Long-term storage food like Mountain House and Wise Foods have become increasingly popular in the prepper community. Unfortunately, the prices per meal on these just-add-water foods have caught up to the demand. Currently, a single serving of these types of meals (and let’s be honest, those servings are tiny) is running anywhere from $2.50-$3.50 depending on the variety and vendor.
Today we’re going to discuss how we can make a comparable alternative to these long-term storage food options for less than half the typical price. We’re also going to give you a sample recipe to make your own long-term storage meal that will put the Mountain House and Wise brand to shame.
What you’ll need
- A food dehydrator – Obviously an expensive Excalibur brand dehydrator would be ideal, but any dehydrator that has accurate temperature gauges and displays will work just fine.
- Ingredients (will vary by recipe, we’ll give ingredients to these examples in the recipe)
- Sealable bags – This isn’t completely necessary. You could put these meals in an unsealed jar or bag, but taking the air out will significantly extend the shelf-life of your meals. The cheapest option would be an inexpensive handheld vacuum sealer with the included sealable bags.
The method we will be using for this is dehydrating. Dehydrating is a little different than the typical preparation that Mountain House and Wise use for many of their meals. They will typically freeze-dry their ingredients. However, most of us don’t have several thousands of dollars (on the low end) to invest in a freeze-drying machine. Freeze drying does mean that the shelf-life of foods can be extended without using a vacuum (notice that Mountain House and Wise still have significant air in the bags) and freeze drying does help with preventing as many nutrients and minerals from leeching out of the ingredients, but again, not many people have access to a freeze-dryer, and the point of this article is finding a COST-EFFECTIVE solution to conventional freeze-dried log-term storage foods.
Dehydrating is an effective food storage preparation because it removes air and moisture from foods. Bacteria (the bacteria that spoil foods) require air and moisture to thrive, therefore, by removing as much air and moisture as we can from foods, it eliminates the bacteria’s “life support system” and allows foods to be stored pretty much indefinitely as long as it’s in a controlled area.
Next we will go over a simple dehydrating recipe that will teach you everything you need to know to start making your own long-term food storage and start saving money.
5 Minute SURVIVAL Chicken Alfredo
Makes 4 servings (Since the dehydrating process does take a long time, it is a good idea to fill up the dehydrator trays with as much as possible. A typical inexpensive dehydrator should be able to do 16-20 pieces of chicken in 1 sitting)
Retail Price – approximately $12.00-$15.00
Do It Yourself Price – approximately $7.00 or less
(Your price per serving can be reduced significantly by buying in bulk, using generic label ingredients or using money-saving coupons)
4 chicken breasts
1 can of your favorite Alfredo sauce
1 box of fettuccini noodles
Salt & Pepper (to season)
1 small can of peas
One of the major benefits to using long-term dehydrated foods is that they can be cooked in just a couple minutes just by adding a couple cups of hot water. The majority of ingredients in dehydrating will need to be blanched or “par-cooked”. Dehydrating is done AFTER the food has been pre-cooked.
1. Use your favorite cooking method to cook your chicken. You can bake the chicken, saute it in a pan or even grill the chicken. (I wouldn’t attempt to dehydrate fried chicken though) Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Set the chicken aside to finish its “carry-over cooking” and cool. (Feel free to use any of your favorite spices and seasonings on the chicken)
(Typically 160 degrees is on the low end of what is a safe temperature for poultry, however not only will the chicken continue to cook for a few minutes after its been taken off the heat, but it will be “cooking” longer in the dehydrator as well)
2. Blanch the peas for a minute in hot water then spread them out on a paper towel to dry. (This isn’t completely necessary as canned peas are already cooked. However, they seem to taste a little better after a quick blanch. Raw peas will need to be blanched for 3-4 minutes)
3. Pre-cook your pasta. Only cook the pasta to “Al-dente” or even a few minutes before depending on how soft you want the final product to be. Lay the pre-cooked pasta on paper towels to dry.
4. Cut the chicken up into thin, short strips about 2” long by 1” wide. It is important to slice the chicken thin as it will take less time to dehydrate.
5. Place the chicken strips on the dehydrator trays. Set the temperature for 145 degrees and let it dehydrate for 8 hours. (this timing may vary depending on your dehydrator and how thin the chicken was cut) The easiest way to do it is just to start it before bed. It should be finished when you wake up!
(Depending on your dehydrator, it may be a good idea to rotate the dehydrator trays for more even drying, there is some trial and error to this as every dehydrator is a little different and the humidity in your area may affect drying)
6. Repeat the process with the peas. Fresh peas take less time to dehydrate since there is less water in them. Canned peas may take as long as 12 hours to fully dehydrate since they have been absorbing water in the can and from blanching. You will know when the peas are done when they become brittle.
7. Next comes the sauce; this can get a little tricky if you’ve never done it before. Lay out the fruit leather trays that come with your dehydrator. Fill the trays NO MORE than 1/4” thick with sauce and dehydrate at medium heat (155-160 degrees). About 2 hours after starting the dehydrator you will need to “flip” the sauce. It will be a flimsy, but solid sheet at this point. Flip the sauce “leather” so that it can evenly dry out on the bottom. After another 2 hours the sauce should be hard, but still isn’t finished. Remove the trays and break up the hard “sauce leathers” as much as you can. Replace them back in the dehydrator and finish for another 2-4 hours. At that point the sauce will be extremely brittle and will break up into powder easily.
8. Lastly, we need to dehydrate the pasta. Simply lay the pasta out on the dehydrating trays evenly. Use the dehydrators lowest temperature and let it run for at least 8 hours. When it is done it will look similar to uncooked pasta, but will be much more brittle.
Now that all of our ingredients are finished we simply need to portion them. This will be up to you. Personally, I think the portion sizes for Mountain House and Wise are a little…optimistic…. to say the least. Simply fill your sealable bags with each ingredient and add a pinch of salt and pepper to each (or you can wait and do this while cooking it, or not season it at all).
Cooking these meals is easy. Simply pour the contents of the bags into a pan or pot, add a few cups of hot water and cover. Wait 5 minutes, and you’re ready to eat!
You’ll want to decide if you’re going to use sealable bags or whether you’re going to use unsealed bags or jars. Remember, the unsealed containers will work just fine, but will eventually allow air and moisture in, which will drastically shorten the shelf-life. Although I’m sure it could go longer, I would not eat an unsealed portion after a year on the shelf just to be safe.
As with all long term food storage, you need to have a dark and dry area to store them in. A kitchen cabinet is just fine, but if you’re doing a lot of long-term food storage, you’ll probably run out of room. Your best bet for sealed bags would be to put them into a dark-colored plastic Rubbermaid container and store this container in a basement or closet. This will add another layer of protection from light and moisture.
Well there you have it! You’ve made your first long-term storage meal for half of what it would have cost at the store. There are literally thousands of recipes you could use to make various meals like this. The longer you practice with your dehydrator, the better you’ll get at preparing these meals. The cost benefit alone makes dehydrating a no-brainer. You’d probably have to take out a small mortgage on your house to buy a years-worth of Mountain House or Wise, but by making your own, you can build up your long-term food supply stock quicker and cheaper.
What are some of your favorite dehydrated meal recipes? Post your recipes and comments on our Facebook page!