Meals ready to eat or MREs as they are more commonly referred to, are a self-contained meal that is in its own packaging. These were originally designed by the United States military to feed our troops when they were deployed.
They were given to service men and women who were in combat zones, or in other field regions where regular cooking or food facilities weren’t available.
It was quickly discovered that having a hot meal at the ready can lift a soldier’s spirits and enhance their performance. A hot meal is vital to keeping their morale high and helping them to be able to maintain their stamina.
MREs are packaged with flameless heaters that can heat the meals quickly and efficiently so that the soldiers are able to eat a healthy hot meal out in the field regardless of where they’re at. Here is some of the history of the MREs and how they came to be.
As far back as the civil war soldiers were in need of meals. However, the meals served back then came in the form of rations that would include most of the following (these would vary by region):
- 20 ounces of salt pork or beef
- 12 ounces of Hardtack (this is bread)
- 1 ounce of compressed cubes of vegetables mixed
And, every 100 rations, the soldiers would also receive the following:
- 8 quarts of peas or beans
- 10 pounds of rice
- 10 pounds of coffee beans
- 10 pounds of sugar
- 2 quarts of salt
- and one gallon of vinegar
World War I
In World War I, the food was considered a precious resource and there were strict measures to ensure that food wasn’t ever wasted. The Army conducted a survey and showed that troops were getting too much food. So they reduced the rations and packed them into smaller more efficient sizes. These were easier for troops to pack around and carry.
1941 to 1946
During this timeframe, the military would conduct many surveys that would total over 30 to determine the best course of action for health and nutrition. The military then began introducing different rations. These would go by K rations (which were breakfast), D rations (which were chocolate) and C rations (which were lunches and dinners). All of these meals would be pre-cooked and they were very easy for soldiers to eat on the go and take with them. Unfortunately, they were very bulky and rather noisy.
The next round was in the 1950s
At this time, the military introduced Military Combat Individuals or MCIs. In spite of their new moniker, they were still called C rations as they were so similar in consistency. They resembled the C rations in all aspects. Although they had a wide array of items and a better daily nutritional value, the military phased them out in favor of the soon to be MREs.
The first MREs were developed and adopted by the Department of Defense. By the year 1978, the military began developing these in earnest and by 1981 they were delivering them on a full scale.
MREs quickly replaced the C rations as they were easy to take along. They were lightweight and portable and they quickly replaced the bulky cans that were formerly used. They were convenient in a metalized bag that allowed them to stay fresh and they could be prepared quickly and eaten without heating them up.
By 1983 the government did a field evaluation on the 25th infantry division. They evaluated these military personnel for 34 days. It was noted that they ate only MREs three times per day. While the troops were willing to eat this, they were only consuming approximately 60 percent of the calories.
In 1986, the government again ran the same tests with the same infantry for the same length of time. This time, they noted that soldiers were more willing to consume the MREs and accept them. However, based upon the test results, the government made several changes to the MREs starting in 1988.
At this time, nine of the 12 entrees were replaced with newer entrees. And the size was increased from 5 ounces to 8 ounces. They also added in some commercial candies to 4 of the menus. Hot sauce was also added to 4 menus and they added cold beverage bases to all of the 12 menus available.
Upon further field testing and a lot of feedback during Desert Storm, they made some more changes to the MREs and added in commercial freeze dried coffee crystals and replaced the mil-spec spray of dried coffee. They added the hot sauce to all 12 menus and wet pack fruit soon replaced the dehydrated fruits. They then added more commercial candy into 4 more of the meals for a total of 8 meals with candy.
During Desert Storm, it was found that MREs were eaten far longer than intended with the average person eating them for as long as 60 or more days. They were originally only intended for 10 days or less. Thus, they quickly added in some supplements for the troops. They added in a shelf stable bread and high-heat stable chocolate. That way, the chocolate wouldn’t melt out in the field. Flameless ration heaters or FRH were also added in so that troops could enjoy a hot meal.
Further studies were underway and a joint panel suggested replacing 2 of the menus each year so that they could improve the acceptability. Many of the entrees were changed and some of the other components such as dessert, beverages and the like were also changed.
At this point in time, they made three more changes. They added in commercial graphics as studies showed more consumption and acceptance when personnel saw the graphics. The components and packaging was made easier to open and the spoons were now biodegradable so that they were environmentally friendly.
At this point in time, they also began to review the effects of the available menus and added in more so that they could have more options. This allowed personnel to use the MREs for longer periods of time without becoming tired of the same food night after night.
Today, MREs are still the meal that our troops eat. However, great steps have been taken to improve the quality of the foods for our troops. Even campers and doomsday preppers now use MREs as part of their food source and the meals have greatly improved and are now able to be heated and have more varieties.