Homemade MREs

MRE’s, or Meals Ready to Eat, are a common sight in the military and camping world. They offer a lightweight, convenient and calorie-rich meal that can be eaten on the go. However, they can also be expensive and difficult to find.

snacks and MREs cocoa mix Jif can lentils and rice
snacks and MREs: cocoa mix, Jif can, lentils, can of sardines, basmati and wild rice mix, vitamin C powder, peanut butter crackers, and trail mix

For those looking for a more affordable and DIY option, making your own homemade MREs is a great way to go.

There are many different recipes and methods for creating your own MREs, so you can tailor them to your own needs and preferences.

Below are a few of the most popular methods for assembling your own long-lasting, fortifying and durable MRE’s.

Build Your Own MREs

The Quick and Easy Option

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First off – let me say that what I am about to describe does not replace a military-type MRE. Military MREs are superior to “home made” MRE’s in many ways.

For those on a budget – there is an alternative to military MRE’s – and they are sitting on your local grocery store shelf. They are called Hormel Compleats Meals.

Hormel Compleats are a tub-packed fully cooked food item. They can be eaten directly from the package cold or they can be heated. Typical method for heating is the microwave oven. They can also be heated via boiling water. At around $2.00 each – many can be stocked for little money.

These pre-packed meals average around 300 calories each- so they lag behind military MRE’s by quite a bit. Being able to fully satisfy one’s caloric intake during a TSHTF events is important – however these meals do not contain a huge amount of energy.

Typically I find freshly-stocked product to have an expiration date of around 2 years out.

As far as taste – I love ’em. I recommend the Chicken Breast with Mashed Potatoes and Turkey with Stuffing. Those 2 are my favorite.

To make a homemade MRE – take one of these meals –  add some candy, salt/pepper packets, snack/nutrition bar, couple packs of crackers, Gatorade packet, chewing gum, pack of matches, napkin, and a plastic spoon.

Vacuum pack everything together – and you have a homemade MRE.

The Basic MRE

I like the classic, easy MRE menu. Meat, cracker, drink mix, candy or dried fruit. Fills me up and stays with me.

A pouch of tuna, some hard crackers or biscuits, a packet of sports drink powder, cocoa or the like and a little something sweet to crush my craving or give me some quick energy and I am good to go.

Just-the-Snacks MRE

The another method is to create a simple “smorgasboard” MRE. This requires little more than items like trail mix, candy, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and energy bars into your MRE’s.

Not necessarily super-satiating or nutritionally complete, but easy to eat on the go calorie dense, long storage life and easy to transport. Put it inside a heavy-duty lunchbox and you are all set. Keep in mind that high temps will make any “candy” components melt.

Vegetarian MRE

Another option is to create vegetarian MREs. This can be done by including items like hummus, peanut butter, honey packets, dried fruits and dried veggies. Again, calorie-dense and easy to transport, but it is obviously lacking in dependable protein sources.

Depending on your choices and you may want to include some form of supplemental protein powder or other nutritional additive to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.

Performance Nutrition MRE

A final option is to make “paleo” MRE’s. This involves including items like jerky, fruit leathers, nuts, seeds, honey, dried veggies and dried fruits.

This is a great option for those who are looking for a more natural and unprocessed diet, and is still more adaptable than proper vegan or vegetarian MRE’s.

Unfortunately, paleo options in an off-the-shelf and long-lasting format are still somewhat limited and expensive.

Breakfast MRE

An interesting take on the concept. Add a small zipper bag of instant oats, a packet of maple syrup, some dried fruit, nuts and a small bag or can or powdered milk.

Combine the ingredients in the bag, let them sit for a short spell to soften and you’ll have a pretty passable rendition of cold oats, or overnight oats.

Chili Mac MRE

A classic your grandpa probably took along when he was out hunting before you were even a glimmer in your dad’s eye.

A can or pouch of chili mac, some oyster crackers or hard biscuits, a little packet of hot sauce and you are half-way to Cincinnati.

Make sure to include a pouch of hydration mix to wash it all down and some mints to cool your tongue!

Spam Creations MRE

Spam is one of my favorite ready to eat foods and despite its unsavory reputation in some quarters the ingredients list is clean.

For our purposes, it is calorie dense, highly filling and enjoys long and stable shelf life. It is also super versatile!

You can eat Spam right out of the can in a variety of ways, or fry it up on your field stove if you have time.

A can of Spam or single slice pouches can be combined with crackers, rice, pasta and all kinds of other ingredients to make a delicious and protein packed meal.

Choosing a Container

Once you have decided on a method, the next step is to choose a container. The most common and affordable option is to use a heavy-duty zip-top bag.

You can also buy specialized MRE pouches, which are often more durable and have better seals.

If you are looking for an even more long-term storage option, you can purchase Mylar bags and an oxygen absorber packet. This will give your MREs an extended shelf life, but it is not necessary for short term storage or transport.

One thing about various bags is that they will not protect the contents too well from harsh handling and other abuse. So, if you are carrying your MRE’s in a backpack for an extended trek, you might want to put them in a more sturdy, hard container.

This could be something as simple as a proper lunchbox or a bento box or something as large a cooler if your load and party size justifies it.

One of my favorite options is actually a common Nalgene water bottle. As long as it is dry and clean you’ll have a simple, sealing and utterly bomb-proof container.

A Word on Shelf Life

Homemade MRE’s will not last as long as commercially produced options, but they can still be stored for a significant amount of time.

If you are using zip-top bags or other good containers with individually sealed and preserved component items, you can expect a shelf life of anywhere from 3 to 12 months, depending on the contents.

If you are using vacuum sealed bags with oxygen absorbers and only the longest lasting foods, you can extend that shelf-life to 2-3 years.

Regardless of the storage method you choose, it is always best to rotate your stock and use the oldest MRE’s or their components first.

This way, you can ensure that your food is always as fresh as possible while avoiding any waste. Making your own MRE’s is a still a great way to save money and have more control over the contents of your meals.

Make it Better, Tastier, Cheaper

So, there you have it!

A variety of ways to create your own homemade MRE’s for field, camping or survival use. With a little bit of ingenuity and adaptation, you can make sure that you have the food you need, when you need it.

These meals have their place in a survival food storage system. They can be especially useful for use in your bug out supplies.

Whichever route you choose, homemade MRE’s are a great way to save money and have complete control over the ingredients and nutritional content of your meals.

With a little planning and preparation, you can easily make your own delicious and nutritious MRE’s that will last for months or even years. Enjoy your next outdoor adventure!

last update: 03/16/2022

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34 thoughts on “Homemade MREs”

  1. Rourke,excellent! I hadn’t even thought of these.One more item.Variety is good.One can only eat so many pinto’s n spam !!


  2. I just bought a bunch of these, for those “I’m too tired to cook but don’t want fast food” days. Then I saw your post. Good idea, making your own MREs using these as a base. Now I just need to get a vacuum sealer-know of an inexpensive one? Thanks!

    • As far as a vacuum sealer – you really get what you pay for. I have had a couple of cheap models – then bought a used Foodsaver brand off eBay. The Foodsaver has worked great. Forget the hand-held ones – at least from my experiance.


    • Watch flea markets and yard sales. Husband just got one for 20 with bags. The bags were close to 20 alone. I use mine alot. But not so much lately as the prices for even plain food have gone up. Good luck.

  3. Where, may I ask, are you buying these for two bucks? Amazon has them for around four and that still may be worth it but, I could get twice as many at two. Good thinkin

    • DrSique – Local grocery stores and Wal-Mart. Every so often they have them buy one, get one plus coupons. They can be had for around a $1.00 or even less.

  4. I bought enough of these Hormel Compleats to fill two large sealed plastic buckets. They stack really well with 3 per layer. They’re light, great for travel, and the bowl is durable enough to re-use. If you’re bugging out and the stores are still open, grab all you can eat over the coming weeks, but don’t buy them much in advance. These are not a good choice for long-term storage. When fresh, they do taste pretty good. Sadly, I have found that all varieties take on a horrible plastic flavor after a few months. After a year, they may still be edible, but the flavor will turn your stomach. These meals are cooked, sealed, and then sterilized under high cobalt irradiation. The meals are probably not hazardous in any way, but folks should be informed.

    • Appreciate the comments Misty Mountain Man. I had never tasted anything odd with these meals – even after a year but I eat a select few.

    • I have eaten the pot roast meal after 5 yrs on the self and it tastes just as good as freshly bought one!! (SALT AND PEPPER IS A MUST!!) LOL

  5. These are about $2 at the local Dollar Store. I agree they taste OK for the money, but I would be careful with these, however. The sodium content is anywhere between 1200-1500 mg depending on the flavor. Not very heart healthy, and you will drink a lot of water after eating these — not ideal for SHTF.

    • Eric – Thanks for the comment. I look at these just like an MRE – not something to eat day after day for weeks. FOr a survival situation or once n a while as a meal they are pretty good.

    • Probably little chance you will see this, but you are confusing SHTF with true survival. The idea in a survival scenario is that you have few or even no resources, therefore sodium might become an enemy. However, if the grid is down but you have food, water, and a way to cook, chances are you will be working and sweating, meaning you will need to replace lost salt. Survival is conserve resources, off-grid living is consuming resources to gain more resources.

  6. Rourke,

    Great posting. I have been making homemade MRE’s for a while now and there are many other offerings that can add to your dining experience. I have also used the Uncle Bens whole grains pre-cooked packets that are around $2 as well as these. They have one many that include both rice and beans which create a complete protein. Another option is to get the Idahoan potatoes, a gravy packet, and some of the shelf stable beef crumbles or chicken cubes as your main dish. The two things you forgot to mention that a Mil Spec MRE has to offer that these don’t is that these actually taste better, and they won’t “STOP YOU UP” as bad as the Mil Spec MRE’s do. Sprouting is another option for adding some fresh LIVE food to your menu when you have to bug out. Just use a BPA Free plastic bottle and you can sprout away and have a salad with your meal or just munch on the fresh vegetation on the move.

    Thanks for all you do,

    Brad M

  7. I’ve come up with a list of quick protein meals, with the caveat that these are not good for long-term storage, but they will save you in a pinch. I’d really like to get a list of those items which contain more calories, and are more healthy than than the items on this list.

    Tuna Helper, Tuna
    Hamburger Helper, freeze-dried hamburger
    Packaged Chicken Soup Mix
    Hormel Complets
    Home Frozen Dinners and Frozen Leftover Meals, packaged in vacuum bags
    Home canned hot dogs
    Commercial and Home Canned Soups, Stews and Chili
    Home Canned Meatloaf/Meatballs/Salisbury Steak
    Home Canned meats with bbq or other sauce
    Home Canned Sloppy Joe Sauce w/meat
    Any commercial canned meats
    Home Canned Corned Beef in Beer
    Home Canned Hasenpfeffer (see Rabbit)
    Home Canned Spaghetti Sauce with Meat
    Home Canned Deviled Ham for Sandwiches
    Home Canned Ham
    Home Canned Venison
    Home Canned Rabbit
    Home Canned Chicken
    Chicken Soup MRE
    Canned Pasta with Meat
    Add Hemp Protein Powder to any meal w/o enough protein

  8. Here’s another list I made, with some healthier options

    “Go” Buckets for One Month Food Supply
    Or use Embark 24-can soft cooler from Amazon

    “Go” Buckets to Grab in Emergency Preparedness, Travel or Camping (For 2), with Diabetic Options

    3 Buckets: Breakfast, Lunch/ Dinner

    One Person=30 breakfasts, 60 lunches/Dinners

    Rotate Yearly, longer with mylar bags
    Keep one set in the pantry, loose, and one set stored in a large bucket; Rotate sets regularly, and keep pantry caught-up monthly.
    Lightweight packages from Camping Survival (Backpacker’s Pantry)
    Freeze Dried Foods can also be found in the Camping section at Walmart

    60 or More Breakfasts
    Place Shopping List in Bottom of Each Bucket
    Oatmeal Packets Jar Instant Coffee
    Cold Cereals, including Glucerna (Vacuum Pack) Tea Bags
    Canned Cheese (Bega) Hot Chocolate Packets (Vacuum Pack)
    Canned butter 2 (80 ct) Box Sweeteners (Vacuum Pack)
    Peanut Butter Freeze Dried Eggs
    Small Bottle Agave Nectar 1 Large Gravy Packet w/rubber band to close
    Bega Canned Cheese (beprepared.com) Small Packets Salt and Pepper
    Aunt Jemima Pancake and Waffle Mix (Vacuum Pack) (PPI Jelly Assortment @Sam’s)
    Packets Freeze Dried Fruit Pouches Salt and Pepper packets (Diamond Crystal, W.M)
    Dry Milk Packets(vacuum pack), plus container Dry Creamer
    Honey Kool-Aid
    Small Bottle Cooking Oil Pilot Bread
    Water Pouches Boxed Hash Browns
    Yoder’s Canned Bacon Grits
    Freeze-Dried Sausage Smoked Salmon
    Freeze-Dried Pork Chops B&M Raisin Brown Bread (Walmart.com)
    Can Opener Breakfast Bars
    Biscuit Mix Assorted Canned Meats
    Carnation Instant Breakfast Emerald Breakfast on the Go! Breakfast Nut Blend, 5-Pack
    Oscar Meyer Bacon/Breakfast Sausage Real Bacon Bits Complete Muffin Mix
    Spam with Bacon Individual Tea Bags, Plain and Flavored

    60 or More Each Lunches/Dinners (Two or More Buckets) (Total 120)
    Need 30 lunches, 30 dinners each for two people
    15 Freeze-Dried Mountain House Meal Pouches (2 servings each)
    Small Cans Pork n Beans/Plain and with Weenies
    Small Packets Salt and Pepper Smoked Alaska Salmon
    Heinz Picnic Packet with Mayo (Sam’s or Walmart) Pudding Cups/Fruit Cups/Other Snacks or Desserts
    Crackers/Chips & Dip, etc. 15 Canned Dinner-Sized Canned Meats
    Water Pouches Fill In With MRE Meals
    Canned Meats/Fish (Deviled Ham, Vienna Sausages, Potted Meats, Tuna, Sardines) Tuna Salad Meals (Walmart)
    Pilot Bread Banquet Homestyles Complete Dinners
    Peanut Butter Large Gravy Mix/Rubber Band
    Canned Cheese Canned Chicken and Dumplings
    30 Dehydrated or Freeze-Dried Soups/Stews Chili’s Packs of Potato Flakes
    Drink Mixes Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix
    Auguason Farms Dinner for 6 Dry Milk Packets
    Hormel Compleats Summer Sausage
    Raman Noodles B & M Brown Bread
    Margaret Holmes Supper Starters Betty Crocker Complete Meals
    Taco Dinner Kits Betty Crocker Ultimate Helpers
    Old El Paso Tortilla Stuffers Carne Asada Steak Meal Starter, 9.5 oz (Mountain Home Store) Ravioli with Meat
    Spam Meals

    Camping Kit (Walmart)
    Fire Starter
    Fish Hooks and foldable fishing rods
    Filleting knife
    Water Bottle & Filter
    Roll Plastic Bags/Paper Towels/TP
    Paper plates, cups, forks/knives/spoons/napkins
    Trash Bags

  9. My only major concern is the plastic bowl these come in. They may or may not be BPA free.

    As for the expiration date, as some may know by now, those are recommended dates to help cycle out old stock. As long as the seals are good (no expanding of the pack from bacterial breakdown of the food) they should last for 4 years. Most foods have a longer shelf life well past what’s printed on them.

    I personally test foods for shelf life stability and pass my experiment results on to the public. One example is this thread: http://angeryamerican.net/showthread.php/2230-Condiments

    I will look for some nearly expired Compleats and try to get results on their shelf life as supply availability allows.

  10. Don’t forget Tabasco, ketchup and mustard. Enough of either in the right meal will get rid of odd tastes. Also important for your homemade MRE is toilet tissue .
    Moss or leaves are not good substitutes.

    • Thanks oren. I enjoy many foods with my ketchup. Can also grab extra packs at Chick-fil-a. They have Heinz. Yeah – I am a ketchup lover.

  11. Brilliant Rorke. Thank you, especially about the vacuum sealer advice. I really need one of those. Our group has been toying with this same thing on paper. So far, it’s Zip-locks, small little self closed condiments bag with utensils, and the food. Small, light weight, easy to pack, not great, cheap, but sustainable.

    • Those vacuum sealer are useful for a lot of things beyond food. Throw in a bunch of matches and seal it up – store it away. Just an example.

  12. I’ve tried three variations of these meals and used some left over MRE heater packets in a modified foil pouch (that aluminum bubble foil insulation) to test heating/eating. They get heated to a lukewarm state with just one, but two make it piping hot. The sodium content is off the chart and they do have a bit ‘off’ taste but still edible.

  13. Go to Hormel.com and sign up and get some printable coupons. That’s why I first tried these. You can can get more coupons each month.

  14. The ‘Expiration date’ is actually a ‘Best By’ date. It is still good beyond that date but may begin to lose texture or flavor. I have eaten some of these a year beyond the ‘Best By:’ date and could tell no difference and had no ill effects.

    I keep mine in a opaque plastic storage bin with lid. It is in a closet in my home. Having been thru a hurricane where our entire community was without power for 14 days, I can tell you these were awesome to have. Heat them by placing in boiling water for a few minutes.

    You can frequently find a 1$ off coupon for these. Walmart has them for $2.79 for the larger ones, or less than $2 for the smaller items.

  15. Dollar genera, Kroger, Walmart. Ive never seen them over 2 bucks anywhere. Amazon isnt a grocery store no wonder they are twice the price there


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