Everything You Need To Know About MREs

What are MREs, and why do we hear so much about them lately? While military MRE have been around for decades, outdoors enthusiasts, along with preppers and others, are becoming more interested in these heat-and-eat meals. Here’s everything you need to know about MREs.

What Are MREs?

MRE stands for Meals, Ready-to-Eat, and it’s the United States Armed Forces’ primary food ration. A military MRE contains a full meal for soldiers, following careful caloric guidelines. Three MREs fulfills the military’s guidelines for vitamin and mineral allowances.

A pile of MREs.

MRE meals provide nutrition in places where traditional kitchen facilities are unavailable. With these rations in hand, soldiers can parachute from planes, live in hot desert conditions, and still have appropriate nutrition to keep their bodies fueled.

The packages that the meal kits come in are pouches called retort packaging. The packets are a combination of aluminum foil and plastic. Manufacturers place pre-cooked food inside, then seal and heat the bags.

Pouches preserve the food the same way that jars or cans do, except that the retort packaging is much more resilient. According to the military, the kits can withstand parachute drops from 1,250 feet and non-parachute drops of 100 feet.

Retort packaging also preserves food for a minimum of three and a half years at relatively toasty temperatures- 80 degrees F- or nine months at 100 degrees.

History Of The Meals, Ready-To-Eat

According to the U.S. Army, MREs originated from rations programs in World War II, the c-rations and k-rations. From there, the program moved into the MCI program, Meal, Combat, Individual.

MCIs carried through to Korea and Vietnam, but in 1980, the military developed new guidelines and methods, and some of those meals are still available today. The program also expanded to include 24 entrees and more than 150 other items.

Current MRE Use

Although military personnel may wind up with a surplus of MREs, most civilians didn’t know much about their existence in the past. But in underdeveloped countries, refugee camp, and emergency disaster response situations, these meals can save lives.

For example, businesses that create and distribute meal kits struggled to respond to the demand that hurricanes and other natural disasters caused. One company president told Popular Science that his employees had to refuse orders because product stocks were insufficient.

In developed countries that lack the threat of impending natural disaster, avid outdoors adventurers and doomsday preppers both seek out the preserved rations.

MRE plated.

What better way to ensure that you can keep your caloric intake up on the trail than packing MRE meals? Plus, the Army’s website notes, you can eat each packet’s contents cold, straight out of the container.

Although it’s preferable to heat and therefore reconstitute your bagged meal, having a dependable food source even in undesirable conditions is a necessary survival tactic. With the affordability of today’s variations, packing your bags for a camping trip just became easier.

Instead of lugging a cooler through the woods or taking frozen or refrigerated food on a hike, you can pack the dry packs of food for a trip. If you don’t like the idea of eating freeze-dried food, keep them with you as a backup in case of emergency.

What Is In MREs?

The Army puts more than the basics in each meal kit. The contents include:

  • An entrée
  • A side dish, often fruit, a vegetable, or starch
  • Cracker or bread
  • A spread
  • Dessert
  • Candy
  • Beverages
  • Sauces
  • A flameless heater
  • Accessories like a spoon, fork, creamer, sugar, salt, etcetera

One meal example is chili with beans, Mexican-style corn, crackers and jam, a dairy milkshake, candy, red pepper topping, a spoon, a heater, and a hot beverage bag. But the menu choices range from a veggie burger with BBQ sauce to chicken fajitas.

In early 2018, army scientists announced they were developing pizza MREs, overcoming challenges involving water content, pH levels, and the shelf-stable demands of the overall concept. The result is a pepperoni pizza that the military can mass-produce in food processing plants and send overseas.

The beverage bags became popular in 2006 because soldiers started to use hydration bladders rather than canteens. Without a metal canteen cup, there was no way to mix the beverages from the meal kit. Now, drink pouches come with measurements and are in every MRE.

Where To Find MREs

Although the original concept came from the military, their MREs are not available for purchase by civilians. Unfortunately, it’s illegal to buy or sell them, and the packaging says so. However, many companies now create visually similar packages with a range of meals.

MRE served.

Many survivalist websites and prepping organizations sell meals, ready to eat kits online. Be wary of stores online that claim to sell the military surplus. Either these companies are scams, or they’re illegally selling military property.

How To Prepare A MRE

Apart from the military MRE, many companies have begun creating their own dehydrated and preserved meal packets. Some are only available online, but others have shown up on shelves in stores like Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club.

Many DIYers have also created their own meal packs by purchasing food storage systems that remove air from food packages. If you choose to go this route, your preparation steps may vary from what the military recommends for their meals, ready to eat model.

While you should follow the directions listed on the meals that you buy, the conventional military MRE has simple preparation instructions. You just heat water, submerge the packet, and cook the food thoroughly. Then open the container and eat straight from the bag.

Since most of us won’t have the supply kits that the military gives their personnel, we won’t have a flameless heater on hand to boil our water. Unless you prefer to eat cold rations, consider bringing your camping stove along on trips.

At minimum, you can use it to prepare MREs. At most, it can keep you warmer and let you cook other types of food if you have any on hand.

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