MREs – yum! Soldiers carry them and preppers stock them. The long shelf life, the salty taste, the plastic packaging. Nothing quite says “Git in my belly” like an MRE! But are they healthy to eat? What’s in an MRE? How long do they last? Are they worth the money?<!– –>
by Derrick James, SHTFblog founder and blogger at Prepper Press
Let’s explore those questions and more, but first…
A Brief History of the MRE
You know the saying, an army marches on its stomach. Hauling battle gear, marching for days on end, it takes a toll on the human body. That much physical activity demands FOOD. In the very early days of warfare, soldiers had to hunt their food. They pillaged for food. Mongols even marched with herds of cows and sheep on their campaigns. In 1775 early America, a soldier’s ration included one pound of beef or salted fish, one pound of flour or bread per day, three pounds of peas or beans per week, one pint of milk per day, one pint of rice per week, on quart of spruce beer or cider per day, and a little molasses (source).<!– –>
Related article: How to Make Your Own “MRE” at Home
Eventually, the Meal, Ready to Eat (MREs) came along. They were adopted as combat rations by the Department of Defense in 1975, but large-scale production didn’t really begin until the late 70s. Prior to that they were referred to as MCIs, or “Meal, Combat, Individual.” Soldiers didn’t really move to eating MREs until the early 80s. MREs then replaced the largely canned rations that had sustained U.S. soldiers through WWII and the Vietnam War. The MREs were tested thoroughly beginning in 1983, as they were distributed to troops. Changes were made over time.
What’s in an MRE?
The MRE is designed to be a self-contained, complete meal in strong packaging to withstand elements. The typical MRE contains the following:<!– –>
- Entree (the main course; spaghetti as an example)
- Side Dish (a vegetable of some sort)
- Cracker or Bread
- Spread (peanut butter, jelly, etc.)
- Dessert (cookie, mini cake, etc.)
- Beverage Mix (coffee, tea, etc.)
- Seasoning (when appropriate to dish)
- Flameless Ration Heater (elements to heat the dish)
According to The Navy SEAL Nutrition Guide:
Field rations are designed to supply adequate energy and nutrients for a particular type of mission. Since the duration and environmental conditions of missions vary, different types of operational rations have been developed. For example, there are cold weather rations for frigid conditions, and lightweight rations for missions lasting no longer than 30 days. These rations have different caloric contents with varying proportions of fat, protein, and carbohydrate to meet the nutritional demands of the various conditions.
At present (it’s always changing), there are currently 24 different varieties of MREs. There are also religiously-certified meals (think Kosher and Halal) that are available upon request.
Are MREs Healthy to Eat?
“Healthy” is a relative term here. Is eating MREs on par with a diverse meal of fresh organic fruit and vegetables? No. But, given the MRE’s intended application (shelf life and caloric intake), they’re designed for maximum nutrition within their design limitations. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Each MRE contains, on average, 1,250 calories. Thus, a soldier that is stuck eating three MRE meals a day is getting the military’s recommended daily allowance of vitamins, minerals, and calories.
The devil is in the details, however. There are often many processed ingredients including high-fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, sugar, MSG, hydrogenated vegetable oils, artificial flavoring, etc. But MREs aren’t supposed to be daily meals. They’re supposed to get you through the mission at hand.
Will Eating MREs Make You Constipated?
Yes, the statement that MREs will make your poop hard as a rock is backed up by scientific study. After three weeks of eating only MREs, volunteers in the study had fewer instances of pooping than those who did not eat MREs. The difference, researchers concluded, was due to the lack of good bacteria found in fresh foods that gives those bowels a little extra kick in the butt…
How Long do MREs Last?
According to Go Army, the practical answer is an MRE is designed stay good for three and a half years at 80 degrees F, or nine months at 100 degrees F. The “real” answer is that so long as the MRE package is not damaged in any way, MREs will last “a long time.” They may start to degrade more over time, but they’re still very edible for years after their production date.
See the following chart for more specific temperature-to-shelf life estimates.
So, if you’re thinking about buying a big box of MREs for your food storage room, plan accordingly. It may be wiser to just buy a 12-pack for your bug out bag. Then save that extra money for freeze-dried foods with a longer shelf life.
Are MREs Worth the Money?
This is a question only you can answer. They’re not cheap, but they do have their applications. In my opinion, for the prepper, they’re best suited to the bug out bag or hiking pack. The roughly three-year shelf life is too short for long-term food storage (when compared to quality freeze-dried foods or simple rice and beans). However, they are a good alternative to individual Mountain House packets when you want a bit more variety and – in particular – don’t want to carry a stove to heat water. That is the MRE’s biggest advantage – the heating elements are included!