The MRE meal or meal, ready to eat, has become a popular item in civilian society despite its roots in the military field. While it can be a convenient item, not all people are confident in its nutritional value or whether it is beneficial for their families. The fact that it was created as a military meal to be used during rationing makes the use controversial to say the least. To help gain clarity on the MRE, this article will discuss the item and offer different reasons as to why a person would purchase MRE meals, such as one you buy from NL4S.

What Is The MRE?

The meal, ready to eat (more commonly referred to as the MRE) is a type of meal that is self-contained in lightweight packaging. Typically purchased for the US military to be used by servicemen during combat, the MRE was designed to be kept at room temperature and in any situation. It was originally seen as a type of meal developed for emergency situations where food is not available, but was not considered the most appealing because of the taste.

What Is The History Of The MRE?

In previous years, during the Revolutionary War, the soldier rations provided consisted of food to feed one person for one day with the majority of items being beef and rice. When the Civil War approached, the transformation of soldier rations changed to canned goods offering less of a variety but more durability or lifespan. Later on, the self-contained kits were issued with canned goods and were issued as whole meals include sugar, salt, coffee, bread and meat – enough to feed a soldier for a day or two.

Despite the benefit of these rationed items, it was found that the meals were difficult to maintain and carry; therefore, canned meals were replaced with preserved meats during the First World War. This allowed rations to be handled by individual soldiers on foot and were more lightweight. During the Second World War, various field rations were implemented helping to feed several people in specialized areas. This was beneficial because the rations could now be carried to different terrain unlike the predecessor MRE. The use of ‘Jungle Rations’ or canned wet rations continued among soldiers during the Vietnam War and contributed to the improved field MRE.

The development of these specialized rations came about when government officials discovered that provision of meals in war zones was not the only factor that needed to be considered. In fact, the war zone situation should be examined with combat areas requiring different features. Officials noted that soldiers in different regions required different subsets of ingredients for the MRE to last, as well as catering to the soldiers’ individual tastes.

During 1963, the Department of Defense implemented an MRE or ‘meal, read to eat’ that included nutritional food created for specialized environments. It utilized modern food packaging, preparation, and was placed in waterproof canvas pouches making it resistant to any wet regions. In the late sixties vegetarian meals were also introduced meeting certain soldiers’ eating preferences.

What About Ongoing Development?

Since its introduction in the First World War, the MRE has experienced continuous development. During the early 1990s, a flameless ration heater was included as a water-activated feature within MREs allowing service members to enjoy warm food instead of cold rations. In 1994, graphics were added to the lightweight packaging making the rations more attractive, appealing, and user-friendly; as well as biodegradable materials being implemented such as napkins and spoons. Moreover, the color of the packaging became suited to the service region; for example, the traditional dark brown was changed to tan for serve members operating in the Middle East deserts.

In previous years, the number of items included in the ration was reduced; however, as the years progress the number of food items have increased dramatically from sixteen in 1996 to 24 entrees with 150 additional options. This is highly beneficial because it allows people from different cultures and with different eating preferences to find food suitable for their needs.

In the early 21st century, an element was included that made certain items easier to consume – the ‘beverage bag’. Using this bag, servicemen were now able to rely on the hydration pack rather than searching for metal canteen cups for mixing powdered MRE beverages. Furthermore, the beverage bag presents with liquid level indicators allowing for precise measurements. They can also be sealed and placed within the flameless heater making teas or other warmed beverages.

The most recent aspect of MRE development is the dietary reference intake formed by the Institute of Medicine. According to national statistics, the average service member will burn approximately 4,200 calories per day but consumes approximately 2,400 calories per day; thereby, exhibiting a negative energy ratio. This negative ratio occurs when soldiers fail to consume all of their rations and while manipulations of macronutrients in food items are available, studies show that the imbalance continues to exist because soldiers did not eat the full ration. The Institute of Medicine introduced the reference intake to identify eating preferences of soldiers and make consistent alterations to their MREs encouraging the service members to eat the full meal, thus gaining full nutritional values.

What Are The Contents Of An MRE?

Typically, the contents of an average MRE will include the following:

• an entree or main dish
• a side dish
• a snack or dessert
• bread or crackers
• peanut butter, cheese or jam/jelly
• a powdered beverage mix
• a beverage mixing bag
• a plastic spoon
• a flameless ration heater
• an accessory pack including a napkin, a water-resistant matchbook, a moist towelette, and seasonings

The majority of the items available have high nutritional value and meet the dietary reference intake where possible. Moreover, according to governmental policy, the items must be of high-quality to counter the use of fresh foods. It should be noted that the meal ingredients have changed over time and change regularly according to the soldier’s particular requirements.

Of course, there are certain requirements for a meal to be considered an MRE. One of these is that it needs to provide at least 1,200 calories and must be able to withstand any storage conditions for a minimum length of two to three years. The MRE is most often eaten within a month, but the assumption is that the logistics units will use fresh foods to dehydrate making it necessary to withstand only a specific number of years.

The method whereby one determines the production date of the MRE includes coding. The average MRE uses a data code where the production date is marked on the packaging in the US date style (month/day/year). This date is followed by the lot number which is a four-digit item that is also placed on the different contents of the MRE. If a ration’s data code is more than three years prior to the current date, it is recommended that you do not use the MRE.

The packaging requirements of MRE items are strict as these meals are being presented to soldiers in war zones. MRE packaging must be able to withstand parachute drops from approximately 1,200 feet and non-parachute drops of approximately 100 feet. As with the food, the packaging must have a shelf life of approximately two to three years and needs to be sustainable in all environments. The more modern forms of MRE packaging are considered to be more sustainable as compared to traditional foil options. This is because the foil options can be punctured, are reflective, and conduct heat.

An average MRE weights between 500 and 750 grams depending on the ingredients. Because MRE meals contain water, they will be heavier than the freeze-dried options that provide similar numbers of calories.

What About The Use Of MRE For Civilians?

Despite being developed for use by military service members, MREs have been distributed during natural disasters to civilians. For example, the National Guard distributed thousands of MRE packages to civilians during Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Super Outbreak. However, while these packages are beneficial for civilian use in natural disasters, their use in these situations has been questioned by many individuals. The basis of the questioning lies in the nutritional value offered.

As is mentioned above, the MRE package is beneficial for service members because soldiers require high calorie meals due to their burning of calories and sodium on a daily basis. In some cases, the meals are provided for service members who are training and not on active duty. Unfortunately, this type of high calorie meal is not the most beneficial for individuals who live sedentary lives. In fact, it can be highly detrimental causing weight gain if a person does not live an active lifestyle.

In recent years, MRE packages have become popular items for contemporary entertainers including YouTubers and bloggers. One of the greatest criticisms is that the low fiber content can cause constipation among users and people have jokingly called MREs the meals requiring enemas. Contrary to popular belief that the gum included in meal ingredients contains a laxative, the crackers are known to have a higher than average vegetable content to assist digestion. The active lifestyle of soldiers also makes it easier for them to digest food, but constipation can occur on occasion.

What Are The Different Types Of MREs?

1. The Aircrew Build To Order Meal

As with the modification of meals to meet service members’ different preferences, officials have introduced different types of field rations. One of these packages is the aircrew build to order meal or ABOMM. This is a military field ration formed for the flight service members and tank operators and can be consumed when operating the equipment. It does not require any utensils and the packaging is suitable for use in restricted areas.

2. The Religious Meal, Ready To Eat

For service members presenting with strict religious dietary needs, the military has developed a religious-based MRE. It is now possible to obtain specialized Kosher or Halal meals tailored to meet the religious criteria without affecting any nutritional content. The meals present with stylized packaging indicating which is the Kosher or Halal alternatives and the markings are available in both English or Hebrew/Arabic writing.

It should be noted that there is a custom kosher meal available for individuals celebrating Passover known as the Passover MRE. This contains matzoh crackers and has a chicken, beef, or salmon main meal. Each of the meals is available in its own packaging and presents with up to twelve packets in a single case.

3. The Humanitarian Daily MRE Ration

One of the Halal meals that are designed for use by refugees and other immigrants is the humanitarian daily MRE ration. This ration can feed a single individual for one day and the menu is intended to meet dietary regulations for all cultures and religions. To meet this objective, the ingredients do not include any animal products, alcohol or alcohol-based items, and a minimal amount of dairy products. This ration is similar in its packaging to the MRE with the outer bag having a high-visibility yellow or red tint and an image of a person eating from the bag with a spoon. Instructions are printed in different languages on the packaging including English and other local languages.

4. The Alternative Regionally Customized Meal

A self-contained sustainable meal that was developed by the Biological Chemical Command and Individual Combat Ration Team from the US Army is the alternative regionally customized MRE. This meal was originally designed for use among detainees at Guantanamo Bay; however, it has been used in various war zone regions including Afghanistan and Iraq.

A defining feature of the alternative regionally customized meal is that it is completely vegetarian, which is a beneficial method of preventing any problems with religious dietary needs. However, the meal packages are not certified for consumption by Halal or Kosher detainees irrespective of their tolerance for cultural diet diversity.

5. The Cold Weather Meal

The cold weather meal is one that can be used in extreme cold temperatures where the wet ingredients in packaged MREs will freeze; thereby rendering the meal inedible regardless of the heating element. This type of meal has an MRE design similar to the MRE created for lower temperatures providing freeze-dried meals created to be eaten using heated water. It utilizes white packaging to suit the environment and the calorie content of the meal is increased.

6. The Long Range Patrol Meal

Similar to the abovementioned cold weather meal, the long range patrol meal ration can also be used in extreme cold weather; however, it presents with different types of accessory packs. While the above meal can be used in standard regions among typical service members, the long range patrol option is created for soldiers receiving limited meals. For example, the first strike service members would use this type of meal because of its lightweight packaging and ability for use in extreme weather.

7. The Tailored Operational Training Meal

The majority of MRE options present with higher calorie content, but the tailored operational training meal is alternate as it has lower calorie content. This is typically used in the less intensive training settings and can be seen in field kitchens when soldiers undergo filed training. It is also used for early training when service members need to become familiar with rations and the contents without undergoing high calorie intake.

The tailored operational training meal uses a transparent plastic packaging with commercial marking. Currently, there are three different types of menus for this ration and its shelf life is between one and two years.

8. The Food Packet, Survival, And General Purpose Meal

Typically provided to service members and pilots requiring small food rations for emergency settings, this meal is available as a portable option. Unlike the average ration, the food packet, survival, and general purpose option contains only a drink mixture with food bars.

What Are The Different Pros And Cons?

1. The Pros Of MREs

As can be seen, there is a plethora of MRE options and this is not only in the types of ingredients but also in the meal package designs. This is highly beneficial because it meets a person’s cultural, religious, and lifestyle dietary preferences.

Another benefit that most people enjoy regarding MREs is the durability of the package. As the package has a long shelf life, you will be able to keep the item for several years and not worry about an expiration date. You can eat the contents and be certain to gain nutritional value even if you purchased the item two years ago. Moreover, the majority of packs present with ration heaters allowing you to heat the meal regardless of your location.

2. The Cons Of MREs

Unfortunately, MRE packages are designed specifically for the military and it is only recently that any civilians have had access to the items. To purchase the item, you will need to visit a military store and it is not guaranteed that the store will stock MRE rations. This being said, lack of availability is becoming less of a problem with many online retailers selling the rations; therefore, purchasing of the product is becoming easier.

While purchasing the MRE is becoming simpler, the price is far more costly than an average supermarket shopping list. In fact, when directly comparing MREs to freeze-dried food, it can be seen that the MRE is approximately 40% more expense. If you are willing to spend more, you will be able to buy rations and prepare for emergency situations; however, not many people are willing to do this.

The final, and potentially the most controversial con, is the high calorie content of MREs. As is noted above the average package will contain approximately 1,200 calories and while this is good for a soldier, it is negative for the average citizen. A person who eats a full MRE with 1,200 calories per day without expending any of the calories can result in weight gain and physical health problems.

Final Words

So, the question is: why should a person purchase MRE meals?

The article above has provided much information on meals, ready to eat, ranging from the history of the product with its development to the pros and cons. Based on this information, it only makes sense that one relies on preferences when choosing the correct meal to purchase; however, there is evidence that current packaging has taken all of this into account. Cultural diversity and religion has been noted with different ingredients being considered. Moreover, vegetarianism and veganism have been considered with particular meal designs being created for these user’s needs.

It has also been seen that the different elements of the package and its environment have been considered. For example, a package being sent to a desert should not be the same color as one being used by service men in a jungle environment. The packaging should also be conducive to the temperature, and there are those meal designs that have looked into this option. For example, meals that uses freeze-dried alternatives where a traditional alternative would have been inedible because of the cold setting.

Of course, one of the most important issues to take into account is the calorie content and nutritional value. Should a person buy an MRE ration if the package offers too many calories or too few calories? The issue here should look at whether the package is being purchased for a military or civilian, as well as which environment the civilian is in. For example, a person who has chosen to use MREs as a substitute for ready meals would not benefit from high calorie content as compared to refugees or displaced individuals.

Once again, the question remains whether a person should purchase MRE meals?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because an MRE meal can be convenient and useful to help in military or emergency situations. However, it should not be purchased if it is to be used in civilian situations where one will not be burning the excessive calories or using it in the way it was intended to be used.