Monday, May 21, 2018

The MRE Continues To Be Improved Over The Years


The Meal-Ready-To-Eat (MRE) was under development beginning in 1963, by the Department of Defense. It would not be until 1981, though, that the ration would become standard field rations for the uniform services. In fact, it was during the development of the MRE that the Department of Defense came up with the Long-Range Patrol (LRP) ration, in 1966, for use by some units during the Vietnam War (1955-1975).

   Each MRE contains about 1200 calories. One of the big advantages of the MRE over its predecessor, which was the canned MCIs, Meal, Combat, Individual Rations (a.k.a. C-Rations), was that the military was getting away from using cans. By moving away from cans, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines were able to carry more food while in the field, due to the lightweight packaging of the MREs. Every MRE was designed to weigh between 18 and 26 ounces. And, they have a shelf life of at least three years.

   In 1990, MREs incorporated a flameless ration heater, a water-activated exothermic reaction that emits heat and allowed for servicemen and women to have hot meals in the field. Then, in 1994, commercial graphics were included into MRE rations, to make packets more user-friendly and appealing. Biodegradable packaging was also incorporated at that time. Throughout this process, surveys were taken to identify popular and unpopular meal selections among the services. So, in 1981, there was a menu of 12 entrees; by 1996, there were 16 entrees; by 1997, there were 20 entrees; and, by 1998, there were 24 selections for entrees. That number remains the same today, though there are 150 additional items within MREs that make them more palatable.
MREs replaced C-Rations

   Some things worked with MREs and some did not. Case in point: during 2009, 6300 dairy shake packets were recalled because of the presence of Salmonella contamination. Meanwhile, the HOOAH! Bar was developed for specialized units and it has proved to be quite popular.

   Work on dehydrated meals stored in a retort pouch took place during 1975. And, it was so successful that the scientist associated with that work, Dr. Abdul Rahman, would receive a Meritorious Civilian Service Award for his efforts.

   These days, MREs include: an entrée; side dish; dessert or snack; crackers or bread; cheese, peanut butter or jelly spread; powdered beverage mix; utensils; a flameless ration heater; beverage mixing bag; and an accessory pack, which contains chewing gum, a matchbook, napkins, toilet paper, moist towelette, seasonings and dried coffee powder.

   My experience with MREs began in 1983, on a weapons qualification range at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. Usually, C-Rations were handed out when the unit was going to have a long day at the range. This time, though, first-generation MREs were handed out. I happened to draw Chicken-Ala-King and the result was violent illness. Some entrees were better than others.
Rations used during World War I

   Fast-forward four years, though, when I was in an infantry battalion in Germany, and the Meatballs in Barbecue Sauce entrée had become a prized acquisition for any soldier seeking a meal.

   Don’t get me wrong, after sampling French field rations, it became very apparent that their entrees just tasted better. While MREs have been designed for an expressed purpose and are good at what they do, there are European countries whose rations are far more palatable than MREs. Still, MREs can go anywhere and feed anyone in any situation. They provide nutrition for many thousands of servicemen and women that keep them healthy and active.


   The first ration ever established for use by the military was authorized by Congress during the Revolutionary War. It consisted of enough food to sustain one man for one day and was largely comprised of beef, peas and rice. It was not until the Civil War (1861-1865), though, that the U.S. military would begin its long love affair with canned rations. But, Civil War rations were very basic and were comprised of meat, bread, coffee, sugar and salt.

   During World War I, the latest innovation was the use of salted or dried meats. This made the rations lighter than previously. But, it was during World War II that the world of military rations opened up to a broad spectrum. Not only were foods incorporated into C-Rations, but so was toilet paper and cigarettes.

   In addition, during World War II, Mountain and Jungle rations were also developed for units that were operating in those regions.


   Through the years, some urban legends have surrounded MREs. One of those myths was that the gum in MREs is, in fact, a laxative. It is not. Some people are under the impression that the MRE is diet food….it is not. MREs contain 1200 calories, which is intended to be consumed by persons in a physical environment, who burn a great deal of calories every day.

   One true myth is that MREs contain high dietary fiber, and this could lead to constipation: That is true.

   Since the introduction of the MRE, variants of MREs have been created, among them the Aircrew Build to Order Meal Module (ABOMM). Vegetarian meals, Kosher meals and other changes have been included in MREs also.

   With a substantive history of success behind it, the MRE continues to serve the uniform services. And, there has even been a secondary market, in the civilian world, that has been created for MREs.

   The MRE is an evolution of rations for the U.S. military that has been carefully developed for decades, and continues to be updated and improved for soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines throughout the world.


  1. Well written and informative article. I experienced Mores in the 1980s, having C-RATs in the Security Police Academy at Lackland AFB TX,then again at AZR Machine Gunners School/ABGD Training at Ft Bullis TX (remember the scrambled eggs?). The MREs were a mixed bag,sometimes good, sometimes not so much. The addition of Tabasco minies was a blessing. The ability to use your mess kit and trioxide tablets/mini stove would determine preference on MREs. If you could heat it with water the dehydrated beef and pork Patties or actually quite good. The Vienna sausages (they called them something else) were pretty good as well. I didnt care for the barbecued meatballs or the chicken al la king, and only the chocolate nut cake dessert was palatable. The rest of them tasted like fruit cake which I still The cheese pack with crackers were a welcome find, and the coffee pack was right up there with the TP pack in the condiments.
    I'm glad to learn that the meals have improved, and those heater packs would have been a blessing.
    A lot of good memories...

  2. In Korea in 1952 - 1953 we were given C Rations, but those were likely a far cry from what the soldiers get today. Back then the box would contain three meal cans of "Mystery Meat", a brick of cocoa, a pack of hardtack crackers, an envelope each of instant (rubber) coffee, creamer and sugar, a can of fruit, a wad of toilet paper and a pack of cigarettes. Being stationed deep in enemy territory, we received everything by air drop, and here's how old some of them were. Luck Strike cigarettes were originally in dark green packs with the Lucky Strike Logo. Early in WWII, due to the need for dyes by the military, the company launched an advertising campaign saying, "Lucky Strike green has gone to war", and they switched to white packs. Well one time in that horribly cold 1952 winter in North Korea, my C-Ration had a green pack of Luckies. I can remember how we rated the cans of fruit. The grapefruit sections were the most sought, and if you got one you could auction it off.


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