High speed low drag food for the survivor and tactical operator

Most of us are familiar with the traditional field ration of modern US armed forces.  The MRE has now been with us almost 20 years and its predecessor, the C-Ration was around for 30 years prior to that.   A less common ration that is now mostly gone from the supply system was the LRRP, the predecessor to the MRE and more like dehydrated backpacker's food.   

MREs are not without their shortcomings.  They are high in efficient calories and require little or no preparation, but the packaging weight to nutrition ratio is not so great.  In short, the average MRE "eaten" by the average soldier has leftovers and garbage that weighs almost half as much as it did before it was eaten.   Considering the high level of waste and excess package weight, the MRE is not always the best choice for those who have to travel light and fast.   It is, however the best all around general use ration with a long storage life, relative ease of preparation, good nutrition and portability.    All such rations and their alternatives must have durable packaging, realistic serving sizes and enough shelf life to assure edibility after months to years of storage.  

High speed low drag rations other than MREs will probably fall into one of two categories:  Combat rations and survival rations.   Combat rations can be eaten quickly with little or no preparation or other utensils.   Storage life is important, but not paramount.   Nutritional value and ease of digestion are very important for combat rations.   Taste is of secondary concern.    Survival rations on the other hand, should be lightweight and pack the most food value in as little space and weight as possible.   Being the foods of a longer term activity, taste is more important with survival rations in order to maintain better morale.   Cost plays more of a role with your individual financial situation than the level of preparations you want to take, but with food supplies, more is usually better so cost effectiveness becomes an issue when you are putting together supplies that are meant to hold you for more than a couple of days and might spend years in a cache.   

In combat rations, you need to find the healthiest stuff you can get a hold of.  These foods need to be easy to digest because you may be engaged in strenuous activity and want less of your blood supply dedicated to the digestion of food.  That is why bodybuilders require these high efficiency foods during workouts.   The bodybuilder's blood supply is going to be in the muscles during the workout and if it gets carried to the stomach, the person will not be able to perform.   Side effects of the wrong, but otherwise healthy food, at the wrong time can be cramps and nausea.  A fatigued and injured person who has suffered blood loss may even go into shock after eating foods which require extra energy to digest.   That is why I highly recommend keeping at least two prepackaged energy drinks in a bugout pack and at least one with the medic bag whether or not you carry IVs.    These types of foods are always sensitive to heat and shelf life issues so they will need to be rotated through your supplies more frequently than other stored foods but are not going to be as expiration sensitive as fresh food.   You can also play a little bit of "fudge factor" on the expiration dates of a lot of these items, sometimes by a wide margin if you store them in cool temperatures.    The other factor, especially with the liquid foods is that the user is unlikely to need to go to the bathroom for "number two", which may seem like a trivial concept when you are sitting at the keyboard in a home or well equipped facility, but can be a real problem if you are out in some critical mission with no opportunity for a potty break.    The "potty break resistant" nature of these foods is more important than a lot of people realize until they are in a situation where engaging in an otherwise normal bodily function means losing an important event or worse. 

Combat rations do not have the shelf life that are conducive to long term storage.   One of the best ways to deal with the short to moderate shelf life of these is to use them up while doing intensive physical work or workouts.    Note however, that these foods do have better shelf life than the fresh foods that most competent fitness trainers and nutritionists will recommend as workout nutrition.    Their rationale (and it is usually correct) is that the preservatives in these foods will lower the body's ability to process the nutrients because the body needs to filter out some of the chemicals.   Also, these foods tend to have a lot of concentrated food value for their weight which will translate to a need for drinking more than the usual amount of water with them.    What you want to avoid is casually snacking on these kinds of foods without working out or else it will lead to gaining weight in a bad way.  

Digestion is not unlike the process that takes place in the intake manifold of an engine.   It takes place in a liquid environment in your stomach as opposed to a closed gas environment of a manifold, but the theory is the same when it comes to increasing the surface area of the chemical to be "burned".    Food particles suspended in more water have more surface area for the digestive reactions to take place, and therefore make more material available to be processed into the bloodstream.   The greater the amount of water, the easier it is for the acids to reach into the food particles and break them down into a slurry of modified nutrient acid that goes into the blood stream and feeds the cells.   The closer the food can chemically resemble that fluid going in, the faster and more efficiently it will translate into energy.  

Protein and energy bars are smart food for those on the move or working out.  That makes them a good choice combat meal due to high efficiency. They are ready to eat out of the package, have reasonable shelf life and are highly nutritious and easy to digest, even for injured or fatigued personnel.   Cheaper bars derive much of their calorie content from peanut butter and milk products.  Better bars derive protein from plant based synthetics.   Even easier to digest and quick to take in, energy and meal replacement drinks give even better performance at the cost of greater weight and shorter shelf life than energy bars.   The most common source of protein in cheaper "energy shake" drinks is condensed milk.   Higher quality shakes like the EAS Edge to the right get their protein value from soy derivatives.  
Power Gel, a product that is put out by the same people who bring us Power Bars, is a highly concentrated blend of electrolytes, carbs and herbal extracts that gives a rapid energy boost.  Some flavors have an added kick of Caffeine to speed up the effect.   

This stuff is absolutely amazing and will definitely help any endurance athlete or troop who needs a boost of nutrients in the middle of the action.    One of the secrets of power gel is that it is so quickly and easily metabolized that it does not take a significant amount of blood or other body resources to process.  

Other suitable foods:

Peanut Butter - Decent shelf life and relatively low cost.   You can get this in jars or packets.   I prefer the large packets that come in MREs or at most Army Chow halls.   I get sick of the peanut butter after a while which means I will not be casually snacking on it.  

Honey - As mentioned, it the natural "Power Gel" and even mentioned in the Bible as a favorite in ancient times.   Endurance athletes suck it right out of those little hone bear shaped bottles as the go along, but this can be an awful mess if one of those bottles breaks open in your pack or tac vest. 

Trail Mix- This of course varies a lot, but all trail mixes are going to be pretty good as a satisfying snack.   Just watch out for those which may contain too much salt and preservatives.   Some trail mixes may also contain fruits or nuts that some people are allergic to or are not quickly and easily digestible.  


Something of a medium rate food in this category are the powdered energy drinks and nutritional supplements that mix with water.   One of my personal favorites is Creatine, but it is also a common ingredient in single serving energy drinks that can be easily eaten out of the package as you drink water.   It is not a joy to eat that way, but it is fast and gets the task accomplished.  

Here is a "Minuteman Ration" developed by a small group of survivors.  The criteria compromise ease of preparation for light weight, low cost and portability.   This ration represents two full servings, IE food for two people at one meal, or one person for a large meal or broken down into two meals.   The meal is very lightweight, but requires about two quarts of water to prepare (in addition to another quart you should drink with the meal) and you will need some sort of cooking and eating utensils to go with it.  A standard mess kit would be sufficient but adds weight to the operator's load.   This is more of a survival ration than a combat ration since it will also take time to prepare.   Not just the cooking time, but you will need to either prepare a fire or use some sort of stove.   Approximate weight on the meal is 1.2 lbs (remember this is for two people).


Contents of the meal

2 cups of minute rice
.5 cup of Green Beans (Freeze dried)
.5 cup of Corn (Freeze dried)
4 strips of Beef jerky
Accessory pack

Accessory package includes:
1 1/8 Oz Tobasco
2 each of:
Salt, Pepper, Sugar, Tea bags, candy 
1 Napkin

1 vacuum packed beef bullion package

Creating this meal is generally going to require both a food dehydrator and a vacuum sealer.  Both appliances are essentials for putting together your own survival meal packs if you are not going to buy prepared preserved foods.   A smoker helps greatly in the preservation of meat and fish.    Preparing meals such as this for storage is probably best undertaken by those with more time than money since it is labor intensive.   The menu items themselves are fairly easy to get although the freeze dried vegetables are not always locally available.   Much of the meal is put together by simply buying the individual ingredients in bulk and then repackaging them as a kit.  

Meals in a survival situation can be irregular and it helps to have flexible meal options available.   These common grocery store foods are a good mix of long shelf life, high nutrition, good taste and fairly easy preparation.   In general, look for dried or preserved foods with a high protein per serving ratio and lower salt ratios.  Salt is the cheapest and most common effective food preservative out there, but it is easy to overload on salt and get sick from it.   People in survival situations will often crave salt and electrolyte minerals but it you do not always get the best value from it unless it is added into food as it is cooked.  Salt which has been in the food for a long time can give you the worst of both worlds;  it will carry toxins in your body but still taste bland.   Quality foods will derive more flavor from spices than salts and when you carry salt for flavoring, try to focus in season salt blends instead of pure salt.   Another flavorful source of salt and other minerals is flavored sauces.  Teriyaki and Soy sauces are high in salt and have good, but not indefinite, shelf life. 

Meal preparation in a long term survival environment will vary greatly, but you want your meals to be as normal as possible given the circumstances.   For longer term or simply better equipped situations, that means using as much of a well equipped kitchen as possible.   This will make for heartier more economical meals, and the food will usually taste better than something just eaten out of the package.   Good food is also a great morale booster in an otherwise harsh situation.   The meal shown here is being cooked in near freezing temperatures on a campout very far off the beaten path.   A well equipped group member brought propane camp appliances and other group members kicked in ingredients that were used to make a hearty stew.   

Survival experts point out that stews are probably the most efficient survival food that can combine stored food with foraged food.   Rice, noodles, and beans which can be stored dry for years can bulk up a stew that includes fresh foraged meat, mushrooms, wild vegetables, and even bits and pieces of preserved food packs and MREs.   Note that the boiling water will also help to sterilize otherwise dirty food or sometimes contaminated food.  It will, however, not detoxify a lot of poisons that can build up in some rotten or contaminated foods.   Wild meat and most fish should be thoroughly cooked whenever possible. 

It is fairly easy to expand these soup mixes into a hearty stew by adding dried meat, more pasta, and food items collected in the wild such as mushrooms and wild game.  The meats on the right are also good additions.   Beef Jerky is probably the most common meat and protein ingredient for home made survival rations but the high salt content makes it a risky choice for those who are  in strenuous physical activity.  Cooking it into stews will dilute the high salt content   Better choices are canned fish, especially Salmon.   A new package for tuna is very much like MRE packaging and saves weight by using less water.   The 3 oz package here contains 15 grams of protein and less salt than conventional canned tuna.  
Canned meats are good for long term storage and carrying in a vehicle, but are not exactly the most efficient in weight because they retain water.   That is good for some types of survival because the canned meats can be eaten cold with little or no preparation.   Another challenge is the high salt content in most canned meats.   You generally will eat smaller servings of canned meat than comparable fresh meat.   Canned fish is often the most high protein food you can easily obtain.   Canned meats can be combined with dehydrated soups, rice, noodles and other foods that require preparation.   They also help to increase as a filler for those who have to live on MREs which have a serving size that will usually not satisfy people over 200 lbs.    These canned meats are readily available at most well stocked grocery and discount stores.   Dried potatoes seem at first to be a good thing to accompany canned meats and other foods that can be made into a hearty gravy, but dried potatoes will require milk.  You can save some weight and storage space with condensed milk, but dehydrated milk is not as palatable.  You can make do with dried milk if you combine vegetable oil with it in cooking, but it does not taste too great.   Potato flakes can be used to thicken stews and chowders.
A fairly new product that borrows from MRE technology, these "meal toppers" are a shelf stable canless stew selection made to serve over rice, potatoes, or bread.   Cost is $3 for a 18 oz packet that is roughly twice the size of an MRE entree, but a bit heavy on the salt.    Shelf life is comparable to MREs and considering the lower cost, I think they make a better choice than paying a premium for the "military" versions.  These are available at Walmart stores.  

Rice is the recommended filler for the meal toppers, but most single serve rice comes in a cardboard box.   Save money and make it more pack friendly by purchasing rice in bulk and sealing the correct serving size in plastic vacuum seal bags.  Big bags of rice can be found cheap at the bulk food warehouse places and restaurant supplies.  For better nutritional value, pony up for wild rice for some of your stash.   Note that the full meal is portioned to serve more than one person.  While they package says for "four people" I would really say it would feed only two physically active grown adults.    You could substitute a few packs of MRE crackers for rice if you plan on being someplace where you can't easily cook the meal but still want to travel light.   Like most bagged or canned food, this stuff can lose flavor over time, so a jar or two of spice can go a long way toward making it pretty good under any circumstances.

Meal in a canteen cup: a survivor can use a common electric bag sealer to break bulk foods down into a serving package tailor made for the most common field pot- the canteen cup.   Most soldiers do not carry their mess kits any more, but a hearty meal can be prepared in the ubiquitous canteen cup which you can obtain from any surplus store.   Note that you may want to carry two of these cups for extended trips in the backcountry, one for boiling water and the other for preparing food. 

Rice and beef are the main sources of protein and starch.   The best oil to carry is extra virgin olive oil because it can be consumed cooked or cold.   Spices are a personal choice as would be additional sauces or dressings scavenged from the chow hall or fast food restaurants.  Cook time is about 20 minutes. 

Like most meals made with preserved foods, the spices make a big difference, in addition to whatever flavored oils you can add to the dish.  Rice can be eaten fairly easily eaten quickly, but you will get better nutritional value out of it when you take the time to chew it and consume extra water with any meal that includes rice.