Homemade Ready-Made Meals

Making your own ready-made meals lets you take advantage of bulk food prices, store a variety of easily prepared foods and still have delicious and nutritious meals.

Pasta in a jar

Dry foods like pasta lend themselves to ready-made meals, especially when combined with packaged sets of spices, vegetables and meats for a complete meal in a tidy package.

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The recipes in Meals in a Jar (Ulysses Press, 2013) by Julie Languille are perfect for camping fare and weeknight dinners, but they can also be lifesavers in times of disasters like fires, blackouts or hurricanes. Make up bags, boxes and jars of ready-made meals that only require water and time to prepare, and rest easy knowing that you are prepared for a last-minute gift, a quick dinner or even an emergency situation. The following excerpt comes from chapter 1, “Ready-Made Meals.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Meals in a Jar.

I love walking into a full pantry, lined with neatly arranged shelves of meals in jars and boxes all stacked in rows. Better than a candy store to me, the shelves of baking supplies, canned goods, and my own home-canned meats and vegetables all please me greatly, but what I like best are my own “ready-made meals.” I have bags, jars, and boxes of shelf-stable meals, which I consider to be my own treasure trove and insurance against hardship or hunger. From the convenience of weeknight hustle to the moderate or dramatic circumstances of disaster, my store of shelf-stable meals means I am ready to feed my family well quickly and easily, with a minimum of fuss or effort and no trip to the grocery store for extra ingredients.

I have designed a whole variety of complete meal kits, packaged sets of everything you need to make a meal for your family—just add water. They can be packaged in Mason jars, in bags with handles to easily grab and go, or sealed into plastic bags. I have a variety of each, and this book will show you how to put together a food kit for seven days of food for your whole family, stored in complete meal kits in plastic tubs or lined up neatly in your pantry.

What Is a Ready-Made Meal?

A ready-made meal is a jar or bag with everything you need to create a complete meal with no additional ingredients except water. Ready-made meals can be breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, breads, and desserts. There are options for how you store them, and you can choose what works best for your family and unique situation.

Ready-made meals come in three varieties: pressure-canned complete meals, dry meals, and meals that are a combination of the two and are packaged together.

Dry Ready-Made Meals

Dry meals are those composed of dehydrated foods that just need rehydrating and heating. These meals can be stored in Mylar bags, vacuum bags, or Mason jars and last longer if vacuum-packed and stored with an oxygen absorber. Dry meals can last for decades when stored in a cool, dry, dark location. Ingredients for dry meals include pasta, rice, beans, spices, freeze-dried meats, and other dry dehydrated or powdered ingredients. Dry ready-made meals include soups and bean dishes.

Pressure-Canned Ready-Made Meals

Pressure-canned meals are those that contain any meats, liquids, or anything other than completely dry ingredients. They may be pressure canned in pint- or quart-size canning jars, or in retort pouches, which are special metalized plastic bags designed to withstand the heat and pressure of pressure canning and have been approved by the FDA as safe for heat processing food. Some brands of tuna now sell products that have been canned in retort packages, so you can see samples of retort packaging on the shelf at your local grocery store.

Combined Ready-Made Meals

Combined ready-made meals include both canned and dry components that are packaged together to easily grab and go. Examples of combined meals are pasta and meat sauce, where the sauce is made and canned together with the meat, and the pasta is measured out and packaged with it to make a complete meal. Other examples include chicken canned with vegetables, which could be packaged with noodles to make chicken soup, packaged with flour and pie crust makings to be a chicken pot pie kit, or many other recipes such as a chicken-noodle bake, chicken and rice, or chicken and biscuits.

Why Ready-Made Meals?

Taste

It would be so easy to just buy pre-fab freeze-dried entrees and MREs for my family, but commercially prepared, pre-packaged food simply doesn’t taste as good as what we can make with wholesome ingredients. I know we can make better-tasting food that our families actually want to eat that is satisfying, nourishing, and tasty.

Quality

Commercially prepared foods often contain ingredients that were grown with pesticides and chemicals and packaged with preservatives, artificial flavoring, and artificial colorings. Ready-made meals can be made with organic ingredients and locally grown meats and produce. You can even use food you grow yourself to make your own shelf-stable ready-made meals.

Convenience

At the end of another hectic workday, I gaze into my pantry and ponder the daily question of what to make for dinner. I have a few types of frozen meat (aka, protein icebergs) in the freezer I could thaw, mix with other things, and make into some form of meal, or I could mix up a pasta or casserole from the ingredients on the shelf, but you know what really beckons me? It’s the easy-to-cook, all-ready-to-go, shelf-stable meals. Nothing beats the convenience of having ready-made meals to heat up or do some minor assembly for and knowing I have a sure-fire winner that my family will love, and no further effort or thinking is required from me. Score!

Preparedness

Filling my pantry with ready-made meals is, to me, the ultimate form of preparedness for my family. Whether faced with short-term unemployment, the occasional power outage during a storm, or a variety of other disasters, or even just a trip to the forest or lake for an impromptu camping trip, having food on the shelves that I can grab, prepare with a minimum of fuss, and use to nourish and hearten my family means peace of mind for me.

I am also of the mindset that we should also be prepared for longer-term challenges, for disruptions in the power grid, or “the end of the world as we know it.” My family always hopes and prays for the best but prepares for the worst, knowing that if hard times happen, we will be able to not just survive, but thrive, and be able to help others if we can.

Cost-Efficiency

Rising prices are a constant of everyday life. Packaging your food ahead in volume allows you to leverage bulk prices, discount stores, warehouse club stores, food co-ops, and membership buying clubs. You can package up to a year’s worth of chicken or beef in a day and assemble several varieties of meal kits from them for the very lowest prices available.

Grab and Go

Another great feature of ready-made meals is their portability. Great for camping or emergencies, simply grab a box or two or twelve and be on your way. Many of us live where an earthquake, tsunami, fire, or flooding could cause us to need to leave our homes in a hurry. Why not plan ahead for that and have a box of food ready to go?

Great Gifts

It is always a blessing to take someone a meal. After the birth of a child, an illness, or a surgery nothing could be more cheering than a warm, filling, delicious meal. With a ready-made meal you can easily share a dish either hot and ready to serve or packaged to keep on their shelf to save for another time.

A Sample Ready-Made Meal:

Armenian Lentil Soup Recipe


Reprinted with permission from Meals in a Jar: Quick and Easy, Just-Add-Water, Homemade Recipes for Easy Family Meals, Homemade Camping Food and Prepper's Emergency Storage by Julie Languille and published by Ulysses Press, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Meals in a Jar.