What’s in an MRE?

Posted on: July 27, 2016

MRE stands for Meals Ready to Eat. It is a staple ration for the United States military. In recent years, civilian versions have become very popular with preppers and survivalists. The resale of military issued MREs is against the law. However, you can easily find civilian versions that are made by the same contractors and held to the same standards as the military MREs.

They are popular with the prepper community because they last a long time on the shelf, upwards of five years if stored in cool, dark conditions. Plus, each MRE contains quite a bit of calories, usually around 1,200 or so all told. They are self-contained and the package is waterproof. Each MRE is packaged with a heater, so you can have a hot meal rather than just snacking on cold pasta. There are several different “meals” in each case, too, rather than just a case of freeze-dried chicken or something. The food in the MRE doesn’t require rehydration. All great stuff when it comes to food storage.

But, what’s actually in the MRE? Many people buy them because, well, someone told them they should. However, they’ve never gone so far as to open one up and try it out. They don’t want to waste one, I guess. There’s typically 12 meals in a case and they aren’t cheap. A case runs about $130 or so, which means you’re spending a little more than $10 per meal. Given that I could feed my family of five for an entire week for less than $130, it’d take some serious convincing me to get me to spring for a case of MREs.

That said, I happen to have a case of them sitting at home in my basement. I got them a couple of years ago and sort of forgot I had them until recently. Well, what better time than now to crack one open and see what’s inside. I enlisted the aid of two of my sons as taste testers, too. Grabbing a meal at random from the case, we ended up with the Pork Sausage Patty meal, which turns out to be one of the breakfast offerings, as you’ll see.

The MRE comes in a thick plastic pouch. It opens at the top by pulling apart the sides, so you don’t even need a knife or scissors to be able to dig in to your food.

Inside are several items. Here’s the breakdown.

1 – Ration heater pouch
2 – Silverware and condiments packet
3 – Chocolate chip toaster pastry
4 – What snack bread
5 – Blackberry jam
6 – Orange beverage powder
7 – Hashbrowns with bacon
8 – Cocoa beverage powder
9 – Pork sausage patty – maple flavored

The silverware and condiments packet contains a spoon, napkin, a wet nap, sugar, salt, pepper, instant coffee, and coffee creamer.

Both of the beverage pouches contained a powder that you then mix with water. You can mix them right in their pouches, too, if you lack a container. Both of my boys inhaled the drinks before I could snap pictures, unfortunately. However, the orange drink was reported to taste like liquid Jell-O and the cocoa was deemed a hit.

I knew it would take a bit for the heater to warm up the main course so I got that set up first. The instructions state to add a small amount of water to the ration heater pouch, then wrap the pouch around the food. It also suggests adding a small weight to increase the surface area of the food pouches coming into contact with the heater. Within ten minutes or so, hot food!

After getting that set up, we moved on to try the other parts of the meal. The wheat snack bread was thick and soft and the jelly was pretty good, we all agreed.

The chocolate chip toaster pastry was on the thin side but tasty with lots of chocolate flavor.

After waiting more than 15 minutes, the ration heater was barely warm. I tried shaking it up a bit to try and get it working better, but no luck. Finally, I gave up on it and just opened the food pouches, dumped the contents on a plate, and heated it up in the microwave.

The hashbrowns weren’t bad but were very bland, even with the bits of bacon and, I think, green pepper. The addition of some salt and pepper helped. None of us detected even the faintest taste of maple on the pork sausage patty. It was a good ¾” thick, though, and filling. The taste wasn’t anywhere on a par with, say, a Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage patty fried in a cast iron skillet. But, it didn’t taste completely like ass either, unlike so much of what passes for long-term food storage these days.

Here’s the final analysis. I was disappointed the ration heater didn’t work properly. I followed the instructions to the letter but it never got above what I’d consider lukewarm. If I were out in the field and wanted the food hot, I’d have had to build a fire and heat a pot of water, then have the food pouches sit in that for a while. Doable, in most circumstances, but defeats the purpose of having the ration heater to begin with.

There’s a lot of food here for roughly ten bucks. Between my two boys and I, we wouldn’t have been full after splitting the MRE three ways but we’d not go to bed with those missed meal cramps, either. The taste of each food item was adequate or better. The serving sizes were good, not so small as to leave you wanting more but not so big that you’d wonder what to do about leftovers, especially if you split the contents between a couple of people.

All of that said, I don’t know that I’m convinced the MRE is worth $10+ each. I think maybe socking a case or two away in case of emergencies isn’t the worst idea but your money could probably be better spent by picking up extra items at the grocery store and setting those things aside for a rainy day. You’d certainly end up with more food on your shelves going that route.

2 thoughts on “What’s in an MRE?

  1. The heater never got more than lukewarm, no matter how I positioned it. While what you described is indeed considered the proper way to use the heater, it wasn’t outlined in the instructions like that. Given that someone who’s never had an MRE before would only know what the instructions say, that’s what I went with.

  2. Your supposed to, or I do, pour very little water in the pouch and fold it up and place it in the box I comes in and slide the food pouches in as well close up the box and lean up against a rock at a 45 °angle.

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