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Poverty Prepping: Review of Chef's Banquet Dehydrated Foods

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The ARK pack comes with 330 individually sealed packets which provides 2100 calories a day for 30 days.

The ARK pack comes with 330 individually sealed packets which provides 2100 calories a day for 30 days.

(Today we are going to have a guest post by one of  my readers who is using dehydrated storage food for her main meal source. She likes it because it is costs so little, stores well and frees her from the tyranny of the cooler. In this post she reviews the taste which should help us all decide if they might work for us. It’s hard to beat a full months supply of food for $100!! Be sure to check out her blog:)
I am a big believer in dehydrated foods for three big reasons: 1) it’s cheap and 2) it lasts for a long time 3) it doesn’t need refrigeration. During emergency situations it’s necessary to have foods that are non-perishable and easy to store, dehydrated food fits that bill perfectly! But, even in a non-emergency situation I still love it because it saves me so much money, is very easy to cook and I don’t have to keep a cooler! The food I bought ended up being about $.39 a serving, which is an extremely cheap way to eat! The first brand I chose was Chef’s Banquet, because it appeared to be the cheapest dehydrated food available. Keep in mind you get what you pay for–some of the more expensive brands taste better. I’ve tried some of the Mountain House brand and when it’s rehydrated it is the closest to real food. For the purposes of this post I will be reviewing and discussing Chef’s Banquet more, as it’s what I’m eating now and can provide pictures of.
Click here to buy it from  Chef’s Banquet All-purpose Readiness Kit (ARK)
I bought mine off Amazon. You can get different types from Chef’s Banquet, and ultimately decide for yourself what you would prefer in your bucket. The one with the most variety that I was okay with eating was the All-purpose ready kit. The main issue with dehydrated food is the up-front cost–you may be paying .39 cents a serving, but you’re paying for it all at once instead of a little bit at a time. My bucket was on sale, so I got it for $119 with free shipping. If you keep an eye on the deals they do go on sale pretty often with free shipping; that’s the best time to buy. Otherwise you’ll be footing a bill for $130 or up to $200. As I said, the sales are when you want to buy, and they ARE frequent so don’t lament if you can’t find one tomorrow or later this week. They happen at least twice a month or even more often.
All the meals come sealed in a single 5 gallon bucket.

All the meals come sealed in a single 5 gallon bucket.

This bucket has 330 total servings, which should provide you with roughly 2100 calories worth of food for 30 days, assuming that you eat that much. I can’t, as I have a small stomach and 1’m lucky to manage 1000 calories a day. For me, one bucket is a 60 day supply. If stored in the bucket as you receive it in a dry cool environment, it has a shelf life of 20 years. Once opened, it drops to 7 if you keep it sealed and dry in the package it comes in with the oxygen absorber left in. If you want to eat healthier, they also make fruit and vegetable packs:
Chef’s Banquet Freeze Dried Fruit Variety Bucket-300 Servings
Chef’s Banquet Freeze Dried Vegetable Variety Bucket-320 Servings
This particular bucket has these meals in it:

  • Oatmeal: 60 servings,
  • Potato soup: 60 servings,
  • Chicken vegetable stew: 30 servings,
  • Mixed vegetables: 30 servings,
  • Instant potatoes: 60 servings,
  • Macaroni & cheese: 30 servings,
  • Beef vegetable stew: 30 servings,
  • Cheddar broccoli rice: 30 servings.
Each meal is sealed with an oxygen absorber in it for maximum storage life.

Each meal is sealed with an oxygen absorber inside the foil pack for maximum storage life.

Each is packaged individually and labelled with nutrition information and how to cook. Each package varies a bit in directions but for the most part it’s basically adding the amount of water listed and cooking for 20 minutes. I find that I like to add more water than it asks for as I tend to think it turns out dry and salty otherwise. But it’s personal preference so you’ll have to try it the way it is recommended first and change it accordingly. You can also soak in the recommended water for several hours or overnight before you cook it to help it absorb and rehydrate better. When you get ready to cook, either build a small fire or use a propane stove (my choice) to bring water to a boil, if you haven’t already dumped the food in, do so now. Then lower heat to medium/high for 20 minutes and it should be ready. As I said, I add more water in because some boils off and because it’s a bit too salty to me otherwise, so during the boiling phase I typically have up to 1/2 cup or 1 cup more water than called for. I recommend staying with it for the full 20 minutes and stirring extremely well because it can easily stick and burn, or may not cook evenly. Dehydrated food can be strange like that. You want it even and soft all over.
Each meal comes with it's own cooking instructions and nutrition information.

Each meal comes with it’s own cooking instructions and nutrition information.

What does it Taste Like?
No matter how cheap or convenient it is, if it tastes bad it’s still money thrown away. Fortunately, I love all the foods in the bucket except one and I must say I’m not a fan of the beef stew; it isn’t really beef so much as a vegetable protein and it doesn’t taste good to me. It is particularly salty and no matter how much I water it down it just tastes bad, but I take that hit because all the others are so good. Here is my review of the different packets:

  • The oatmeal is basically just oatmeal that is quicker to cook than normal. I add cinnamon and brown sugar to mine as the oatmeal is plain in this package.
  • The potato soup is probably my favorite. It’s some of the best potato soup you’ll ever have. It has carrots, celery, onion and garlic with spices for flavoring. The best part is if you want more vegetables in it you can add a scoop of the mixed vegetables in there to have extra flavor. I water it down more than the package recommends and I add mixed vegetables typically. It is extremely filling, so while the serving may look small, make sure you eat and drink water with it because dehydrated food tends to expand more after you’ve eaten it.
  • Chicken vegetable stew is among the more salty of the packaged foods. I tend to water this one down more than recommended also, and if I have a tomato handy I like to cut it up and add it to it. By itself it tastes like a vegetable stew made with chicken broth. This one is basically mixed vegetables and chicken broth. I’ve never particular seen chunks of chicken in it, so I assume it’s mostly broth for flavoring.
  • Mixed vegetables are basically carrots and peas with seasoning, I believe there’s bits of green beans in there too. Sort of similar to the frozen mixed veggies you’d but at the store. They are okay by themselves but very similar to eating a package of those veggies together. I like to add them to other things or turn them into a soup by adding whatever I have on hand.
  • The instant potatoes are mashed potatoes. They are very tasty and are spiced with garlic and herbs. If you add a touch of butter to these and some milk they are even better. But most van dwellers won’t have these cold luxuries. They are still fantastic by themselves, but if you have powder milk to add to them you can do that to give them an extra creamy oomph.
  • Macaroni & Cheese is reminiscent of the store bought easy mac. It has powdered cheese that you pour on the noodles after they are cooked. To me it tastes exactly the same as the store brand, and it looks similar too.
  • Beef vegetable stew: I don’t have much to say about this one except that it’s not beef. It’s a vegetable protein that I am not a fan of and the stew itself is extremely salty and bland. To me I don’t enjoy this packet but for the price of everything else I’m willing to deal with it being included.
  • Cheddar broccoli rice is another of the better recipes. I tend to water this one down and cook it slightly longer than recommended because I like my rice a little more soft. It has excellent flavor and is a stand-alone dish.
The Beef Stew was the authors least favorite meal, but everyone's taste will be different.

The Beef Stew was the authors least favorite meal, but everyone’s taste will be different.

Each packet will have one or two oxygen absorbers in it, so make sure you don’t dump directly from the package into the water you are going to cook in. This picture is the instant potatoes. You can see the potato flakes and the little bits of carrot and celery in there with the oxygen absorber.
After you have finished all the products, the bucket itself is a 5 gallon bucket that can have multiple uses in your vehicle. I use mine as a bucket potty for when I’m out camping and can’t get near a restroom. But it can be used for storage as well.

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  1. Al Christensen

    I could see dehydrated food as part of my mix, but it really would need to be TEOTWAWKI for me to make it my primary source of food. Besides, dehydrated food means having more water than just for drinking and cleaning.

    • Myddy

      This is true about keeping more water. But for me it’s the trade off instead of keeping a fridge or cooler. It makes life a lot easier given my situation. I am a city van dweller at the moment though, and work at a facility with infinite filtered water access though so that does influence my choices!

    • Bob

      Al, I agree, but there is no getting around the low price and simplicity of them. Boil water and eat! I understand the appeal. And if you keep condiments and spices around I’m sure they could be spiced up a lot.

  2. Linda Sand

    When Dave and I first moved into a van we had one with very limited carrying capacity. We lived on Mountain House freeze-dried food for several months. I feel grateful we were able to afford the tasty brand.

    • Bob

      Linda, you were fortunate, all the Mountain House meals I’ve eaten were very good! You have to love the simplicity of freeze dried foods when they are that tasty.

  3. Calvin R

    I am notably stingy and a non-cook. At $0.38 per meal, that beats what i can buy anywhere in ordinary food. The convenience and ever-useful bucket add to the attraction. Storage space counts too. If one is rotating stock, the “in use” supply could be removed from the bucket if need be; it still will last up to 7 years. Combined with the absence of a cooler and/or eliminating the need to refrigerate food, I’d come out ahead on both space and the cost of ice or power.
    The only remaining issue is taste, and that is why I wish for sample sizes, even at higher prices. Nothing has value at any price if it cannot be used.

      • Calvin R

        Bob, my issue with Harmony House is that they provide ingredients (onions, diced tomato pieces, “bits”) rather than prepared meals. I really and truly cannot cook to date. Basic cooking is not a major skill but I have yet to acquire it. What I will most likely do is save up and order a Chef’s Banquet package. At their prices, I only have to use half of it to get my money’s worth. I’m sure I’ll like more than that of their stuff; I’m not a gourmet.

        • Bob

          I understand Calvin, I was just offering a source of healthy eating and in small packets. If you want pre-cooked meals that don’t cost a lot then you have to buy something like the Chef’s banquet.
          Keep in mind though, that you can almost always doctor up these meals to make them better. I keep salsa around (doesn’t need refrigeration even opened) and it can take a bland so-so meal and make it pretty good. Same with many spices. Or add a small can of diced tomatoes or corn or dice up an onion. Maybe sweet-n-sour, soy or teryaki sauce; bar-b-que sauce or liquid smoke. Or even a sugar packet. It’s not hard to make the flavor of something more palatable to your particular taste buds. Just experiment and go slow, add a little at a time.

          • Calvin R

            I know that I’ll have to learn more in time. In the meantime, I’ve also heard a lot about using cans of tuna or chicken to enrich pasta dishes and what not. Those have other uses even for me, so they will play a part in my food set up.

          • Bob

            Calvin, I’m a big fan of canned chicken, fish (tuna and salmon) and roast beef. It can take something very bland and make it great.

  4. Offroad

    Am concerned about the salt in these meals. yes I have read that being overly concerned about salt is of little importance now as it was in the past, but many have high blood pressure and you realy cant have the salt as much in your diet. What happens if you soak and boil, then dump water and do a quick short boil. Can you get the salt out? does anyone have references to dealing with the salt in dehydrated food to reduce it?

    • Myddy

      Sadly I believe the salt content is part of what preserves it for so long. I don’t think you can dump it with this, without actually dumping the food. The water doesn’t really sit on top, it absorbs into the food. Things like the potatoes and stew have such small broth pieces that the water becomes the broth and the potatoes because they are dehydrated in flakes.

    • Bob

      Offroad, I’m sorry I can’t help you with that all, I know nothing about getting salt out of food. The high salt content is a concern though.
      Not all high blood pressure is caused by salt, it’s only part of the story. I have high blood pressure and a DR put me on diuretics to bring my salt level down and my salt level was then too low. For me it had nothing to do with salt.

  5. Bill

    Thanks! I’ve been following your blog.
    Looking up the bucket of food idea I noticed that the food is mostly carbs? Don’t you feel the need to balance it with vitamins and proteins ect?
    I can’t read the ingredients in your pics. Looks by the ingredients list to contain processed and chem additives?
    Is there a more natural brand in bulk?

  6. Doug Ferguson

    Thanks for fixing your site so it no longer tosses that security violation when I open the email… much nicer now. Looks like we are in for some very hard times in America any time now. Naturally I have to be broke down at home in Elkhart, Indiana hoping to get a new rig bought and converted over the next year. It was a pain wintering out doors in the second worst winter in recorded history here. I really missed being out there this winter. Just wanted to say hello and thanks for the great work you do for humanity on your fantastic website.
    Doug Ferguson

    • Bob

      Thanks Doug, I don’t envy you being in a tent in Indiana this year!! Yuck!! Hopefully you will be free soon!

  7. Myddy

    I believe mountain house is probably the most natural brand to buy in bulk, but I am buying on prices alone. It is mostly carbs, and since I’m a city dweller I tend to be able to get to the local market for cheap veggies that I can supplement with, so it balances out. ARK does have other types though. There is a bucket of dehydratred fruits, there’s one of specifically veggies, and there’s general mix and match combinations. Amazon has a pretty good variety from this brand. I’m probably buying the fruits next month.

  8. Toni

    Thanks, Myddy for the review of Chefs Banquet. I haven’t tried that brand so after your comments I will probably try it. I usually buy separate foods and make my own meals, but I like the idea of premade meals for when you don’t want to do much or can’t due to an emergencey. The price is really good.

  9. Dave

    I admire this young womans frugality and simplicity.
    Out here in Mormonland there is Honeyville Farms, they sell some dehydrated meals but mostly its bulk dry food storage, so you have to make your meals out of the stuff in the can. I find its very, very good, on a par with Mountain House. Chef Tess from Honeyville will also has a cooking blog which shows you how to make full meals (which can then be put into a sealed mylar bag with 02 absorbers) with nothing but food storage. For eggs I highly reccomend the OvaEasy brand, they are more expensive, but they actually taste like eggs as opposed to egg flavored cardboard.
    There is a new product which is not quite on store shelves yet called Beyond Eggs, its a vegetarian egg product backed by Bill Gates among others. It fools most people who eat it, has a longer shelf life and they makers say it should be cheaper than real eggs. Besides the obvious humane issues of battery hens spending their entire life in a small cage they can’t even stand in, egg production is extremely damaging to the environment. By 2050 there will be at least 9 Billion monkey-people on a much warmer planet. Growing the plants for the feed, raising and then feeding chickens in vast factory farms to make us eggs for breakfast will just not be viable. Bypass the chicken and eat the plant directly is the whole concept of Beyond Eggs.
    If you can’t drink or don’t like dehydrated milk there is also “Better than Milk” which is a dry soy or rice milk product. Its available on Amazon too. Some of the other food storage companies sell a “soymilk” that is basically sugar and coffee creamer, which is beyond gross. Better than milk is pretty darn good, and while not as cheap as powdered milk, it is cheaper than regular storebought soymilk or almondmilk. Mix it in twice the concentration on the label for a decent coffee creamer. Takes a bit of stirring to get all of the powder in solution.

    • Bob

      Dave thanks so much for all those great tips! I’ll look into all of them!

  10. CAE

    I like the price. A lot.
    Going to give it a try. I hope they sell these at Costco.

    • Bob

      CAE, I was just in Costco today and they had a little survival stuff, but not much. Nothing like this. Amazon is your best bet.

      • tpals

        FYI: Costco online has these and sometimes goes on sale for $99, shipping included.

        • Bob

          tpals, thanks for mentioning that. I’m a Costco member and I have seen them there before.

  11. Free

    Anyone know how big a “serving” is???? especially for the Chef’s banquet freeze dried fruit bucket and veggie bucket? thanks in advance!

    • Bob

      Sorry Free, I don’t know. But it does give you the calories and I believe they are figuring 2000 calories a day which is a standard for most adult males. I don’t know if you would feel “full”, but you would get all the calories you need.

  12. TooLate

    Curious about the storage of this brand of ARK. Company states 20 yrs at 60F or 10 yr @ 70F. Are the buckets storable in a refrigerator (until IT hits & power is lost)? Is that advisable regarding the foods integrity? Does it extend the shelf life even more? (probably need to bring to ambient temp gradually). And, if I understand the descriptions, once the packet is opened, the portions are ‘bulk scooped’ not indiv. pkts. and the clock starts on a much shorter shelf life…correct…shelf life then? Just retired, winter coming on, storms get worse each year (winter/summer)… seems only a matter of time. Thx for your help

    • Bob

      TooLate, you’re right, storage temperature is critical to their lifespan. I’m sorry, I don’t know the answers to your questions, I’m not really a prepper, I just take a few common sense precautions like having extra food.
      There are tons of books and websites on prepping, they would be a better source of info than I am.

  13. Matty

    Bob, do any of these companies use Sea Salt instead of Table salt in their products? Has anyone checked that out? Thank You, Matty

    • Bob

      I’m sorry Matty, I don’t know.

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