Food Storage: MREs, Freeze Dried or Real Food?

May 14th, 20122 Comments

Once you answer the question “Should I store food for emergencies?”, the next challenge is, “What kind of food should I store?”.  In a perfect world, you would store the same kind of food that you eat every day, however there are some other things to consider.  The first is food preparation.  Without gas and electricity it will be difficult to cook your famous tuna noodle casserole.  Additionally, if you need to evacuate your home for some reason it may not be feasible to take your pantry with you and there’s not likely to be cooking facilities in the emergency shelter.  On the other hand, anyone who has eaten prepared foods, such as MRE’s and freeze dried foods, knows that it gets really old really fast.  Certainly the convenience of buying the prepackaged “one year family food pack” is nice, however your taste buds and children will appreciate home cooked foods in an emergency.  On top of that, prepackaged foods are expensive and difficult (or impossible) to rotate into your normal diet.  In the long run, prepackaged foods are more expensive and wasteful, and the manufacturer’s idea of a serving size looks like an appetizer to my family.  The answer is to store all of the above, so let’s take at look at several types of food to see where they fit into your emergency plan.

Ration Bars

Ration bars are the simplest type of emergency food available — think energy bars on steroids.  They pack a lot of calories and nutrition into a compact package with a long shelf life.  You can buy them or make your own (Logan Bread is a good example), although the commercial products will likely last longer.  The down side is that they aren’t really exciting for the palate and it won’t take long before you are sick of eating even the tastiest of them.  Depending on the recipe, you may also need to increase your water consumption to aid in digestion.  Ration bars are an excellent choice for survival kits, car kits, 72-hour bags, and evacuation supplies.  You can buy around 70,000 calories worth of bars for about $100.  If you are just starting out then ration bars are a good choice, just don’t overdo it!

Meal Ready to Eat (MRE)

I’ll admit it, I kind of like MREs.  The military has come a long way in their combat rations, and MREs, while not fantastic, are not bad.  I will warn you that authentic miltary MREs are hard to come by and many of the commercial copy cats don’t measure up.  Buyer beware applies.  Try one or two before you stockpile the commercial variants!  MREs are designed to last for ten or more years and to provide the caloric requirements for soldiers performing vigorous activities in extreme environments.  In theory, these same traits make them ideal for civilian emergency use.  In practice, they are very expensive, bulky, and, yes, you will get tired of eating even the tastiest menus.  At $7-10 per MRE and two MREs per day, a year’s supply will set you back in the neighborhood of $6,000 per person, making this one of the most expensive options.  On the positive side, MRE’s are, well, ready to eat.  There is no preparation and no need to add water; the pouch even includes a spoon and napkin.  MRE’s are a great choice for evacuation bags, shelter food, and for those who have no means to prepare food when the lights go out.

Freeze Dried and Dehydrated Foods

I realize that freeze dried and dehydrated foods are not the same, but their use in a survival situation is pretty much identical, so I’ll lump them together for this discussion.  Both types of food have had most of the water removed to reduce weight and increase shelf life.  You can buy complete meals (beef stroganoff, chicken soup, and such) or individual foods (dried fruit, powdered cheese, etc).  Freeze dried foods have a very long shelf life (ten years or more), while the shelf life of dehydrated foods depends on the water content and packaging.  (You can extend the life of your dehydrated foods by vacuum packing them with oxygen absorbers.)  Many of these foods can be eaten as is and others are prepared by adding water, making them ideal foods for shelters and utility outages.  The problem is that they will significantly increase your daily water requirement.  If water storage is a problem for you, then these foods are not the best choice.  The most common complaints for the “emergency food supply” packages are poor taste and small serving sizes.  In my experience, two manufacturer servings equals one real world serving, so don’t be surprised if your one year supply runs out in six months.  For the best taste and quality, I recommend established brands, like Mountain House, that have been catering to the hiking and camping crowd for decades.  This option will cost even more than MREs, however it is a good way to add fruits, milks, cheeses, and the like to your diet without taking up a lot of shelf space.

Normal Food

Everyday foods should make up the bulk of your emergency food storage.  You can easily build your stockpile over time, you can make meals your family already likes, you will have a better variety, and it is less wasteful because you can rotate the food into your day to day cooking as it approaches its shelf life.  It is more time intensive, in terms of planning, stockpiling, and preparing, but once you get into the habit, it is well worth it.  The biggest obstacle is that you need some way to cook these foods without utilities.  Apartment dwellers can’t exactly store a cord of firewood and a year’s supply of propane for the camp stove is a bit of a fire hazard.  One solution is the solar oven.  For about $300, a good solar oven will reach temperatures in excess of 350 F and can cook anything that fits inside.  Emergency food preparation requires a bit of prior planning and practice.  Don’t expect your soufflé to come out perfectly the first time you set up the solar oven.


All of these foods have a place in the emergency pantry.  One approach is to add a little of each to enhance your flexibility.  My goal is to keep a one month supply of foods that need little or no preparation.  For emergency and survival kits, I prefer ration bars and MREs because they are light weight and require no additional water or cooking.  Once the kits are built, store a week’s worth of ration bars and a three week’s supply of MREs and freeze dried/dehydrated foods.  Round out your stockpile with everyday foods (and some means to cook them).  This system insures that you can still eat if you evacuate, yet doesn’t require you to force down freeze dried chili mac month after month.  Take some time to experiment, try different brands of ration bars and freeze dried foods, and practice cooking without gas or electricity — as always, a little planning goes a long way.

Bonus Links

One interesting and innovative approach is to make your own MREs by prepacking a selection of your favorite, ready to each foods with your vacuum sealer.  You can do this much, much cheaper than buying MRE’s, but will have to manage the shelf life.  Here are a couple of links to get you thinking:


© 2012, mjshozda. All rights reserved.

2 Responses to “Food Storage: MREs, Freeze Dried or Real Food?”

  1. Evan Lecrueset says:

    Good post! I remember when the whole Y2K scare was going on, my friend’s dad stored up tons of food and water in the basement because he thought that year 2000 computer bugs would cause the infastructure to collapse… I thought it was so funny that he did that, but nowadays it is starting to look like a good idea! I’ve been looking into starting my own food storage system for a few months now.

  2. SchemaByte says:

    My general suggestion to new preppers is to work up two years of food supply by building a rotating first-in-first-out pantry with canned and dehydrated foods before getting into longer-term storage. At the same time, start gardening and sprouting on your own.

    Adding in longer-term storage of things like dehydrated beans using Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers and self-canned vegetables are good things to do down the road, of course.

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