How to Make Your Own DIY MREs – Homemade MRE Tips

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Upon request from our readers, I was asked to make a follow-up to the MRE article. In there, I had mentioned that creating your own MRE is more efficient and cheaper than buying one of the brand-names.

Therefore, I have compiled this information together as everything you’ll need to know about creating your very own MRE.

I will be going over what I had mentioned in the previous article as well as supplying you with the “how-to’s” in drying out food, properly compacting it all into air-tight storage, and the proper steps to take in preserving your MREs.

Remember, being that you’re able to decide what goes into these MREs, you have the freedom to use this information however you please.

Recap – Best Foods and Items for Survival Use

If you have read the previous article, you have already seen this list.

If not, the following are recipe items with long lasting shelf life. The only way to properly use these is with some cooking experience, so you might want to read up on that as well.

Flavors known for their longevity:

  • Salt
  • Sugar (brown or white)
  • Raw honey
  • Alcohol (Whiskey, rum, vodka, etc.)

Foundations common in most cooking recipes. These last up to a decade:

  • Buckwheat
  • Dry corn
  • Kamut
  • Hard red wheat
  • Soft white wheat
  • Millet
  • Durum wheat
  • Spelt
  • Barley
  • Oat groats
  • Quino
  • Rye
  • Pinto beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Mung beans
  • Black turtle beans
  • Blackeye beans
  • All purpose flour
  • White flour
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Pasta
  • White rice
  • Coconut oil

For short-term emergency, the following items will last around half a decade:

  • Canned tuna
  • Canned meats
  • Canned vegetables and fruit
  • Peanut butter
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Ramen noodles
  • Hard candy
  • Powdered milk
  • Dried herbs and spices
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Baking soda

MREs are known to also carry non-food items. Usually, instruments for eating.

However, being that this is your own survival kit, you can take it one step further and add some basic necessities:

  • Bic lighters
  • Toilet paper
  • Soaps
  • Bottled water
  • Vitamins
  • Medicines
  • Bandages
  • Peroxide
  • Lighter fluid
  • Canning supplies
  • Charcoal

Realistically, you can take any of the above mentioned products and create a perfectly sustainable MRE out of it. These items relatively well-known for survivalist adventures.

Yet, you’re going to have to know how to properly store these items. There are two means of doing this; the item’s shelf life and correctly concealing them in an airtight container for survival purposes.

Storage Necessities

There are four notable ways of long-term storage for the above-mentioned food products. These methods are namely for storing in places like a basement or pantry.

#10 Cans – If you’re looking for something that can store a large amount of food at once, a #10 can with an oxygen absorber is the way to go. It’s sizable, yet, efficient in terms of weight and accessibility.One of these containers is likely to fit under your bed or on a shelf of equal size. Due to its wide diameter, it has the ability to carry bulkier foods.

The only downside to #10 cans is you will need a can sealer which can be pricey.

It should be noted that you don’t want to store sugar or high-condensed sugar drink mixes in oxygen absorbers. Over time, your sugar will turn into a block rather than a nice granule.

Food Grade Buckets – Food Grade Buckets generally a cheaper option in comparison to #10 buckets. You can pick them up to new or purchase them at your local bakeries for cheap (sometimes free).The disadvantage of Food Grade Buckets is they don’t come with an oxygen absorber. So, you’ll have to purchase it separately.

However, certain food products don’t need an oxygen absorber and will last for long periods of time in just the Food Grade Bucket.

It should be noted that these buckets are sometimes used for non-food products such as paint. So, if you pick one up used, make sure you’re not purchasing one in which this is the case.

PETE Bottles – The idea here is to take any cleaned out, thoroughly dried out food grade plastic container and use that as food storage. Something like a two-liter soda bottle or jar of jelly.
Whatever has the label PETE or PET on the bottom.Likewise, with the Food Grade Buckets, you can add an oxygen absorber for freshness, but it’s not required. Just make sure to close lids tightly.

Being that these are smaller containers than the above two options, you’ll want to go with PETE bottles if you have a variety of food to store.

Since these bottles are generally clear, you want to make sure your storage place has a little light.

Also, they come in so many different shapes and sizes that they might not be the most attractable storage on your shelf. However, since they’re free with the purchase of household food supplies, there’s no extra cost for this effective means of storage.

Mylar Bags– Our last means of concealment is what you’ll most likely be using if you want air-tight storage on the go. Though you can use PETE bottles for this purpose, Mylar Bags are much more effective in size and weight.These comes with an oxygen absorber already built in and have the flexibility of being thrown into a backpack, like an MRE.

If you plan on bringing these along with you on your survival adventures, then you can easily mix and match food as long as they already have some sort of separation.

But let’s say the food doesn’t have any means of separation. Another option is to buy different sized Mylar Bags, fill them up and put them all into one large Mylar Bag.

In terms of recreating an MRE, this is without a doubt the most effective way. The best part is it’s your choice as to what goes into these bags.

For proper instructions on how to properly use Mylar Bags, we have a blog waiting to be read.

For more information on what to avoid when storing food, click here.

For a refresher on PETE bottles, see below:

Properly Drying Out Foods

Survivalist dry out foods as a way of preservation. Removing moisture makes it so bacteria, yeast, and molds cannot grow.

In order to properly dry out foods, you’re going to need:

  • Air circulation
  • Low humidity
  • A source of low heat (120 degrees Fahrenheit to 150 degrees Fahrenheit)

There are multiple ways to go about your food drying process.

You can purchase a dehydrator on the internet. It’s been said to be the most efficient way to dry out foods, giving you the best quality control.

Each dehydrator has an electric element for the heating process and a fan/vent to circulate air flow.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, click here for more information on dehydrators.

Oven Drying

This process takes about twice (sometimes triple) the time to dry out food than a dehydrator would. This is because ovens don’t have a source of air circulation, therefore, you’ll have to take care of this step yourself.

It’s been said that ovens aren’t nearly as efficient and require much more energy than that of a dehydrator.

You want to make sure the dial on your oven can go as low as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, you’ll end up cooking your food rather than drying it.

To assure that you’re drying the food, you’ll want to keep a thermostat nearby recording the temperature.

To circulate air, leave the oven slightly open (about 2 to 4 inches) and place a fan near the outside.

Sun Drying

Depending on your location, sun drying can either be a convenience or a hassle. To properly dry out food, you’ll need to let it remain in constant sunlight throughout the day at a humidity of less than 20%.

These conditions are typically found in places like California’s Sacramento Valley and Arizona.

In areas where there’s high humidity and/or cool night temperatures, sun drying should be avoided.

Air Drying

The biggest difference compared to sun drying is that air drying takes places indoors. Usually in a well-ventilated attic, screened porch, or room.

Certain foods tend to do better at air drying than others, such as mushrooms, herbs, and hot peppers.

All it takes is taking your food and tying it onto strings (either separately or in bundles) and suspend them in the air until dry.It’s a safe choice to enclose them in bags as a means of protection from dust and other harmful pollutants.

Microwave Drying

This method is not recommended as it is unsafe for most foods. Small quantities of herbs and some leafy vegetables are all that’ll successfully dry in these conditions.

You’ll want to place no more than 4 or 5 herbs in at a time on top of a paper towel and leave it in the microwave for around 2 to 3 minutes.

Once complete, you should let the herbs cool for a moment, then check to see if they’re dry enough. If not, you can repeat the process by putting them back in the microwave for 30-second intervals.

It should be noted that food dried in microwaves often taste overcooked rather than dried.

Once your food is properly dried out, you’re going to need to preserve it in the ways mentioned above. Being that Mylar Bags can help you create and MRE, I’d suggest using them for your dried goods.

However, a #10 can, Food Grade Bucket, or a PETE bottle will do just fine.

You also have the opportunity to freeze dry food. We have another article that goes in depth with this process.

Your Custom MRE Kit and Caloric Goals

While we talked a lot about making your MRE’s with home-prepared foods, there is another approach, and one used by many armies around the world. While there is a lot to be said for home dried and packed foodstuffs, many nations, including Russia and the UK make 24 hour ration packs that extensively use off the shelf foodstuffs that are ready to eat or only need water added to them.

While bulkier – a 24 hour kit might weigh over three pounds, these homemade MRE’s have the advantages of being cheap, long lasting, and easy to assemble. They are perfect for storing at home, or carrying in your vehicle or at an offsite location. The use of familiar off-the-shelf foods are also a positive morale booster in times of emergency and are great for kids who may have trouble adjusting to an emergency situation.

Caloric Goals When Making Your Own MREs

As a general rule, I like to make my off the shelf homemade MRE’s to be somewhere between 3000-3500 or so calories. This allows for the greater calorie consumption that can come in difficult situations, and if I don’t eat it all, that just means they last longer.

Typically, you’ll break your homemade 24 hour MRE up into three meals, and allow for a few light snacks.

You’ll also want to include some drink mixes, including an electrolyte drink like Gatorade, plus coffee and/or tea if you like a caffeinated hot drink.

Breakfast

For breakfast I like to keep it a bit light, but you can change that as you like. I’ll usually pack a couple granola bars and an instant oatmeal packet, plus some instant coffee, and a single serving slice of Spam or some similar shelf stable meat. Small cans of ham are both inexpensive and ideal for this role.

Lunch

For lunch I’m looking for something more substantial like beef stew, chili, a can of tuna fish, or something similar, plus again coffee or tea, and probably the Gatorade or similar.

Dinner

Dinner would be a more substantial version of lunch. Equally important, you’ll want to pack condiments, shelf stable crackers or breads, dried fruits,chocolate or other snacks (hard candy, and dark chocolate bars are great for this purpose), a couple packets of instant soup. You might consider some snack sized packages of cookies as well while you are at it.

Now this sort of MRE will have a mixed shelf life of around 1-3 years depending on the components. You’ll want to rotate stuff out as needed, and make sure you have a mess kit and portable stove for heating food too. Of course most of this can be eaten cold, but a warm meal is always preferable to a cold one.

Get creative with your MRE planning!

You could also enhance an MRE of this nature with some of your homemade dried and dehydrated foods. It would be a great time to make and use your own hardtack, jerky and dried fruits.  The beauty of this MRE is that you can go to your local grocery store and quickly assemble shelf stable, long life meal kits to store away for an emergency. Your daily food supply will be sorted, and bagged or boxed, ready to eat and prepare, and will contain a variety of snacks, side dishes and main courses that are familiar and easy to prepare.

Final Word

As you can see, making your own MREs holds the possibility of a cheaper and more efficient survivalist food pack.

What I’ve listed here is everything you’ll need to compensate for food storage and put that storage together into an MRE.

Personally, I like to create the MREs first and then store them in my basement. This makes them accessible to me whenever necessary.

I hope you have just the same luck with your MREs.


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4 Responses to “How to Make Your Own DIY MREs – Homemade MRE Tips”

  1. So, what goes into an MRE?

    Reply
    • Most of the MREs that I have had include a main course, a side, a bread, some kind of sauce (cheese, etc.) a dessert, a bit of candy and a drink. There was also a packet of spices/seasonings and other things like matches, a plastic spoon (could also be burned to start fires,) napkins and things like that. The old C-Rats (Combat Rations) that we got in basic training were canned equivalents, but they came with cigarettes (which the smokers said tasted like garbage,) and a P-38 can opener (still very useful, but the bigger P-51 will give you better leverage to make it easier to open cans.)
      You can see a list of the main courses available at: https://www.mreinfo.com/mres/mre-menus/ – way more than the four available while I was still in. This list only gives the main course, but you can see a list of the full contents from earlier MREs at: https://www.mreinfo.com/mres/mre-menus/mre-menus-2016/
      So basically, in the context of this article, you would want to put in a main course, one or two sides, a snack and a dessert, plus an accessory/seasoning packet. Or what ever you want for a full meal.
      Many years ago, I got a book called the “Ultimate Gifts in a Jar Book” which gave a lot of recipes for those gift jars that have the ingredients for soups, casseroles, cakes and things in them. These types of things could be great for homemade MREs. Just make a jar, then if the directions say that it feeds four, just divide the ingredients into four vacuum-seal bags for four MREs. If you do a search for “meals in a jar” you will find just shy of a gazillion recipes – take a look at any of them to find what you like (or might like – try some out and see.) You may also want to find recipes that include the calorie count, and make sure that each of your MREs contains enough calories to keep you going.

  2. Thank you for all this good info. I’ve picked up food grade buckets at Costco(free) & Walmart($2) in the bakery. Then I clean them out super good.
    I have the smaller ones for utensils that I’ve bought at thrift stores like stainless steel measuring cups,spoons,spatulas, etc..
    Happy prepping… and God Bless!,

    Reply
  3. I found that you can get brand new paint can’s from paint store to put food in too!

    Reply

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