The Truth About MRE’s


MRE_20071124MRE. The acronym of Meal, Ready to Eat. A common term in the military and prepper communities for packaged field rations. Many people stocking survival food will stock MRE’s, either as a sole food source or as an addition to other stocked food options. There are a lot of opinions and even myths about MRE’s. So what is the truth about MRE’s?

Many preppers are stocking up on long-term food items to prepare for emergencies. And that’s a really good idea. But there are a number of choices that you can make, and MRE’s are a popular choice. But there are many misconceptions about this food item, and a few downright myths.

To begin with, all MRE’s are not the same. This generic name has been applied to a number of civilian copies of the original military product, and the uninformed buyer needs to pay close attention to what he is buying. So lets start out with the original military issue MRE and then we will discuss the civilian versions.

The military MRE is the ongoing development of military rations that began before WW1. In WW2 the US military had both ‘C” rations (for canned items”) and “K” rations that came in a carton. The ‘C ” ration was under constant development and was the mainstay field ration all the way through the Vietnam War. ( I ate more than my fill of them there). The dehydration process for food was accelerated during the Vietnam War and started out as a packaged, dehydrated meal called “LLRP” They were lighter and more convenient than “C” rations, but required water to rehydrate the contents. Water is a premium item for the field soldier so development continued for a packaged meal that didn’t require a lot of water to constitute. The MRE was developed. Except for the beverage powders in the meal, the MRE is indeed a “meal ready to eat”

Each MRE has a basic type of content with varying menus. Menus are added and dropped almost yearly, but every MRE will have the following items:

Typical MRE

Typical MRE

  • Entrée – the main course, such as Spaghetti or Beef Stew
  • Side dish – rice, corn, fruit, or mashed potatoes, etc.
  • Cracker or Bread
  • Spread – peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spread
  • Dessert – cookies or pound cakes
  • Candy – M&Ms, Skittles, or Tootsie Rolls
  • Beverages – Gatorade-like drink mixes, cocoa, dairy shakes, coffee, tea
  • Hot sauce or seasoning – in some MREs
  • Flameless Ration Heater – to heat up the entrée
  • Accessories – spoon, matches, creamer, sugar, salt, chewing gum, toilet paper, etc.
Flameless Ration Heater

Flameless Ration Heater

The flameless ration heater requires water to work, but all MRE’s can be eaten cold and the heater is not required.

Military MRE’s come in 12 meal boxes labeled A box and the B box. The difference is only the menus inside. Each MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13% protein, 36% fat, and 51% carbohydrates) and 1/3 of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals. A full day’s worth of meals would consist of three MREs. However, in my own personal military experience, I seldom ate three full MRE’s a day. I have gone for long periods on just two, but every person’s metabolism is different.

Myths and Misconceptions.

The United States Government has never officially surplused MRE’s, although there  a large number of them on the market. The cartons used to be labeled “Not for resale” but the newer ones I see are not. There are two major sources for original MRE’s. The first is a large quantity that the government has provided as aid relief in natural disasters. The second is from military personnel. If you are active duty or retired military, or certain members of the Reserve or National Guard, you can buy official MRE’s at military commissaries. That’s where I get mine. Not to mention all of the “extras” brought home as meals not eaten. So be careful when you buy MRE’s that are advertised as “original military issue” They may or may not be. Another misconception about MRE’s is that they tend to stop you up. This is only partly true. Because they do not require water to constitute, many people do not consume sufficient water to digest them properly. If you do not drink enough water to digest them properly, they will stop you up.

Shelf Life

Officially, MRE’s should stay good for three years at 80 degrees Fahrenheit. But the reality is that they will last a lot longer if kept cool and not damaged. I have eaten MRE’s that exceeded 5 years. The following chart is from, an excellent website where you can learn everything you want to know about MRE’s


Civilian MRE’s

A number of legitimate company’s manufacture their version of the MRE and advertise them as equal to the military article. Many of them are using the same products that go into military MRE’s. Some of them are offered in smaller case quantities.

The Bottom Line

So, are MRE’s a good product to stock for emergencies? Sure. But you need to do your homework. If you are buying what you know to be fresh, government issue MRE’s then you can be sure of your product. If buying civilian ones, buy a couple of test meals from various sources and check them out. See what the stated shelf life is, and how many calories are advertised per meal. Remember, military MRE’s are designed to provide a high calorie diet to people who are burning them up rapidly.  If you are stocking for long term, you may want to balance out your supplies with additional types of food such as freeze dried meals and canned items, not to mention whatever fresh food you can lay your hands on. And remember that you need to drink plenty of water with them for proper digestion!

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10 thoughts on “The Truth About MRE’s

  1. A few years back my small group took MRE’s to Burning Man. Our plan was to cook breakfast each day and eat MRE’s the rest of the day. Our plan started to fall apart the first morning. The wind was blowing hard and it was like being in a dust storm. No way to cook without getting dust in the food. But the MRE’s saved the day. Also there were so much going on 24/7 that the group was seldom all in camp at the same time. We would split up, grab a couple of MRE’s and head out, sometimes not returning to camp till the wee hours of the next morning. Thinking back on the trip it was very much like bugging out in a two week SHTF event. If you did not bring something, you had to figure out how to get by for two weeks without it. We did not have any problem with being “stopped up”.


  2. These are survival prep foods for emergencies so I don’t think it is a bad idea to keep a case around. You can get a case for $60 from CTD. Like one post says rotate your stock. These are for when you don’t have other alternatives. Some people prefer Mountain House. That is fine as long as you have the water to cook them. In the area I survive in, water can be a bit of a luxury to find and conserve. I try not to waste it on food preparation which I like about MREs. Other parts of the country water is plentiful. To each his own.


  3. Expensive, bulky, relatively short shelf life, questionable nutrition; does not sound like a good base for food preps. Convenient, complete; might be worth having a few on hand as long as they are “rotated” (used and replaced) every couple of years.


    • They are comparatively expensive unless you have access to a military commissary. Bulky is alleviated by taking what you need out of the bag and discarding the rest like we did with C rations in Vietnam. The dates on the cases are actually inspection dates and if they pass they are good to go. I have eaten MRE’s that were in excess of 5 years old. In regards to nutrition, many of the units I was assigned to lived off of them for weeks at a time, and I have never seen a soldier suffering from malnutrition. Constipation maybe. I also agree that they are not suitable for extensive long term use. I wouldn’t want to have to live off of them exclusively for more than a month.


  4. After years of eating “Meals Refusing to Exit” aka MRE’s, there is no way in hell they are part of my preps.

    So why not get creative and look round for MARTE.
    Meals ALMOST ready to eat. i.e. forage and trap for food.
    For example:-

    Slice up a few wild garlic bulbs, add a couple of dandelion leaves and their roots, perhaps a thinly sliced bull-rush tuber for flavor, and a handful of rice or scavenged cereal crop into a billy, add a stock cube, your freshly jointed bunny, 2 liters of water, and leave to stew all night on the side of a fire.

    LUXURY and apart from the 20 cent stock cube all free.
    Rich with minerals, vitamins, carb’s, protein, garlic being great for building up your natural bodies defenses and you still prefer MRE’s!?!

    I’d say carry on except you won’t be able to after a while, all blocked up to the eyeballs with “Meals Refusing to Exit”.


    • Water! LOL! I agree with you that foraging should be the first priority, regardless of what storable foodstuffs you stock. To me, forging should be your first option, supplemented by your storable foods when needed. You eat better and stretch your supplies out longer. I have always had a fondness for rabbit stew.

      Liked by 1 person

    • My experience was that many soldiers do not drink enough water to digest them. I never had a problem with being stopped up by them, but I tend to not eat as much and drink a lot of water in the field. Usually 2 MRE’s a day was enough for me, and depending on climate, at least a gallon of water. You Cannon Cockers had it made with water buffalos available. Us Infantry types had to hump it. BTW. Thank you for your service! The artillery saved my butt a few times in The Nam.


  5. Pingback: The Truth About MRE’s | Azweaponcraftprepper

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