Preparedness: Food

Our family moved, by intention, to a rural property in 2010 to homestead, live self-sufficiently and to prepare for whatever life threw our way! Late in 2019, we realized we had amassed our goal of food stores, but needed to plan for successful rotation of our goods. Before the 2020 pandemic was even upon us, and with the only related reason being that I had a goal to start rotating our food, I set out to turn our stored foodstuffs into our own MRE meals. I had already completed sufficient research to realize that commercially made MREs would not suit us well due to our food allergies, preference for non-soy food, and the high cost. Yet, I had bags, buckets, jars, and barrels of beans, grains, dried goods and spices to utilize for this project.

Sonia began her “spice & herb” cabinet 11 years ago, and keeps ingredients at the ready for scratch cooking and baking.

My interest in MRE meals really began in 2018, as I prepared to send my oldest son off for 4 months of wildland firefighting. He worked for a private contractor, who allowed him to join a crew knowing he had celiac disease. With his careful gluten-free diet as the only treatment, we knew he would have to navigate weeks at a time in the backcountry, and so decided to pack him up some MRE kits and custom protein shake mixes. Knowing he might have to pack much of his own food, we assembled them to be dense in calories but light in weight. Fortunately, he was able to use these kits to supplement the excellent meals that they fed the crew, albeit by often trading portions with his mates.

Back to the winter of 2020, pre-pandemic. I began to carefully craft, test, write and re-write many recipes, and eventually came up with several MRE kits that my family would not only eat, but would truly enjoy! While I had nearly all the ingredients on hand, I did have to procure a few things that we weren’t in the habit of keeping such as dehydrated vegetables for the soup mixes, tuna in foil pouches, powdered eggs and milk, etc. I already had a robust spice & herb collection and several good resources (cook books, canning books, homesteading books, etc.) for inspiration!

My goal was to create meal kits that only needed water, and could be prepared with the very basic of skills and cooking equipment. After much creative work in the kitchen, and endless taste-testing by family, friends and neighbors, the end result was compact MREs that could be assembled into a collection of meal choices and packed into portable lidded buckets and totes. These could then be grabbed quickly for planned events (such as camping trips or travel) or unplanned circumstances (power outage, evacuation, etc.) Moreover, I created a next-level peace of mind for my family. By the end of January 2020, I had a collection of nutritious and delicious meals that would serve up to 8 people for 2 months. And it is real food, quite simple to make, and my family LOVES the choices: biscuits & gravy, pancakes with scrambled eggs & hashbrowns, chili, tuna-mac, pasta-e-fagioli, black bean soup and much more!

Now is it 2021, and we have endured nearly a full year of the COVID pandemic. I decided that it was time to start rotating these MREs, so I brought a bucket in from the pantry (a separate outdoor building on our property) and began to cook them up. So far, everything I packaged has held up extremely well, tastes wonderful and is exactly what I had in mind when I created the MREs. Last year, in order to assemble the 8 kits (each with a week of food for up to 8 people), I made 8 recipes of each of 7 breakfast meals and 7 dinner meals, and filled in the gaps (literal gaps in the buckets & totes, but also caloric/protein gaps in the meal plan) with granola bars, dried fruit & meat, etc. All of that is now being evaluated for how well it has stood up in storage for the past year.

As well as the MREs, the buckets and totes include lists of contents, instructions for use, and many supplemental items (which started as a way to fill the small spaces) – see my list for ideas here:

Now, it is a year later, in January 2021, and we have been dealing with this pandemic for nearly a year. As it is time to rotate these MREs into our daily meal planning (and to “rebuild” them as we go) I will be unpacking the buckets and totes and publishing recipes, photos, and tips & tricks to help you on a preparedness journey of your own!

“The Pantry” was started in November 2020 and while still a work in progress, keeps over 4,000 jars of home canned food, dry goods, and winter produce (including potatoes, onions, apples, citrus, etc.) in a cool, insulated free-standing building.

The unique aspect to this idea is that you can customize these recipes to suit your family’s own unique needs and preferences. Feel free to adapt them yourself to be gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, low carb, vegetarian or vegan, etc. You can also make the recipes smaller, but we felt that in the event of an emergency, we not only may feed a few more folks, but our caloric needs might be greater. If we prepare a full meal for fewer people, either it could serve two meals in a row, help to feed our dogs, or become “leftovers” if refrigeration exists.

Not be left out, I began canning homemade dog food for our MRE kits, too! (We have been feeding homemade food to our Labradors for nearly 10 years…) For this meal, the broth is drained off the “stew” and used to cook oats which are served for breakfast along with raw eggs & milk, salmon oil and a kelp-flax-yeast supplement. The “stew” is served for dinner, the quart jar split between two very healthy (and spoiled!) yellow labs. The stews are all varied: carrots, sweet or white potatoes, winter squash, venison, rabbit, chicken, etc. Salt, pork or fat are never added. My canner holds 14 quarts, so when I have a case of empty jars, I simply get 5# each of veggie (carrot, squash, etc.) 5# starch (sweet or white potato), and 5# meat. Divide among the jars, add water to cover, and process at 10# (under 1,000 feet above sea level) for 90 minutes.

As the months of 2020 went on, and the pandemic grew worse, I came up with more and more items to add to our kits, and eventually added the needed supplies to sprout seeds for green food, comfort foods & beverages, and even food for our pets. Now, these kits are distributed across the property (after a fire, we learned to not keep all our “eggs in one basket”) and so we keep some in the pantry, in the shop, a few in the cabin, a couple in the RV, and so on. One goal I am working on this month is to stash a few that are truly ready-to-grab (maybe even swapping in freeze dried meats for the home-canned jars?) in a hall closet, along with a list (of other grab-n-go items from the house) taped to the inside of the closet door – stay tuned!

Some of the “equipment” that I acquired to accompany our kits includes:

  • A biomass cookstove with pot (Stove Tec’s Bigfoot model is made here in Oregon!)
    • This stove efficiently burns wood or charcoal and includes a double walled 7L stainless steel pot that heats water/food quickly.
  • Cast iron skillets for home use and lightweight skillets for travel (stay tuned… I’m working on recipes for stovetop muffins, brownies and cookies, too!)

Besides our own food preserves (garden, foraged, hunted, etc.) the sources of our bulk ingredients include:

  • Azure Standard – an Oregon company (since 1987) that delivers healthy bulk food products to our town once monthly; favorite items include their bulk herbs, spices, dried fruit and nuts.
  • Bob’s Red Mill – though we moved away from our favorite mill in Milwaukie, Oregon, we still make a regular return trip to stock up on their GF grains.
  • WinCo Foods – an employee owned supermarket that carries bulk food, has great prices on staples, and happily special-orders things we need.
  • Smart Foodservice – formerly Cash & Carry, the restaurant supply store we discovered when we owned our food, have quantities at great prices.
  • Auguson Farms – the Utah based (since 1972) dehydrated foods company where we source many dairy products and dried vegetables.

How to use the recipes:

  • When a recipe indicates a dairy ingredient such as butter or sour cream, the equivalent amount of powdered product is used; similarly with broth, the powdered bouillon is used as it will reconstitute during cooking. *Dry milk and cheese powder is measured as specified.
  • Nutritional info is PER serving. I was aiming for a certain caloric and protein intake daily per person. I used an online recipe tool to calculate nutritional information.
  • Package items separately where appropriate, such as the dry beans that need soaking, separately from the spice mix, etc. (obviously if you are preparing food at home, feel free to use a short-cut like a pressure cooker for those beans!)
  • I will be updating the recipes soon with “how to refill” the kit instructions – stay tuned!

Other useful tips:

  • Save the packaging you used with the label to easily “rebuild” that meal kit. I.e. I packed my kits into various size ziploc baggies or vacuum sealed bags and printed labels for them.
  • Plan ahead and make up a batch of meals all at once. I.e. I would get out all of my ingredients to ensure I had sufficient quantities, then set out the supplies, measuring cups/spoons, etc. and enlist a helper to keep the list checked off and ensure every kit received the proper ingredient. *This is a great idea for a young helper who can use measuring spoons & cups!
  • My kits only include a breakfast and a dinner as the “cooked” MREs, but plenty of snacks for an extra meal – see my complete list here: *coming soon!*
  • Meanwhile, I offer the completed recipes as ideas for which to build your own. As I come across useful tips, I will add them here, too. Please reach out with questions anytime –