit cup), a bakery item (e.g. pack of foil wrapped cookies), and the appropriate condiment pack (e.g. with a ketchup packet for the Spam). For this particular MRE I added two small Slim Jims to boost protein and fat. To boost fiber a cereal bar. All of this was placed into a Food Saver bag and heat sealed closed. The total weight of this MRE came to about ¾ of a pound. The nutritional content was: 827 calories, 34.5 g of fat, 105.6 g of carbs, 24 g of protein, 2.6 g of fiber and 1417 mg of sodium, approximately 1/3 the daily requirement for a 2500-3000 calorie a day diet.

    I continued this system for several different menu options (e.g. chili, vacuum sealed chicken, Vienna sausages). Cost was nowhere near the $8-10 for a standard MRE. It came to more like $3. Granted the shelf life will not be the 5-10 years of a MRE, but I now take these MREs out when hiking or camping and will occasionally use them for a brown bag lunch at work, so rotation isn’t an issue. The items inside I basically treat as a regular shelf item and give them a maximum of 1 year for shelf life.

    Since I was so pleased with myself and my frugal accomplishment, I expounded on the idea. If my family and I were to have to bug out of an area, we would hopefully be together. We COULD all eat our own individual MREs, but since we make it a habit of having dinner together, and the military also makes squad sized MREs, I thought I should do the same. These meals aren’t MREs so to speak since they require cooking, but a warm cooked meal sitting with the family will do wonders to boost morale in such a situation. I purchased instant powdered or dehydrated soup (e.g. Minestrone and yes I got them on clearance for a song). To this I added two Tyson vacuum sealed chicken packages, cookie packs, individually wrapped Melba toast packs and the appropriate number of condiment packs used in the individual MREs. Total weight for the family MRE came to about 2 pounds and cost about $12 or less than $3 per person. The nutritional content was a little sub-par for the 1/3 daily content, but I presumed that would be made up for with other meals. The important part I felt was that this would be a FAMILY meal, again for the sake of morale and unity.

    To finish up, I did make some decisions along the way. For meals that didn’t have crushable items inside, I vacuum sealed the bags. If there were crushable items (e.g. crackers) I merely sealed the bag. I hoped that vacuum sealing some would be space savers in the BOBs. I also decided that the MRE meals would be items that we have eaten. I didn’t want the problem of “no way I’m eating THAT” with the kids. Granted when hunger strikes even a finicky kid will eat what’s given. I also didn’t want the digestive disruption that standard MREs can cause. With this system I feel my family and I can sustain ourselves as needed with gaining a little comfort in an uncomfortable position.

    That’s about it. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask either here or off list. I’d be more than happy to discuss the homemade MRE issue with you.

    Here is the spreadsheet:


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