What Do You Know About MRE Meals?

What do you know about MRE meals? MRE stands for meal, ready-to-eat. It’s an individual field ration that’s self-contained within lightweight packaging. The American military buys them for service personnel to use in field conditions or combat operations when there’s no practical possibility of organized food facilities.

MREs are supposed to be kept at cool temperatures, but refrigeration isn’t necessary. The predecessor of the MRE was the MCI, which stood for Meal, Combat, Individual rations. Canned MCI rations were used until 1981. LRP rations were also used previously by patrol units in the Vietnam war, specifically Rangers, Special Forces, and the general Army. In a number of natural disasters, MREs were distributed to civilians needing nutrition.

If you’d like to know more about these rations, keep reading to learn about their history, their development, the multiple uses for them, and where you can even find them for yourself.

MRE Meals

The History Of Mre Meals

This history of soldier rations is as old as the nation itself, due to a Congressional resolution that was passed during the very Revolutionary War that founded the country. The initial ration was intended to consist of enough food for a man to be fed for a single day. It was mostly beef, rice, and peas. By the time the Civil War broke out, canned goods were emphasized by the military. Later on, there were self-contained kids issued as whole rations which had canned meat, bread, pork, sugar, salt, and coffee.

World War I rations saw canned meats replaced with salted or dried meats that were preserved and lighter in weight, letting foot soldiers carry even more rations. The start of the Second World War saw a handful of newer field rations, such as the Jungle ration and the Mountain ration, released into the supply chain.

Quartermaster Command introduced cost-cutting steps in the latter part of the war and into the Korean conflict which saw C rations involving heavy cans come back, irrespective of what mission or operating environment service personnel might be in. Canned wet rations were used even into the Vietnam War, where the enhanced MCI field ration served as the last predecessor in rations before the modern MRE came into play.

It was during and after World War II that officials in the Pentagon began realizing that it wasn’t enough to just give field personnel a nutritionally balanced meal. By this point, service members were deployed in a number of different combat scenarios, climates, and geographic regions. Each dictated a distinct subset of ingredients in order for food to be found palatable by soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines over time. Furthermore, being able to cater to the personal preferences and tastes of individual service members would make them more likely to eat the entire ration and its included nutrition. This would help them stay alert, healthy, and more active in their duties.

Specialized forces were starting to come to fruition during this time period, and they often worked in very extreme environments. Carrying heavy field loads while they were on foot for longer missions meant that they needed to carry less yet still stay fed. Canned wet rations were no longer an option.

The MRE started development in 1963. The idea was to use advances in modern food preparation, as well as new packaging technology, to form a lightweight meal replacement. An early version was the LRP ration, short for Long Range Patrol, which had dehydrated meals stored inside a canvas pouch that was waterproof. It was unfortunately expensive compared to the traditional canned wet rations, so its use was limited.

1975 saw the start of work using another dehydrated meal that would be stored in a plastic retort pouch. This work was headed up by a Dr. Abdul Rahman. He later received the honor of the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for the contributions he made. Special issues began in 1981. It was standard issue by 1986, starting with dozen entrees on the limited menu.

MRE meals have seen continual development since they were introduced. Flameless ration heaters, or FRHs, came about in 1990. They use a water-activated exothermic reaction to produce heat, which lets a user or service member deployed in the wilderness or field the enjoyment of a hot meal.

A number of surveys and field tests were conducted, and active-duty personnel made it clear they wanted bigger serving sizes and additional entree options. Images and graphics got added by 1994 so the packets were more appealing and user-friendly. Some inedible components, like napkins and spoons, were now made using biodegradable materials.

The available entrees went up to 16 in 1996, with vegetarian options now possible. It was up to 20 entrees the following year and 24 the year after that. Now, service personnel can choose from two dozen entrees and over 150 different additional items. This variety means that armed forces personnel from any culture and in any geography can find something they’ll eat.

MRE Meal Requirements

Each meal is supposed to provide 1200 calories of energy and nutrition. No one should eat them for more than 21 days if on active duty, as the assumption is that logistical support can bring fresh food in after that. The minimum shelf life depends on storage conditions, but should be at least three years. The weight depends on the menu but should be 18 up to 26 ounces.

Contents Of An MRE Meal

Each meal varies, but it should have some version of a number of contents. An entree is the main dish centering the meal, followed by a side dish and snack or dessert. That could be a fortified pastry, a Soldier Fuel Bar, or just commercial candy. Crackers or bread are common along with a spread of peanut butter, jelly, or cheese.

Powdered beverage mixes are common, featuring sports drinks, dairy shakes, fruit-flavored drinks, cocoa, or even instant tea or coffee. A beverage mixing bag is also standard.

Utensils, even if just a plastic spoon, are standard items as well, along with an accessory pack. It might contain xylitol chewing gum, a napkin and/or toilet paper, a moist towelette, freeze-dried coffee powder, and a water-resistant matchbook. Seasoning might be included, such as creamer, sugar, salt, pepper, and/or Tabasco sauce.

3 Uses For MRE Meals

1) Natural disasters: Perhaps one of the most effective uses civilians can find for MRE meals is simply for disaster preparation. FEMA and many other disaster response authorities recommend that homes and families have enough drinking water and nonperishable goods for each person for three days in the event of things like earthquake, tornado, or hurricane. If you’re by yourself, three-gallon jugs of water and a box full of MRE meals means you’re pretty much ready to go. Store them in a dark, dry, cool pantry, and you’re set. Just remember to swap out the water and check the dates on the rations from time to time.

2) Easy eating during camping, hunting, and fishing: If you are an outdoor enthusiast of any kind and like heading out into nature for many different activities, then these field rations make keeping yourself fed very easy. Many MRE meals don’t require much in the way of preparation, and some of them you can eat just as-is, even if it’s not very tasty. If you plan on spending a day rafting down a river and don’t want to come to a bank for lunch, using field rations is a way to eat on the water without weighing down the boat. They are particularly useful for boating.

3) Supplying scout troops and outdoor groups: If you’re trying to organize a bunch of people, especially teens or kids that might not be used to feeding themselves, that are going into the woods or wilderness for a while, then simply handing out a bunch of prepackaged rations is a great way to make sure everyone is going to have a full stomach. It also makes meal prep a lot safer, and cleaning up a campsite should be a breeze, as everyone can just stuff their waste in a sealable plastic bag and pack it out.

6 Places You Can Buy MRE Meals

If you’ve read enough about these rations to be convinced that you should have some for one or many of the purposes just listed out, then you need to know where you can get them. It used to be something you might only find in outdoor supply catalogs or Army/Navy surplus stores, but fortunately the modern market has many more options for you to check into.

Department of Defense policy states that MREs made for the military must have printed warnings about not being for resale, but many still wind up on the civilian market, as there is not actually a law against it. Civilian equivalents are also made to military standards.

1) Army/Navy surplus stores: Many growing up thought these were the only places to find MREs and other post-military goods or things that someone made for the Armed Forces and just had too many of. Excess supplies also used to be sold to auctioneers or otherwise wind up off-base and on the secondary market, although the Department of Defense has cracked down on that in the subsequent years. You can still find a good number of field rations here though, and if you’re ex-military yourself, it’s a great place to reminisce or just meet other veterans.

2) Outdoor supply catalogs: The Internet has really diminished this industry, but there are still outfitters that put out catalogs. Many now sell online and still send out print catalogs to those that request them or are still on a mailing list.

3) Expos and trade shows: Some dealers have stock they can’t seem to move online or through a store, so they bundle them up and offer them at cheap per-unit prices to sell on the travel circuit. Not every city or area gets hunting and camping shows, but if there are enough outdoor enthusiasts in an area, one will eventually stop in for a day or a weekend. Keep an eye out for these, because if you’re looking to buy in bulk, it might be worth a little bit of commute to fill your car up with economic goods.

4) The Internet: Dealers across the Internet sell MRE meals, and this e-commerce arena has really stolen the thunder of surplus stores and catalogs. You can find both individual dealers on sites like Amazon and eBay, or independent e-commerce sites that deal in such product lines. Always do your homework here, as you need to know things like volume savings, shipping and handling, the life expectancy of the meals, and how much time they have left. Also, check into seller ratings, return policies, and if the meals are civilian or military-grade items.

5) Military manufacturers: The prominent source for MREs is going to be the very companies that make them for the military. A civilian market has proven itself to have an appetite for these (pun intended), and so more are made than the Department of Defense has annual need for. You can find them in military grade, which meets the standards the Armed Forces requires, or you can also find civilian grade, which might have more flavors and options.

6) Your local camping store: If your town or city is big enough to have a retailer dedicated purely to camping goods, then they possibly just might have a few field rations sitting on a shelf for easy eating. Your selection is likely to be limited though, and there may not be many of them. It’s handy if you want to throw lunch in a day pack, but it might not fulfill the listed needs discussed earlier in this article.

You may have already known some of this about MRE meals, but hopefully this article has helped you learn something new. With luck, you have a better appreciation for the history of this item, its many uses, and where you can possibly get them.