Monday, November 14, 2011
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.
• They had to be in a sturdy container (We live in earthquake country, so no glass containers for us.)
• They need to be complete. You could add to them, but the recipe shouldn't require any extra ingredients.
• They needed to be simple – so that our children could make them, in case the adults were incapacitated.
• They needed to be good tasting, hearty and nutritious.
• They needed to be capable of long term storage.
• And, If possible they needed to use the supplies of food stuffs we already had on hand.
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!
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:
• The cost of each meal varies due to the ingredients but they average about $4.00 each.
• An impulse sealer isn’t required but makes it a lot easier. (We still have some Chicken Soup in a Food Saver bags and they are doing well.)
• You will need to do some conversions to make sure you have the items you will need in bulk. This is the one that I used. But a good way to do it was to see what the FDA label said were in a package (Unit size vs. number in container.)
• The more hands you have to process the meals the better. It’s easier to make two hundred meals for fifteen families, than fifteen meals for one family.
• An assembly line makes it all work very easily.
• It’s hard to tell exactly how long they will store, but most of the dehydrated items purchased say they will store for up to twenty years, and that sounds good to me!
• You can tailor your meals for your dietary needs and personal tastes (No/low salt, gluten free, etc.)
• With all your items on hand and with enough helpers you can make about five hundred meals in two hours.
• Because of their light weight, they ship quite well. They are great for gifts.
• A 16oz plastic picnic cup with its bottom cut out makes a great funnel/opener for the Mylar bags.
• Go to the dollar store and buy a few sets of measuring spoons and cups, you’ll need them.
• All of our now 200ish meals store under our son's twin size bed.
• Meals we’ve successfully made: Split Pea Soup, Chicken Soup, Ham Hock Stew, White Rice and Chili, Mac-n-cheese, Black Bean Chili, Pasta Fagioli, and Chicken and Rice.
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.
PS-all pictures were added by me. I can't stand a boring post. Y'all have a good 'un.