Home Food Storage How to Make Your Own Instant Survival Meals

How to Make Your Own Instant Survival Meals

by Anthony

Survival Meals


Making your own individually packaged dry meals can be a great way to get the most out of your garden and save a few bucks in the process. Companies like Wise Foods and Legacy make delicious instant meals, but they can be costly if you have a family to feed. Making your own DIY instant meals is a good alternative, especially if you take advantage of seasonal vegetables, the backyard garden, and grocery store sales.

Dried vs Freeze Dried

Freeze drying works by a process called sublimation, which involves converting the water inside of the food from solid ice directly to a gas. Since this is carried out under a vacuum, which lowers the boiling point of water dramatically, there’s no need for heat in the freeze drying process. That means freeze dried food keeps more nutrition and flavor when compared to traditional drying. Unfortunately, it also means that freeze drying is an expensive industrial process, one which is too difficult or expensive for many home cooks.

I use Wise Foods for all my food storage now. They have a better tasting product than anyone else out there. Their food is GMO Free and Certified Organic! I highly suggest giving them a try.

Traditional drying is a long process, and depending on whether your dehydrator speeds things along with a heating element in addition to a circulation fan, it’s one that can affect the flavor and texture of food. Most foods taste best when they’re dried on a relatively low temperature, between 90F and 110F, until they’re dry enough that they will snap in two rather than bend.

Save Money and Make Your Own Instant Meals

In order to make drying your own food an option, it needs to make good financial sense. Fortunately, the supplies you’ll need tend to be affordable and last for a long time. A basic setup can be as straightforward as a piece of screen mounted on a wooden frame, with the food you’re drying sliced thin and left in the sun. The dried food can then be packed into freezer bags along with some dry rice to act as a moisture absorber and kept on the shelf for months.

There are a few things that you can do in order to extend the shelf life of your dried foods. One of the most important is proper sealing. Mylar bags work best to keep out moisture, air, and light in order to ensure that your food won’t grow mold or spoil.

Getting The Right Gear

Taking a more advanced approach can extend the shelf life of your meals, help them to taste better, and preserve the nutrient contents of your fruits, vegetables, and meat. In order to get the best results, you need to have the right equipment.

  • Dehydrator Look for a dehydrator with adjustable heat levels and a circulation fan. Most people will need at least 4 trays to make the most of each drying session. Nesco makes a great entry-level dehydrator. http://www.amazon.com/Food-Dehaydrators
  • Mylar Bags Mylar bags are the single best way to seal up your instant meals. You can buy the material in bulk for an affordable price online and reuse them again and again. The only drawback to mylar is that you need to use it with a quality vacuum sealer. http://www.amazon.com/Mylar-Bags
  • Vacuum Sealer Seal-A-Meal makes a great low-cost vacuum sealer that work perfectly with the quart-sized mylar bags that you’ll want to use. It’s reliable, uses a one-touch operation that’s completely foolproof, and works well with mylar. http://www.amazon.com/Vacuum-Sealer
  • Desiccant You’ll want to use a desiccant if you plan on storing your dried meals long-term. Silica gel is nontoxic, although the best option is an oxygen absorber that does double duty by keeping your food fresh as well as dry. The mylar bags we recommended above come with a free package of these oxygen absorbers. http://www.amazon.com/Absorbers

What Can I Dry?

In short, you can dry nearly anything. Some foods aren’t as straightforward as others, but there are techniques that make a surprising number of foods possible to dry. In general, try to cut your food into thin, uniform slices and don’t pile them up on the tray. Some foods, like potato, beet, and carrot, dry just as well after they’ve been cooked as they do raw. Drying cooked food is one of the secrets to making instant meals.

Refried beans, hummus, greek yogurt, mashed potatoes, and other thick, pasty foods can be dried in the same way that some people make fruit leather. Spread out squares of parchment paper on your dehydrator trays and put a dollop in the center of each. Spread them out using the back of a spoon. For large batches, you can use a very low oven, although a dehydrator works much faster.

Some foods, like tomatoes, carrots, celery, and bell peppers can be powdered after they’ve been dehydrated. Dried, powdered vegetables make excellent soup and sauce bases, and can really add a lot of flavor to a recipe.

You can see, that with a little bit of creativity, it’s possible to do a lot more than just make the apple and banana chips that most of us are familiar with. Although more people are familiar with canning, drying your fruits and vegetables can be an excellent way to preserve your harvest and turn bushels of fresh produce into hundreds of convenient, fast meals.

A Few Great Meal Ideas

All of these meals rehydrate in minutes with boiling water. All you need to do is empty the pre-measured mylar pouches into your canteen cup of boiling water, stir, and wait for your food to rehydrate.

  • Instant Tomato Soup You can use powdered tomato to make a delicious soup base. Optional ingredients like bell pepper, spices, and powdered milk can be added to the mix. Instant tomato soup is a great campfire lunch for people with kids.
  • Thai Noodles If you grow hot peppers in your garden, try making a dish of Thai-inspired instant noodles. Small pieces of dehydrated pepper, along with a beef bouillon cube, brown sugar, and beef jerky go great with rice noodles. Since the rice noodles are so thin, they don’t need to be boiled in the water and will rehydrate in just a few minutes. You can build a lot of different ramen-style dishes using rice noodles and dried vegetables.
  • Beef Stroganoff If you decide to try drying greek yogurt, or pick up a little buttermilk powder online, then beef stroganoff is an excellent meal. Boil water in your canteen cup along with a handful of egg noodles, then add beef jerky pieces, yogurt or buttermilk powder, and dehydrated garlic and onion powder. Get The Recipe Here
  • Vegetable Rice Instant rice makes this delicious side dish incredibly easy. Dried fresh peas, green bean pieces, cooked carrot slices, and just about anything else can be added to instant boiling hot instant rice that’s been made slightly wet. In minutes you’ll have the perfect accompaniment to freshly caught fish.
  • Beef Stew Try this version of instant beef stew and you might never go back to canned. Slices of cooked and dried carrot and potato along with beef jerky, onion and garlic powder, spices, and a beef bouillon make an excellent instant campfire stew. This is another great recipe that’s easy to customize with whatever you have on hand, from dried peas and bell peppers to mushrooms and tomato.

Is It Worth the Work?

Considering that companies like Wise Foods and Legacy can offer high quality, affordable meals with a long shelf life, DIY dried foods might not be for everyone. If you’re a gardener, or you already happen to own your own dehydrator, then making your own instant meals can be a money-saving measure.

On the other hand, if you aren’t willing to put in the time, effort, and initial investment that it takes in order to get up and running, then you might find that the best option is buying an off-the-shelf meal. Pre-packaged freeze dried foods have a longer shelf life, sometimes lasting years longer than a DIY meal. They also come with the all of the research, development, and testing that major brands do in order to make sure that their meals rehydrate well and taste great.

Whether you’re making your own or picking up a pouch from a major manufacturer, it’s hard to beat the convenience and flavor of instant food when you’re out on the trail. Rather than carrying heavy cooking gear and a cooler full of ingredients, try adding a few instant meals to your pack. With a little creativity, some affordable appliances, and a bit of trial and error, you’ll be making your own long-lasting instant food straight from your backyard garden.

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helobuff July 2, 2015 - 10:32 am

Great idea~ just got a dehydrator, canner and a food saver (that arrives today). Wonder if I can use foodsaver bags to store them. How long do you think they will keep? Would be great for camping too!

Howard August 10, 2015 - 7:15 am

helobuff, foodsaver bags CAN be used to create your own versions of meals like Mountain House and others. However, the material the BIG Boys for their bags are generally a metallized plastic heavier than foodsaver bags. Additionally, the metal coating prevents light from reaching the contents which along with excess oxygen will cause quicker deterioration of the contents.
I would suggest you buy “proper” mylar bags PLUS oxygen absorbers to create your own meals for however many servings fits your needs.
FYI, the mylar bags come in a wide variety of sizes which can be helpful and several thicknesses. This can be important if your meal contents have sharp points (shredded jerky for instance) that can penetrate the pouch.
As an added measure for longevity, throw in an O2 packet of appropriate size which removes the last tiny amount of air.
As for how long they will last depends mostly on storage conditions, i.e., cool, dry and dark being the best.
All that said, if you try to FD meal components, make CERTAIN the contents are COMPLETELY dry. Otherwise any moisture can cause the contents to go rancid in short order.
Good luck and report back on your results.
FYI, with few exceptions I use Big Boy brand meals in the #10 cans which I divide to serving sizes of my choice then seal and place in a resealable bucket to prevent critters from eating through the baggies and ruin some or all.
Good luck.

tonyurso August 10, 2015 - 10:21 pm

I use vaccum seal mylar bags. Here’s a pic of what I did this past weekend.

Sandy “RhinoDNA” Allen August 8, 2016 - 11:46 pm

What is the appropriate size of oxygen absorbers to use for different sizes of Mylar/FoodSaver bags? I have 100cc and 300cc’s but am uncertain about how to,use them effectively.

Anthony August 10, 2016 - 7:22 pm

Hi Sandy,

Maybe this will help

Click here for Oxygen Absorber Information


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