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DIY Meal Vs. Commercial Freeze Dried Meal

On TrailCooking we have section Dehydrating 101 that is full of useful info to get you going (and we also have even more here on the blog to check out).

I wrote this entry on the original blog for Freezer Bag Cooking (before it morphed into TrailCooking) and dates back to 20o7 or ’08. I added it the website in early 2009. Looking at prices now online..ouch, freeze-dried meals have gotten even more expensive! I paid $5.99 for the meal used the write-up. It is on sale for $6.69 and is regularly $8 a bag now.

Let’s revisit this post but please cut me slack on the photos. They are a good 6 to 7 years old!

Often I get asked if one can actually save money by making meals at home versus running down to the local outdoor store for meals. The answer is always “Yes,” but I hadn’t really ever run how much one could save.  I decided to see if it was more than just money that one could save. Could you also eat healthier and save money?

The test:

1 brand name freeze dried meal of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce versus Made At Home and dehydrated spaghetti with meat sauce, featuring organic/whole foods.

Ingredient Show Down:


Brand name bag:

Serves 2, but as well known, this is 1 serving. Makes roughly 20 ounces of food after rehydrating. Cost $5.99 plus sales tax for 1 serving. (And there is a irritation….it is food, which should be tax free in our state!) (update…in 2013 dollars that is $8.00 retail now)

Spaghetti with Meat and Sauce
INGREDIENTS: Enriched Spaghetti (durum semolina, niacin, iron [ferrous sulfate], thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Tomato Paste, Beef, and contains 1.5% or less of the following: Textured Soy Flour, Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Cheese (cheddar cheese [milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes], cream, salt, sodium phosphate, lactic acid), Hydrolyzed Corn Torula and Brewers Yeast Wheat Gluten Soy Protein, Spices, Onion Powder, Flavoring, Garlic Powder, Soybean Oil, and Caramel Color.

The 2013 version ingredients:

Enriched Spaghetti (durum semolina enriched with niacin, iron [ferrous sulfate], thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Tomato Paste, Cooked Beef (beef, flavoring, salt), and Contains 1.5% or Less of the Following: Textured Soy Flour, Dehydrated Cheese (cheddar cheese [milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes], cream, salt, sodium phosphate, lactic acid), Sugar, Sea Salt, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (corn, yeast, wheat gluten, soy), Spices, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Soybean Oil, and Caramel Color.


Made at home meal:
Serves 4 full portions of 16 ounces rehydrated. Cost is roughly $2.25 for 1 serving. None of the items used were on sale.

Whole wheat organic pasta:
Organic whole durum wheat flour
Lean all natural hamburger (1/2 lb) (low fat is important for dehydrating look for at least 91% or better)
Organic Mushroom Pasta Sauce:
Diced tomatoes, water, tomato paste, mushrooms, extra virgin olive oil, cane juice sugar, sea salt, onions, vinegar, garlic powder, spices.

I prepared the pasta at home, breaking the spaghetti into thirds before cooking. I cooked up the beef with the mushrooms (chopping them up). When cooked, I added the sauce. I cooked the pasta till barely al dente. I drained the pasta and tossed with the sauce.


The weight was 4 lbs of tasty pasta!

I split it into 4 servings of 1 lb each, on 4 parchment lined trays, at 135° till dry:


The name brand spaghetti with meat sauce after being prepared (2 cups boiling water and 9 minutes sit time):


Chef Boyardee called and wants their product back…..

Final Results?

Here are the nutritional run downs:

Brand Name Freeze-Dried Spaghetti (20 ounce serving):

560 Calories
1,440 mg Sodium
4 G Fiber
32 G Protein

(The stats have changed now – a bag is 2.5 servings. Which is even more pointless – the bags serve one person to maybe 1½) For the whole bag now, it is 27½ grams protein, 550 calories and 1900 mg sodium)

Made at home Spaghetti (16 ounce serving):

600 calories
700 mg Sodium
13 g Fiber
29 g Protein

As you can easily see, you can save a lot in cost, sodium and you will get a LOT more fiber if you make your own. You will also know exactly what is in your meal.  At a savings of about $4 per serving and half the sodium, that alone makes it worthwhile to make your own. You are also avoiding potential hidden MSG, and fillers such as corn and soy. More so, the texture is so different. Instead of being sauce with a noodles, it is pasta dressed with sauce. And yes, you might even get up to 8 servings in reality, if you have a smaller appetite – dry it in 8 sections. This works great for kid appetites.

As for the home dried spaghetti? It is quite simple to prepare on trail! A simple 1:1 ratio of dried food to water works well normally. Add boiling water and let sit in a cozy for 10 minutes or so, and top liberally with Parmesan cheese. If too dry, add a little more hot water as needed. If you add too much, dump more cheese in…..


PS: I am going to be revisiting some of my oldest posts. The topics are great to bring back and modernize at the same time.

4 thoughts on “DIY Meal Vs. Commercial Freeze Dried Meal

  1. Just LOVE your site and the information contained in it!

    We leave Wed for a 65 mile backpack trip on the PCT from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake.

    We did end up buying bulk/prepackaged meals. To feed 14 teenage Boy Scouts, I just couldn’t manage to prepare all that food myself. But I have and will use your recipes/methods on my small trips!

    Although for all of the desserts and some lunches, I used your recipes. I tested these on the kids before jumping in fully and they passed with flying colors!

    Keep up the good work. Thank you, Thank you!!!!!

  2. In 2010, I worked out the cost for creole albacore ( at $3.25 for a generous serving. It was enough or more than enough for teenage boys. The best part? It teaches them a bit about cooking and being self-sufficient. I brought the ingredients and the kids mixed their own freezer bag dinners. If you can teach a kid how to make trail food from the grocery store, you’ve also taught them how to make their first apartment dinners.

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