MRE. 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:
- 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.
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.
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 http://www.mreinfo.com/, an excellent website where you can learn everything you want to know about 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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