Dehydrated Meals are meals that consist of food ingredients that have been dehydrated or freeze dried. The appeal to the modern survivalist is that the food is light, compact and generally will have a long shelf life. When compared to MREs, canned food, or other types of pre-packaged foods they are more convenient for traveling and storing thanks to their reduced weight and variety of options for storing. This is offset by their higher cost, and the need for potable water to rehydrate them. To save on cost one can create their own dehydrated foods.
There are two primary dehydration processes, one using heat and the other using cold (i.e. below freezing) temperatures to dry the food. Commercially available dehydrated meals are often freeze dried, meaning they require no cooking, only water of the correct temperature added to them.
Heat Dried Foods
Heat drying requires a dehydrator, which works by an electric fan circulating heated air until the foods are removed of sufficient moisture to prevent rotting to occur. Heat dried foods are generally not prepared as full meals but are ingredients for meals such as dried legumes, vegetables, fruits, herbs and nuts. You can use these individual dehydrated ingredients to package or cook as a meal Dried meats (i.e. beef jerky) and fruit leathers are edible dehydrated foods that do not require reconstitution, merely water to drink with them.
Freeze Dried Foods
Freeze drying or "Lyophilization" has been around for centuries. The principle of freeze drying was known to the ancient Incas in the high Andes Mountains where foods left in the dry cold air would dehydrate and later found to be edible by rehydration. In 1905 a scientist named Shackell took the idea of using a vacuum pump to dry out frozen foods creating freeze drying. During WW-II freeze drying was used for blood plasma and penicillin to preserve them till needed on the battlefield. Since the 1960's hundreds of foods have been freeze dried first for the space program and then for other more recreational uses.
Many companies that make freeze dried foods also offer freeze dried meals, where they will prepackage all of the freeze dried foods together with sauces and spices to make an easily transportable meal. These meals are very convenient and will re-hydrate and cook in a very short time(usually in 10 to 15 minutes). This makes them convenient for a situation where there isn't time for standard meal preparation and you need to eat food that delivers both nutrition and a high calorie count. The downside to these meals is that they are usually loaded with sodium and other items that may not fit with your nutritional plan, and they can be expensive.
Making your own Dehydrated Meals
One benefit of making your own dehydrated meals, compared to purchasing prepackaged meals, is that you are able to have more control of the ingredients that are in the meals. Dietary restrictions or taste preferences allow you to use whatever dried foods that you want, and omit any food, seasonings or chemical preservatives that you don't wish to be in your meal. Some vendors of freeze dried, and dehydrated food products, such as Honeyville Grain, Provident Pantry, and Thrive Foods, will have recipes available for making your own meals. Or you can experiment with your food storage items to see what works best for you and your family.
Meals In a Jar
A meal in a jar is made up of several dried, shelf stable ingredients placed in a standard pint or quart sized mason jar, this is also known as "dry canning". The items can consist of any combination of freeze dried or dehydrated meat, vegetables, fruits, herbs, seasonings, or powders. Once the ingredients are added to the jar, the jar must be sealed with a vacuum sealer or an oxygen absorber will need to be added and then the jar topped with a lid and ring. Most dehydrated meals in a jar will last 5-10 years depending on the dried food items inside. When you are ready to eat the meal in a jar, you will mix the contents into potable water to rehydrate and then simmer, boil or bake to heat, cook the meal.
Dehydrated Meals In a Mylar Bag
Similar to the method described with meals in a jar, you can also package and store your own dehydrated meals in mylar bags. Mylar bags have the added benefit of being much lighter, and durable for storage and transportation. You will also need to use an oxygen absorber or a vacuum sealer to give the meal a longer shelf life.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Agriculture on Drying Food
- National Center for Home Food Preservation's page on dehydrating foods
- Mountainhouse freeze dried foods home page
- Nitro-Pak Preparedness Center Inc.
- Emergency Essentials "Be Prepared" page for food storage including dehydrated foods
- | Honeyville Grain, distributor for food storage, dehydrated and freeze dried foods
- | Honeyville Foods YouTube channel with recipes for Meals in a Jar
- Survival Acres, distributor of dehydrated and freeze dried foods
- Your Food Storage, another distributor of dehydrated foods
- | Chef Tess meals in a jar recipe ideas