Dehydrated Dinners: 21 Tips for getting started

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dehydrated dinners

Donna writes, “I was wanting to add a bit of MRE type packaged food for emergencies and travel etc. However, when I’ve looked into some of the popular brands and looked at the ingredients, we couldn’t possibly purchase them. It seems they all have some form of MSG as well as other ingredients we can’t eat. Due to my own health issues, I have to stick to a strict low sodium diet. One of my daughters has extreme food and chemical allergies.

So I’m trying to figure out if anyone has come up with any packaged MRE type foods that are actually healthy without the chemicals/gmos, etc. Do you know of a product like this?

Yes!  There is someone who can make healthier packaged meals for long-term storage, and that person is you! Creating your own meal mixes from freeze-dried and/or dehydrated food is fairly easy. It starts with choosing appropriate recipes, deciding how it will be packaged and stored, and then putting together the ingredients using mostly dehydrated and freeze-dried foods.

The benefits are many.

  1. You know exactly what is in your recipe and what isn’t.
  2. You control the cost of your dehydrated meals. If a certain recipe contains expensive ingredients, find another.
  3. You can use ingredients you dehydrate yourself.
  4. Depending on space available, your meals can be packaged in either mylar bags or jars.
  5. Your meals will be recipes your family already knows and enjoys.

Freeze dried and dehydrated main dishes, such as those made by Mountain House, are on many a prepper’s To Buy list. However, for some families, the extra expense or unwanted additives place these commercially produced meals off-limits. With a little planning, you can make your own. Here are a few tips for getting started.

  1. Although you can definitely include your own dehydrated foods, keep in mind that putting together numerous meals using the same recipe will require a lot of each ingredient. Therefore, it might be worth spending a bit extra to purchase commercially dehydrated or freeze dried foods for this project. DIY dehydrated foods have a shorter shelf life than do their commercially dried counterparts. Keep that in mind.
  2. A good resource for dehydrated and freeze-dried foods that I’ve used for years is Thrive Life. Legacy Food Storage is another company I highly recommend and am affiliated with.
  3. The shelf life of your finished dinners will be equivalent to that of the ingredient with the shortest shelf life. For example, a recipe containing pasta will have a shelf life of about seven or eight years, maximum, because that is the shelf life of pasta.
  4. Some freeze-dried vegetables are more delicate than their dehydrated counterparts.  You may want to place those veggies at the top of the mix to prevent them from being crushed over time or use the dehydrated version.
  5. Dehydrated eggs, sour cream, butter, and milk will have to be purchased from a company like Thrive Life or Legacy Food Storage.
  6. IMPORTANT!  If you’re making a mix from one of your own recipes, your first batch will be experimental. Combine the ingredients, keep a record of the amounts, and then prepare the recipe as a meal. How much water did you add?  How long was the cooking time?  Be sure to record this information and make adjustments before preparing the remaining meals.  Make sure to have your family do a taste test!
  7. If you’ll be storing your meals in quart-size canning jars, keep in mind that the jar will only hold 4 cups of food so all of the dry ingredients for your recipe will have to meet that limit. If you’re storing your meal mixes in mylar bags or vacuum-sealed Food Saver bags, then you won’t need to be constrained by the 4-cup limit.
  8. It makes sense to prepare several batches of each recipe rather than just one. Be sure to have enough of each ingredient on hand. You may be surprised by how much is required, but keep in mind you’re preparing many future meals.
  9. In addition to ingredients, you’ll need some sort of storage container. Canning jars and mylar bags are your best bet. Use oxygen absorbers if you plan on storing the mixes long-term, say, longer than a year.  If a camping or backpacking trip is in your near future, the mixes can be kept in large zip-loc bags.
  10. I love using canning jars for all sorts of purposes, but they are heavy and breakable. Keep that in mind when you select how you’ll store your Dehydrated Dinners.
  11. A Food Saver system works as long as none of the ingredients are likely to puncture the plastic bag.
  12. For storage, keep in mind the five enemies of food: heat, humidity, oxygen, light, and pests. Keep your meals stored in cool, dark, and dry locations and be aware of pests like mice who can easily chew through a Food Saver or mylar bag.
  13. Here’s a tip for organizing your mixes. Store mixes of the same recipe in a labeled food-grade bucket. Example: Vegetarian Chili — all 16 packets of it in one 5-gallon bucket. Be sure to label the bucket as well as each packet/jar.
  14. To get started with your own recipe, choose a soup, stew, chili, or a casserole. The ideal recipe will contain ingredients that can all be converted to a dehydrated version. Be prepared to do a bit of tweaking. Choosing the right recipe and getting the right proportions of ingredients is the hardest part of this process, so be sure to write down all the ingredients that make up each recipe so you can make the mixes again and again.
  15. Recipes that contain a lot of cheese aren’t good candidates for Dehydrated Dinners. However, you can add the cheese as an “optional” ingredient in your recipe for times when fresh cheese is available.
  16. If a recipe contains an ingredient that is normally canned, such as diced tomatoes, it’s perfectly fine to omit that ingredient in your dehydrated mix and then plan on adding that canned item when it’s time to prepare the meal.  Just make a note of it, and then be sure to have enough stored in your pantry. Another option is freeze-dried chopped tomatoes. You’ll have to add extra water to rehydrate them, but they do have a long shelf life.
  17. One dehydrated recipe to master is marinara sauce.  Combine tomato powder with garlic, herbs, and salt.  Taste test small amounts with a bit of water until you have a combination you love.  You can store the mix in jars or mylar bags or use it in recipes that call for prepared marinara sauce.  Thrive Life carries tomato powder or you can make your own by processing dehydrated tomato slices in a blender until completely powdered.
  18. If you convert only five recipes to Dehydrated Dinners and prepare eight of each recipe, that’s forty dinners!
  19. Dehydrated Dinners will only be one part of your food storage.  They’ll come in handy when you’re too sick to cook or the family needs a really quick meal.  Their main purpose is convenience.
  20. It’s better to give than receive.  Having multiple Dehydrated Dinners will allow you to share them with others in need.
  21. Jump right in!  The more practice you get in spotting suitable recipes, the easier it becomes.  Once you have a recipe your family enjoys, it’s just a matter of converting it to a dehydrated version and assembling all the ingredients.
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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

14 thoughts on “Dehydrated Dinners: 21 Tips for getting started”

  1. I am so glad to see this series, thank you. We are a gluten free family, which limits our choices for commercially prepared MREs. I will also try the book you recommended in Part 1.

  2. You can get a jar sealer that works with the Food Savers and store your dehydrated meals in quart jars! They work wonderfully and you can even reuse the jar lids! I also use this to seal chocolate chips, nuts, candy, etc. to add to my food storage!

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  6. I am new to dehydrating & would like to entertain the thought of dehydrating a meal for lunch, at work or a quick dinner when I get home late. Taking the recipe, for example, Turkey Garbanzo Bean and Kale Soup with Pasta, would I dehydrate after its prepared or dehydrate ingredients individually?

    1. You could do both. One thing to keep in mind is that dehydrated garbanzo beans, for example, will need far more cooking time to rehydrate than something like kale. It might be best to combine all the quicker cooking ingredients and then place beans, in particular, in a small ziploc bag for cooking separately, first, and then adding the remaining ingredients. Does that make sense?

      You can also fully prepare the soup/dish and dehydrate it, but I would try that first with a small batch — dehydrate and then rehydrate to determine if the process is do-able and if you like the rehydrated results. Good luck!

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