It all started while reading Survivalblog. In an article about providing charity during a pandemic and not getting sick, Jim talked about putting food out where others could get it and then retreating to keep a safe distance between you and other people to keep your family from getting infected. While reading this article, I had an epiphany.
Instead of handing out some rice, wheat, oats or a can of spam, I could concoct a “meal”, a Home-Made Meal (Almost) Ready to Eat (HMMARE?). My first HMMARE idea was to dump 1 cup of rice, a chicken bouillon cube, ¼ cup of chicken TVP and a ¼ cup of dehydrated peas into a Ziploc sandwich bag. It would be easy, just add three cups of water and boil, viola, a decent meal!
I joyously told my wife about my great new idea. “Yuck,” she said, “we can do better than that!” So she sent me back to the drawing board (although these days 'the drawing board' looks more like a Google search engine than an architect's table). I scoured the internet endlessly until finally I came across a web site where a woman had thoughts similar to mine, and had made what she called “365 meals”. She had taken the reserves that she already had on hand and combined them with a project that her church group had done in years past. They made “Soup in a Jar” meals to give as gifts during the holiday season. She adapted this idea and thought that if she could make 365 meals then she would KNOW that at least she had one decent meal a day for her family for an entire year.
This idea set my mind racing. My wife and I sat down and worked out a plan. We had several criteria that we wanted our meals to meet.
We quickly worked out what we could do to make this a better option for our family. We learned from the (now extinct) 365 meals web page that the host had used the recipe book “Gifts in a Jar: One Dish Meals”. I turned to Amazon.com and discovered there were several books in the Gifts in a Jar series, and we purchased the ones that looked most applicable (like: Gifts From a Jar: Soups, Chilis & More). We wanted to start simply with items we already had on hand, and make a few meals in our kitchen. The first recipe we made was chicken soup. The recipe called for making a soup “stock” and adding fresh carrots, celery and chicken pieces. We adapted it with dehydrated carrots, celery and chicken TVP and more water than the recipe called for to rehydrate the vegetables. (TVP is Textured Vegetable Protein; it is a cheap and long term solution for dehydrated protein in meals. Real dehydrated chicken is also available on the market, but at 5 times the cost. Although Textured Vegetable Protein sounds unappetizing at first glance, chances are, you've had it without even knowing it. Bacon Bits are TVP!) [JWR Adds: I don't recommend stocking storage foods that are heavy in TVP, because of the potential health consequences. Too much soy can be a bad thing.]
Now that we'd settled on a test-recipe, we had to figure out how, exactly, we were going to store them. We had a “Food Saver” vacuum sealer and that seemed like a good solution. Take out all the air and the meal should last a good long time right? So we gathered all the ingredients, had our children help with the assembly and made our first batch. The recipe said that the meal would feed 4 to 6 people and we had a family of six-two adults and four growing children, so we decided to double the recipe. Each meal was about the size of a 3lb. chub of hamburger (10” long x 8” in circumference). We made the meals until we ran out of ingredients, which yielded about 15 meals. After they were vacu-sealed we then set about to find another meal to make-we were on a roll!
Our next meal (Untested by our professional taste testing children) was Ham Hock Stew. My wife and I thought it sounded wonderful, but our children disagreed. As before, we altered the recipe to fit our storage needs and made a few. When we were sealing the soups we noticed that the dehydrated carrots that were called for in the recipe were poking through the Food Saver Bags! We were crestfallen-how had our brilliant plan been foiled by a dehydrated vegetable? Just then we remembered that we had recently been gifted with an impulse sealer and 250 Mylar bags (A member of our church said he bought it, never used it and no one in his family wanted it, so he thought I would put it to good use-boy was he right!). It didn’t draw a vacuum, but we could overcome that by using oxygen absorbers; and the Mylar bags were much thicker than the Food Saver Bags (7 mils instead of 4). I knew that food stored in opaque storage containers kept food longer due to the deteriorating effects of sunlight, and these Mylar bags were sure to keep the sun out.
We decided that the bags were too large (11” x 13”) so we cut them in half length wise and that was a perfect fit. We then transferred most of the Food Saver pouches to the new Mylar bags. After making 30 or so meals we decided to try one out. Our kids wanted the Chicken Soup but we wanted to know if they would like the ham hock stew...they didn’t like it…..THEY LOVED IT!
Since we had doubled the recipe we expected to have a little left over…boy were we wrong. There was enough to feed Sherman’s Army! We all had our fill, and there was enough left over for me to have lunch the next day, and freeze enough for dinner for our family again! (Guess we really didn’t need to double those recipes after all).
With this success under our belt we expanded, we ended up making about 12 different recipes and a total of 175 or so meals (since we doubled most of them we didn’t need as many). We took this idea to our friends and family and it was an instant success! After a few YouTube videos on the subject (Food Storage Secrets, 365 Meals or Making 365 Meals and others) we have demonstrated this method of food storage for over two years now, including several Church groups who have made upwards of 8,000 meals! (I guess we put that gifted impulse sealer to good use, huh!?) And I have had at least 50 other inquiries from individuals and groups wanting recipes and advice on how to make this work for them.
After having personally been at these 8,000 meal making groups we have learned a few things to make this process fun and inexpensive. Here are the FAQs:
Our food stores are varied and deep but our TEOTWAWKI 365 meal plan is to have a simple breakfast, of oats or grains, a hearty lunch/supper of our bagged meal, and a dinner of breads and snacks. I know that having one meal a day does not a full food plan make, but to know for sure that you have at least one meal a day for an entire year takes the guess work out of your planning, although the very best benefit is peace of mind.
I'm sharing this food storage concept with SurvivalBlog readers in the hope that it will inspire you to move ahead and get your meals set aside. If there is enough interest I will be making “Meal Kits” in the future. If you'd like to contact me with questions, to purchase a full list of recipes and instructions for the soups mentioned here, or to purchase emergency preparedness supplies, please visit my web site: FrostCPR.com.