Back in the day, when I was in the military, we had C Rations or “C-Rats” as they were called, when we were out in the field. And, quite honestly, they were really pretty bad tasting, and lacking in much of anything. I served in the Illinois National Guard, as well as the US Army, and have quite a bit of experience with C-Rats. While in the National Guard, when we went on weekend maneuvers, a bunch of us would bring our own food along. And, we’d bring, cheeses, pepperoni, olives – gourmet foods, instead of eating C-Rats, or on occasion, whatever the cooks might have prepared. During my years in the National Guard, I never once ate in the mess hall, during weekend drill meetings. Having worked full-time for the National Guard, I was tasked with going to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois every month, to pick-up the grocery items that our cooks were to prepare for the weekend meals – while we were in the armory. And, I wouldn’t have fed that stuff to a dog – and most soldiers didn’t eat that food either…someone would head to one of the many local food places and bring back something to eat.
In 1975, MREs were first introduced, but they weren’t widely used in the field until 1983. Still, MREs were a vast improvement over the old C-Rat MCI meals. In 1992 MREs included a flameless ration heater, and that allowed you to have a warm meal, instead of a cold one – a vast improvement when in the field.
In 1983, we saw the first use of MREs – Meals, Ready to Eat. The they were a huge improvement over C-Rats to be sure – the nutrition value was higher, and the taste was much improved. My understanding is that, every 90-days the menu for MREs change, so military personnel weren’t eating the same old thing all the time. Today’s MREs come as a complete meal. Sitting on my desk is an MRE with the flameless heater – more on that in a moment – and this MRE has chili with beans, fried rice, crackers and strawberry jam, a lemon/lime electrolyte beverage powder, a strawberry dairy shake powder, instant coffee, creamer and sugar condiments and a spoon, most towelette, napkin and hot sauce. It all adds-up to about a 1,300 calorie meal.
When MREs came with the first flameless heater, you had to add some water to the heater pouch, and place your entrée into the bag and seal it up, and leave it for a few minutes. Today’s flameless heater is a bit different, in that you add water to it, and wrap it around your entrée and in about 10-minutes, your entrée is nice and warm.
There are several companies providing MREs to our military these days. I received a case of 12-MREs for testing from Meal Kit Supply and I’ll tell you, the samples they sent me were all quite good – honestly! I received breakfast MREs as well as MREs that would be considered lunch or dinner. Of course, in the military, you usually don’t have a choice – whatever is given to you, is what you have – so if you happen to get an MRE for dinner, that has scrambled eggs as the entrée, well it’s the luck of the draw. While there are quite a few companies who offer “MREs” – not all MREs are the same – some are packaged to look like the real-deal – that the US military uses, but the calorie content is extremely low. On average, the MREs from Meal Kit Supply have around 1,300 calories per meal – that’s good eating – not starvation pseudo-MREs from some other companies. Meal Kit Supply says their MREs have the highest calorie count of any commercially available MREs, too!
MREs can be safely stored and eaten even when they are more than 8-yrs old. If you keep MREs stored at 50-degrees, they are good for 96-months, at 60-degrees, they are good for 84-months, at 70-degrees, they are good for 66-months, and at 120-degrees, they are only good for a month. Now, we all know that the FDA requires packaged foods to have an expiration date on them – and so it is with MREs, too – however, I have eaten MREs that were more than 10-yrs old, stored under a variety of temperature conditions and they were fine. Only thing is, I’m sure some of the nutritional value was reduced.
MREs are stored in a retort pouch that is made of a strong layered combination of polyester, aluminum foil and polypropylene, allowing the commercially sterilized food rations to be safe to eat for long periods of time. It’s like most medications – not all – that can safely be used for many years past their expiration date. However, if the sealed pouched have been punctured, then bacteria will grow, and your MRE won’t be safe to eat – throw it away!
I know a lot of today’s military personnel hate MREs, however, if they ever had C-Rats, they would think that MREs are gourmet eating. As I stated at the start of this article, me and my family actually enjoy MREs. Some years ago, we ran across a deal on MRE entrees only, and we purchased several cases of the entrees, and quite often, that would be our dinner or lunch. And, we’ve introduced many people to MREs and no one ever complained about the taste of them, either. They are a great thing for hunters to carry in their rigs and/or backpacks, too. And, needless to say, if you are reading SurvivalBlog, you are a Prepper, and always looking for survival-type foods.
My family also carries a couple complete MRE meals in our BOBs as well as some entrees, so if the SHTF, and all we have time to grab are our BOBs and weapons, at least we won’t be hungry for several days. Additionally, the flames heaters can be used to help warm your body – just add the required water amount, seal the bag up, and put it under you jacket, and they’ll warm you right up.
The menus are always changing on MREs, and that’s a good thing. Besides the chili MRE, we also received apple and maple flavored oatmeal, spaghetti and beef sauce, a breakfast sausage patty, vegetarian ratatouille, beef ravioli in meat sauce, and several other tasty meals.
It should be noted too that, Meal Kit Supply purchases their MREs directly from a DoD MRE supplier, and is trucked directly to their warehouse, and then shipped to you. Some other MRE supplies have a much longer route, before they arrive in your hands. And, although you can purchase MREs on eBay or other sources, you really don’t know what you’re getting – how old are they, how were they stored, etc. And, it is now against the law for anyone to sell MREs that are marked “US Property. (Formerly, a lot of military personnel would take the MREs they didn’t eat in the field, to a local army/navy store and sell them – while it isn’t against the law for you and I to have their military MREs, it is now against the law for them to be sold. ) A bit of a tangled web, and I’ve seen MREs being sold in stores – genuine military MREs, and when I told the store’s owner that they were doing something illegal, they insisted they weren’t, and that there were no laws against them selling the “surplus” MREs!
MREs are relatvely expensive to purchase, but if you want a complete meal, a three course meal, that is tasty and nutritious, then it’s really hard to beat MREs. My family and I also keep some freeze-dried packages of food in our BOB and our rigs, but there’s nothing like having a good three course meal, out in the boonies, when you cold, tired and hungry.
Meal Supply Kit sells their MREs by the case – and there are 12 complete MREs in every case. Cost is $129.95. That might seem high, but consider that includes shipping, so that’s not a bad deal. My entire family really liked the various MREs that were sent to me for testing – didn’t find any meals we didn’t like. And, I believe if you served someone one of these MREs, without them knowing they were MREs, they would think you made the meal fresh yourself. Yes, they are “that” good. Now all I have to do, is replenish my Meal Kit Supply of MREs one of these days. – SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio
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