Monday, March 12, 2018

"Prepper" foods: you may not like what you eat

A news report last weekend mentioned that a major retailer is offering various "package deals" on freeze-dried foods, designed to provide nutrition for up to a year for individuals or families.  It's not a bad idea, albeit rather expensive . . . but there are other factors to consider.

Such foods offer a number of advantages;  light weight, ease of preparation (usually, just add hot water), and a certain variety.  However, they also rely on additives such as salt, spices and preservatives to provide or enhance flavor.  These can get very monotonous after a while.  If you doubt that, try living on such foods alone for just two weeks, and you'll see how quickly you can become tired of them.  A year of eating them would probably drive anyone to desperation!  There are also obvious health risks in eating too much salt.

I have no objection to freeze-dried foods.  I have several dozen freeze-dried meal packets in my emergency food storage.  However, they're there as quick-and-easy food for times when it may be inconvenient to take longer preparing meals.  They're not the largest or most important part of our preparations.  I think most of us will be better served by storing food in three categories.

Category One is the stuff we eat every day.  If you usually use several cans of beans each month, why not double or triple your usual quantities of them, and treat the surplus as a short-term reserve?  A dozen cans each of black, navy, pinto, kidney and baked beans gives a total of 60 cans - enough for two to three months, when used with other foods as well.  The same goes for canned corn, peas, green beans, carrots, or whatever.  Simply increasing the supply on hand will go a long way towards meeting short-term needs.

Category Two is medium-term food, things we might not use on a regular basis, but which will substitute for them at a pinch.  I classify freeze-dried meals in this category.  I'd also add cans of meat, such as corned beef, Spam, tuna, and so on.  Again, buy more of what you usually consume, and store it.  You can add cans of meat products you might not ordinarily use, such as beef stew, chicken breast, etc., and rotate them as they come near to the end of their useful life.

Category Three is long-term food:  rice, dry beans, pasta, dried milk, sugar, flour, and other foods that can be stored in bulk, usually vacuum-sealed using mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, or #10 cans.  We put them aside in suitable storage containers and conditions, and forget about them.  Ideally, we'll accumulate enough for at least two to three months;  some recommend sufficient for a year or more, if you can afford it and have enough space to store that much.  I can't and don't.  YMMV, of course.

Of course, we don't use each category in isolation.  We'll stretch our Category One and Two foods by adding Category Three foods as "fillers" or base items.  A bowl of pasta served with a can of tuna makes a nutritious meal, and is easy to prepare.  We can also fill out our freeze-dried foods by layering them on top of a pile of rice.  However, the variety also means we don't have to eat just one type of food to the point where we get sick and tired of it.

Don't forget flavorings and seasonings, either.  Salt, pepper, herbs, spices, sauces (Worcestershire, Sriracha, ketchup, etc.), mustard, vinegar, pasta sauces, etc. - all should be stored along with our emergency food supplies, to help make them more palatable and flavorful.  That's very important if we're having to exist on such foods for a long period.  Don't forget cooking oil and other ingredients necessary for cooking - including dish-washing soap or detergent!  Of course, some means to purify and store water is also essential, given that we'll be cooking, cleaning and washing with it, as well as drinking it.  It's no good having a thousand pounds of rice in store if there's no water in which to cook it!



Rob said...

I think those packages sold at Costco are to give the affluent piece of mind.

tweell said...

Most of the Costco emergency food is pasta, wheat and rice, the freeze-dried food is a minor component. The 'beef' and 'chicken' is TVP. As Rob said, this is for folks with more money than brains.

At least that year kit is providing 2000 calories per day, most of the kits I've seen are 1300-1400 calories per day. Talk about starvation rations!

Anonymous said...

IF we ever come to a place where we need those kits. The ones that don't have them will be more than willing to murder the ones that do have them, and the won't give a S*** about taste, content, variety, nutrition, or calorie count. Only that they have there bellies filled.

LL said...

You should eat what you store and rotate the food (as practical).

Old NFO said...

Excellent post, but I can't believe you left out Tabasco! Sigh... :-D

Sherm said...

My wife, food storer extraordinaire, goes a step further. Somewhere in our basement is a #10 can of candy because sometimes "you just want a treat." We have cans of butter out of Australia, because butter. I think there's some dough conditioner to help make for better bread. The basics were covered years ago so now when she buys it's to make what we have more palatable or easier. Canned cheese? Yep. Canned bacon? Yep. Fireless cooker? Yep.

Judy said...

Only one of you have mentioned a way to COOK what you have stored. Without several different ways to cook the food you have stored, you might as well not even bother. Oh, and without water, freeze-dried foods are just as useless.

Tony Tsquared said...

Military MRE's are the ultimate prepper food. It has evolved from the freeze dried crap to some palatable meals. But the problem eating MRE's every day is they get very old very quickly.

I lived off MRE's for just over 2 months during Desert Storm. I have to be very hungry to tear open a MRE every since.

Stan_qaz said...

Living many miles from the nearest available water (if the lights go out) I worry a lot more about that than food.

We have changed our food rotation plans, we were finding many of the foods, like canned meats or flavored beans, that were on their last few months of shelf life didn't taste nearly as good as fresher stuff. We are now looking at trying to use 1/2 of the listed shelf life as our rotation date.

Will said...


HOW you store the food can have an impact on shelf life and taste. Elevated temperatures is the biggest culprit, along with freezing as the second biggest problem. If you have both conditions from seasonal swings, good luck!

Living in a desert? (from your water statement) Consider digging a "root cellar", to give you a stable temperature environment for your stores. Just a few feet underground can make a huge difference in ambient temps, by using the earth as a heat sink. Ground water/flooding is normally the most common problem to deal with in constructing a useful storage room.

Anonymous said...

Store-bought survival food is OK, but with the "big packages" you're buying what someone thousands of miles away thinks you need/want. Tweell and Anon at 11:52 have it about right - they're not usually the food you (or your family) would choose to eat, and they're pretty uniformly short on calories, esp. protein. I've found it better to go with 6-can and 3-can packs to get the food we want, esp. the protein.

RE: cans: has fully adjustable FIFO can storage, in a couple different sizes/formats. Not cheap, but very useful.

RE: Mylar bags - outstanding for bulk food (rice, macaroni, flour, beans, etc.) storage in 5-gallon buckets, either in a 5-gallon mylar bag, or several 1-gallon ones; Pro tips: 1) Buy a Foodsaver (a garden variety vacuum pump will also work, but add a vac gauge in the line-at >22 inches of mercury you're no longer removing air, you're removing individual particles, so 22-23 in/mg is plenty), seal 99% of the opening, insert tube from Foodsaver/vac pump, pinch around tube for a seal, extract air, complete seal. For extra points include oxy absorbers, super-extra points for absorbers in the middle of the bulk food AND on top (whatever size absorber you think you need, double it, they're cheap and there's no such thing as "absorbing too much oxygen" (another tip: learn how to preserve your unused absorbers; ).

Foodsaver makes lid vacuum attachments for standard and wide mouth Ball jars, which are great in quart and 2-quart sizes (2-qt holds more, is handier, 6X 2qt is about the same $$ as 12X 1qt, total volume is = ), pints are small enough to seem to be useful only for vacuum storing oxy absorbers to preserve them, or for drinking good whiskey. Only problem with jars is they're glass; solution is make plywood crates for them (won't disintegrate when wet like cardboard) - best seems to be in a 3X3 matrix for 2-qt, 4X4 matrix for 1-qt, 2-qts 1 layer high, 1-qt can be stacked 2 layers with a 1/4 plywood sheet between. Tip: 3X3 2-qt crates will NOT be the same size as 4X4 1-qt, so stack separately. Design your crates for stacking so weight goes to the crate sides, not the crate contents, a sheet of 1/2" plywood between crates helps - 9X 2qt of salt, sugar or other dry goods will be heavy (each 2 qt holds 3.7 lbs salt, 9X=33lbs+jar weight) and leave just enough space between jars for cardbard sheet "rattle dampers" as glass-to-glass cushions. Don't forget something in the way of handles. Pro tip: keep lots and lots of jar lids on hand, the rings last forever, but it's easy to damage a lid when removing it from a vac-sealed jar, just enough damage so it won't vac seal again.

Insty just re-linked to Sarah's Cheap Eats ( and Gayle's Strategic Shopping ( pages. Very useful info, esp. the recipes in comments at Sarah's.

Bruce said...

Not all freeze-dried is the same. While you can get freeze-dried prepared meals - Mountain House's backpacker meals are awesome - you can also get cans of freeze-dried basic staples. Freeze dried carrots, potatoes, green beans, fruit, freeze dried meat - both real meat and TVP - and many others. You then mix the staples to make a meal like you normally would. You do have to have a reliable water source, but you need that whether you're using freeze-dried food or not.

Anonymous said...

We keep freeze dried food as a back-up to normal commercial and home grown provisioning. We keep several cases of MREs for some added versatility. We've taste tested all of the above beforehand to make sure it's palatable. In a truly dire emergency situation where we've eaten through our normal provisioning and we're down to MREs and freeze dried stuff I didn't want to find out the stuff tastes like old socks. The newer MREs are really quite good. Much better than the gulf war era stuff. They're just about as good as any processed food you'll find in a grocery store but they're prohibitively expensive and the shelf life isn't as good as dehydrated. The dehydrated stuff, mostly Mountain House and Ready Reserve are quite decent. The stuff you store not only needs to be palatable in an emergency but it's going to come to the end of its shelf life eventually and unless you're prepared to chuck lots of hard earned $$$$ into the trash you're gonna be working it into your diet for a while until it's used up.