Everywhere you look, freeze dried or dehydrated meals are touted as being the quick, easy and tasty way to set up an emergency food supply for you and your family. The marketing line seems to always be some variation on: “Just add hot water and in minutes your family will be enjoying an amazingly delicious, hot, nutritious meal. All of this in an easy to use pouch with an amazing shelf life!”  Are these incredible, instant meals something that you and your kids would actually look forward to eating in an emergency? This type of food really is not anything new. The technology to freeze dry things is a product of World War II and dehydrating with the sun was popular with many ancient cultures, including the Romans. Hikers and backpackers have been either enjoying or choking down these kinds of meals for the last three decades. We are going to take a look at the claims of taste, nutrition, shelf life, ease of use and affordability that are often touted by the marketers.

 

If you are not already familiar, here is a quick background overview:

 

The Food – Dehydrating and freeze drying are not the same process. Dehydrating usually uses hot air to evaporate the water out of food. It works on everything from fruit chunks to beef jerky. With a little practice, you can do this at home. Freeze drying uses huge pieces of equipment to freeze the food and then evaporate out the water. Freeze drying is a more expensive process that cannot be easily duplicated in your kitchen. But, some ingredients that do not dehydrate well can be more easily freeze dried. Also, in general, food that is freeze dried tends to rehydrate more quickly. It is not uncommon to see manufacturers use a mix of freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients to save money.

 

The Packaging – These meals are able to claim ease of use and an impressive shelf life, in a large part, due to their packaging. The better multilayer pouches function as a “soft can” to keep light, oxygen and moisture away from the food, so it will not degrade or spoil. Many manufacturers will also either nitrogen flush their bags before adding food or, preferably, put an oxygen absorber in the pouch to remove any remaining oxygen after it has been sealed. This extends the storage life by preventing food oxidation. The other big contributor to lifespan is storage temperature. In general, the cooler you store any of these products, the longer they will last.

 

For this review, we took a look at six dishes from the most commonly seen companies that market their products as a resource for disaster preparedness. To provide a fair comparison, all of the meals tested are pasta based. They were prepared according to the exact directions on the package, unless otherwise noted. The amount of water used was measured and doubled checked. All of the meals were allowed to sit and rehydrate for an extra ten minutes beyond the labeled time, to give each product a “best case scenario” for consistency and taste comparisons. All of the meals were taste tested by both adults and children, to get multiple opinions.

 

Daily Bread Beef Stroganoff with Noodles

 

In The Pouch:

Ready to eat:

 

Affordability:  Daily Bread is only available from sales consultants that come to your house. But, based on information from their e-mails, a 30 day supply of meals for one person would cost around $500, before any sales or discounts.

  Shelf Life:  The product claims a 25 year shelf life. The food is in a heavy duty, multi-layer pouch. An oxygen absorber was in the package.

  Nutrition:  The pouch contains one serving of food which is 70g and 320 calories. The meal is high in protein at 13g and fiber at 6g. However, it is also high in saturated fat at 5g and sodium at 940mg.

  Ease of Use:  This meal has a nine minute cook time. The food can successfully be prepared in the pouch. It rehydrates well and is not crunchy or lumpy. When sealed and laid on its side, the pouch’s zipper does not leak.

  Taste:  Overall, this meal is one of the best tasting ones tested. There were no chemical smells or aftertastes. The kids who tried it said that they would eat it again and there were not adult complaints. There are visible bits of meat and the thick sauce has a creamy flavor. The noodles were firm and not soggy.

 

 

 

Wise Company Savory Stroganoff

 

In The Pouch:

Ready to eat:

 

Affordability: Wise Company meals are sold by the bucket or in bundles. But, based on their website, a thirty day supply works out to ~$180 per person, before any sales or discounts. However, upgrading to “cook in the pouch” type packaging would push the price up to ~$300.

  Shelf Life:  The product claims a 25 year shelf life. The standard food is in a lighter weight Mylar pouch. An oxygen absorber was in the package. The “cook in the pouch” meals use a heavier zippered pouch.

  Nutrition:  The pouch contains four servings of food, each of which was 64g and 250 calories. The meal has 6g of protein and 2g of fiber. Saturated fat is only 1g, but sodium comes in at 910mg.

  Ease of Use: The standard meals are designed to be cooked in a pot, not the bag. There are some meals offered with the upgraded, cook in the pouch type packaging at a higher price. This meal advertised a 15 minute cook time.

  Taste:  The food has visible spices, but very mild seasoning with a starchy flavor. The consistency was very saucy. Neither of the adults and only one of the kids who tried it said that they would want to eat it again. This was the least popular meal tested.

 

 

Rainy Day Foods Quick & Easy Macaroni and Cheese

 

In The Pouch:

Ready to eat:

 

Affordability:  Rainy Day meals are sold by the bucket or in individual pouches. But, based on their website, a thirty day supply works out to ~$170 per person, before any sales or discounts. However, there we not any breakfast type meals listed, only lunch and dinner entrees.

  Shelf Life: The manufacturer claims a possible shelf life of up to twenty years, but is quite clear that this is highly dependent on a storage temperature of sixty degrees or less. The package contained an oxygen absorber.

  Nutrition:  The pouch contained two servings of food, each of which was 90g and 317 calories. The meal has 15g of protein and 6g of fiber. Each serving is also fortified with 98% Vitamin A and 63% Vitamin C, but sodium comes in at 1300mg.

  Ease of Use: This product advertises the ability to be cooked in the pouch, but in practice, that does not work well. The cheese powder has a tendency to want to clump while rehydrating and stirring it adequately in the tall, slim pouch full of boiling water is just not feasible.  Upgrading to a wider type of pouch should fix some of these issues, though. That said, rehydration in a pot works much better. This product listed a ten minute cook time.

  Taste:  The pasta is very saucy with a convincing cheddar cheesy flavor. There wis a noticeable salty taste to this dish, though. The majority of the adults and kids who tried it would eat it again, but the vote was not unanimous.

 

Wise Company Pasta Alfredo

 

In The Pouch:

Ready to eat:

 

Affordability: Wise Company meals are sold by the bucket or in bundles. But, based on their website, a thirty day supply works out to ~$180 per person, before any sales or discounts. However, upgrading to “cook in the pouch” type packaging would push the price up to ~$300.

  Shelf Life:  The product claims a 25 year shelf life. The standard food is in a lighter weight Mylar pouch. This package did not contain an oxygen absorber. The “cook in the pouch” meals use a heavier zippered pouch.

  Nutrition:  The pouch contains four servings of food which is 65g and 300 calories. The meal offers 5g of protein and 1g of fiber. The sodium content comes in at 920mg.

  Ease of Use:  The standard, less expensive, meals are not designed to be cooked in the bag, so a pot and such is needed. There are some meals offered with the upgraded, cook in the pouch type packaging at a higher price. This meal advertised a 15 minute cook time.

  Taste:  The finished product looks cheesy with a thick sauce. The noodles have a good texture. The food does have a slightly artificial smell and taste which bothered the adults who tried it, but not the kids who would eat it again.

 

Rainy Day Foods Quick & Easy Spaghetti Pasta

 

In The Pouch:

Ready to eat:

 

Affordability:  Rainy Day meals are sold by the bucket or in individual pouches. But, based on their website, a thirty day supply works out to ~$170 per person, before any sales or discounts. However, there we not any breakfast type meals listed, only lunch and dinner entrees.

  Shelf Life: The manufacturer claims a possible shelf life of up to twenty years, but is quite clear that this is highly dependent on a storage temperature of sixty degrees or less. The package contains an oxygen absorber.

  Nutrition:  The pouch contains two servings of food, each of which is 85g and 263 calories. The meal has 13g of protein and 5g of fiber. Each serving is also fortified with 98% Vitamin A and 49% Vitamin C, but sodium comes in at 1079mg.

  Ease of Use:  This product advertises the ability to be cooked in the pouch, but in practice, that does not work well, due to the design of the pouch. That said, rehydration in a pot works very well. This product lists a ten minute cook time.

  Taste: The pasta cooks up well with no crunchy noodles. The sauce has visible spices and a good, obvious tomato flavor. There is a floury aftertaste to the sauce that some testers picked up on. Also the TVP bits were commented on as not being meaty or meat-like. Half of the testers would eat it again, if it was served.

 

Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles

 

In The Pouch:

Ready to eat:

 

Affordability:  Mountain House is available at most camping or outdoors stores, as well as multiple online vendors. The cost varies a bit by vendor, but a 30 day supply of meals for one person would cost around $190, before any sales or discounts.

  Shelf Life:  The product claims a 7 year shelf life. The food is in a heavy duty, multi-layer pouch. An oxygen absorber is in the package.

  Nutrition:  The pouch contains two and a half servings of food, each of which is 54g before cooking and 250 calories. The meal was high in protein at 10g and fiber at 5g. Sodium was the lowest of all the meals tested at 730mg.

  Ease of Use:  This meal has a nine minute cook time. The food can successfully be prepared in the pouch. It rehydrates well with no surprises. When sealed and laid on its side, the pouch’s zipper does not leak.

  Taste:  Overall, this meal is one of the better tasting ones tested. It both smells and tastes like beef stroganoff. There are visible bits of meat and the thick sauce has a creamy flavor. The noodles were firm and not soggy. The kids who tried it said that they would eat it again and one of the adults had some reservations.

 

Results:

Advertising claiming “delicious” or “gourmet” should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Before stocking up, you should have the members of your family taste each dish you plan to buy, as we found a lot of individual variation in what the testers liked enough to eat without complaining. Sticking with one company is not an easy fix, as the Wise Co. Alfredo was popular with all of the kids, but some of them literally spit the Wise Co. Stroganoff into the trash.

However, the biggest issue is in the calorie content of the food. The meals are advertised and sold according to servings. However, these servings are severely limited in calories. In general, it is recommended that women eat 2000 calories a day and men consume 2500 calories. A breakfast, lunch and dinner of these freeze dried meals will only provide in the range of 900 to 1200 calories a day, total, for all three servings. By comparison, a McDonald’s Big Mac with a medium Coke and fries is just over 1100 calories for the one meal. If you bought the “one year’s supply” of food advertised by some these companies and tried to live off of it at the advertised levels, you would slowly starve to death.

When you figure that you would need to double or triple the amount of “servings” needed to reach the advertised levels of preparedness, then these meals get expensive. The biggest benefits are really convenience and shelf life. The less expensive meals are not designed to be cooked in the pouch, so a pot, a method of cleaning it and disposing of the wastewater will have to be available to cook these meals. This is not all that convenient, so the “cook in the pouch” meals are the clear winner here.  As for shelf life, it is standard practice to advertise the best case scenario in these calculations. Food stored in a cool basement is going to fare much better than the same type of meals stored in a garage with seasonal temperature variations.

In the past, I have eaten these kinds of meals for up to a week at a time. But, this is with consuming a more realistic two or three “servings” of food per meal and supplementing the meals with nuts, dried fruit and other sources of vitamins. It is not realistic to make any kind of long term plan based on these meals without either at least doubling up on servings or having a supplemental food reserve of some kind.

Where meals from a pouch makes the most sense is as a piece of a larger food plan. They would be good in a bug out bag for quick meals on the road, if you had to leave town in a hurry to escape a tropical storm. It also might make sense to keep a few in the trunk of a car or the corner of the pantry for emergencies. However, investing heavily into a stack of buckets filled with “servings” of these meals could ultimately prove to be very disappointing.

 


 

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