No matter where you live in the world, there is a disaster coming your way, sooner or later. Some of them may only last a few days until lights are restored, and water turned back on, while others may take a week or more. You just never know what could happen. There are earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and political uprisings that could all cause at least a week of chaos. Most households in the US have but a few days worth of food on hand and even less if everything in the fridge goes bad. So it’s a good idea to take some time and get ready for the next big one, whatever it may be. One of the best ways to make sure you have food basics, is the MRE which stands for “Meals Ready to Eat” because they have a complete meal in every high impact pouch, safe and secure, and ready to eat. Here is everything you need to know about these meals from their history to what’s available now.
A Brief History Of The MRE
Sending soldiers into battle has always difficult because of all the things they need to not only fight the battle, but to live away from home for extended periods of time. Many thousands of wars have been won or lost when the invading army ran out of supplies and went home. What many invading armies did to survive was raid all of the farms along the way as they gained territory. But some farms weren’t at the right time of season for harvest and a handful of wheat is hard to eat without being processed into flour.
Then, if the invading army suffered a defeat, they would almost immediately run out of new farms to raid in their retreat and suffer huge casualties as they starved while running back to their homeland. Starting in the last 200 years, militaries began bringing their own foods, called field rations, to keep their soldiers fed. A well fed soldier is better in battle, stronger and more alert, and not worried about his next meal.
As time went on, the technology improved to the point where a soldier could carry some of his own food in cans or packages. The taste left a lot to be desired, however, and the meals were widely criticized. The US military went through the C-Rations, the MCI (Meals, Combat, Individual) and then finally the MRE was developed and deployed in 1983. They still left plenty to be desired at that time because they were very plain and quite unpopular with the soldiers.
Over the years the US military has taken a huge amount of criticism about the food it provides so they’ve gone to great lengths to improve the quality and flavor. Now, they’ve eliminated many of the unpopular menu items and have continued to bring in new flavors with better sauces, more spices, better beverages, and more snacks, like candy and chips. The US Army is constantly using taste tests, in-field interviews, and dozens of other methods to get feedback on the MREs they buy in order to keep their troops happy on a daily basis.
Now, instead of the original 12 different meals there are 24 so the troops have more selection. Then the meals became popular with campers, hikers, hunters, and survivalists which meant there was a civilian demand. That helped improve the quality of the taste a lot since, when given a choice, people purchase the meals that they liked, and avoided the ones they didn’t. Now you can buy many dozens of different menus of meals. They are quite good and valuable for those trying times during disasters, but also great for heading to the mountains as well.
Military MRE’s VS Civilian MRE’s The Pros And Cons
The first thing to get out of the way is whether or not the military grade MREs can be bought by civilians. The answer is, they aren’t supposed to be resold, but have always been sold at gun shows, camping shows, on eBay, and all over the internet. These are typically product that was deployed, either for an emergency or military action, and then not used. The government doesn’t like to ship them back and put them in a warehouse after they’ve been to a disaster zone, so they sell them at a surplus auction and then they end up all over the world for sale.
The pros of buying only the military grade are many. For one thing, they are the real McCoy, that’s important to a lot of people. If you can find the right deal, like on the internet, gun shows, or on eBay, they can be cheaper, especially in bulk quantities. And, when you buy a full case, you’ll usually get more different menus or meal selections than when you buy singles. That’s because where single meals are sold the better tasting meals get snatched up faster.
Many people also think that the military grade packages are tougher, made to take more punishment and resist punctures. That’s probably true, but for most people not a factor, the civilian packages are plenty tough and you won’t be in a shooting battle with your MRE (We sure hope not) in your backpack. The cons of buying the military MRE are that they are harder to find, and sometimes they can be a few years old. So always ask about the dates and find out where they were deployed if possible. If you’re buying on eBay, read the reviews of the seller to see what other buyers have experienced. That’s the absolute best way to know what you’re getting. Pay attention to the sellers approval rating, look for 99%.
The pros and cons of buying the civilian MRE are that they can be fresher, they’ve never been deployed to a disaster or war zone or stored in a hot warehouse for months. Sometimes they are more expensive than the military grade, but if you buy your MREs in bulk, you’ll get a good discount, and you can shop around for the best price. Some of the packages are wider and flatter so they fit in a backpack better or stack on a shelf better. And the final con is that sometimes you can’t get a list of the menus you’ll get, it’s a grab bag type of deal. Be aware of that beforehand and avoid that situation if you can.
Buying Military MRE’s And Getting A Good Bulk Price
For the military surplus meals the best place to look is on eBay, especially if you’re going to buy bulk as in full cases. Gun or survivalist shows are also a great place to look because there is a lot of competition there and lots of bulk sellers are there to move a lot of product in a few days.
There is a huge advantage of being able to actually check the dates on the packages and inspect them before you buy. However, you won’t be able to get any buyer feedback like you would on eBay, you should look for sellers with 99% approval ratings, which is sometimes better than meeting some guy in person at a show. Military surplus stores can be either higher priced or lower priced depending on the novelty value in your town. And, like mentioned before, when you buy an entire case you know which meals are inside if they are military surplus, when they are selling single meals, the more popular flavors go quickly.
A case with a dozen military meals will be labeled “menus 1-12” or “menus 13-24” and that’s how you know exactly what’s inside. Most good sellers will know exactly how the meals were stored and will say so in their description on eBay. High heat, like Desert Storm had, can be bad for the meals. Sometimes the temperature would get up to 120 F in Iraq and inside of a warehouse up to 140 F or more. Read as much as you can in the description and the customer reviews, they are a lifesaver for online purchases.
Finally, when buying online, watch out for the shipping scam where they offer a lower price on the product and then rip you off on the shipping. It’s a way of catching your attention and making you do the calculations before you buy. Always compare the complete price, delivered to your home, to get the best value. And, look for the phrase “Unopened boxes” so that you know they haven’t been picked through, you know exactly what you’re getting.
Buying Civilian MRE And Getting A Good Bulk Price
There are going to be a lot more options available for the civilian meals than the military meals. If you buy singles, they will never be picked over since they are easily replaced from the manufacturer. However, buying singles will be the absolute most expensive way to buy them, by far. Some sellers will resist telling you what is in a package because the meals aren’t complete. Some civilian MREs won’t include the flameless entrée heater, the snack, or be missing some other item you really want and need. Sometimes they sell the flameless heaters separately, at extra cost, so read the fine print.
Also, be aware that some civilian meal kits have a lower calorie count, and are therefore cheaper to buy. They can go as low as 500 calories per meal rather than the usual 1,250 average of the military rations. Since there are many more civilian MREs available on the market there is also more competition. The astute buyer will spend the time doing plenty of research, reading the descriptions, the reviews, and always buying in bulk to get the best value
What Is Actually In A Military MRE?
First of all, each MRE is going to have slightly different contents, and that’s by design. One of the biggest complaints among military personnel that are deployed in the field is the lack of variety in their food. The US military has listened and gone to great lengths to change that. They’ve interviewed soldiers on a regular basis after their deployments and are constantly making changes to the menu to keep the men happy. There is a complete list online as to what is exactly in each different meal that come in a case of MRE but here is a basic example.
There is always an entrée, or main course, that is the focus of each meal. Then there will be a side dish such as corn, mashed potatoes, a fruit, rice, or other vegetable. After that, there is almost always some kind of baked product like crackers or bread along with a matching spread, like peanut butter or jelly.
There will also be a snack candy that can usually be placed in a pocket to eat as you go like M&Ms, Tootsie Rolls, or Skittles. These are very popular with the troops and were a major hit when first added to the meals. Rounding out the food, there is also a desert, sometimes a cake or cookies. The beverages are usually a mix, like tang, Gatorade, cocoa, tea, coffee, or a dairy shake.
Another addition that has made a big difference in the acceptance of the meals are the small packets of salsa, sauces, or seasonings that have now been included. There are also packets of salt, sugar, and pepper included as well. Then there is the flameless heater that is for the main dish. All they have to do is add a small amount of water and it is hot enough to heat an entire meal. Each different meal also comes with some needed accessories like matches, spoons, toilet paper, chewing gum, and other items which the troops can either carry until needed or trade among others for what they need immediately.
The posted average nutritional value of the average military MRE is 1,250 calories including 36% fat, 51% carbohydrates, and 13% protein. While this might sound like a lot of calories for the average person, keep in mind that it’s meant for a man carrying nearly 100 lbs of gear walking up and down mountainous trails all day long. Plus possibly running, climbing, physically fighting in hand to hand combat, swimming, and even rescuing civilians or comrades that have fallen.
So these meals are for active soldiers, but they are also excellent for disasters survivors that have been a few days without food waiting for help. They would also be perfect for hunters, hikers, bikers, fisherman, and others that are exerting themselves 8 hours per day doing what they love as well. On the other hand, the average couch potato will probably gain weight if they eat these 3 times per day. The exact calorie content of every meal, including each ingredient’s calories are available online for those that need to know.
How To Use The Famous Flameless Heaters
Some people could care less about the flameless heaters but they have made the MRE fully self-contained so that no fire needs to be built. Fires, after all, could tip off the nearby enemy as to the location of troops. Plus, the food always tastes far better when warmed up.
To use the heater, you merely put the entrée pouch into the sleeve of the flameless heater and then add about 2 tablespoons of water. You can then lay the pouch/sleeve combo into the original cardboard box for support, it’s made to fit perfectly so you don’t have to hold it while you wait. In about 7 minutes or less, the entrée is ready to eat. You can eat the entrée directly from the pouch by slicing it open and then using the provided eating utensil, this eliminates the need for plates.
The US military has a general rule that they aim to provide at least one hot cooked home-style meal for their troops every single day. It turns out that is usually breakfast because that’s the one meal that most often can catch the troops at their base or base camp. Plus, it’s the easiest to prepare for large numbers of people anywhere, on the trail or at camp. There have been documented experiences where large numbers of troops lived on only MREs for long periods, like about a month, with no ill effects. The Army studied these soldiers to help them understand the consequences if it were to happen again and also how it could relate to longer term disaster relief efforts as well.
For Your Disaster Relief Bunker What You Need To Know
The first thing you should do is consider the type of disasters that you and your family are most likely to encounter. Some areas have lots of hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, while others will be prone to earthquakes, tsunamis, or other problems. Look back over the past 100 or so years and make the necessary preparations for the length of time of the worst catastrophic events that have happened in your area. If that means 7 days with no food, water, electricity, or other services, aim for at least 8 days to cover yourself. MREs are said to last at least 5 years if kept at regular household temperatures. However, they do lose their shelf life if they are kept at high temperatures, think Desert Storm here. On the other hand, you’ll find people online that have stored these meals for up to 14 years and then opened them, ate them, and said they were fine. You really don’t want to risk the health of your family on a science experiment, you should rotate your meals out and use them on recreational hikes and bring in new ones at least every couple of years. Peace of mind is worth way more than the price of a few MRE’s.
Remember as well, even though you aren’t likely to lack all food, water or services at the same time in a disaster, you don’t know in advance, so you have to prepare for the worst case scenario just in case. Also, you should have a secure location in your home that won’t be prone to flooding if that’s your number one expected disaster, so use your knowledge to make sure your stockpile of food, water, a generator, fuel, or whatever, will survive any problem that could arise.
Then, add up the number of family members you’re likely to have on hand and then keep at least that amount of food, like MREs, in your storage area or shelter. In addition to that, you should also keep on hand what are called nonperishable foods that can be stored for years with just a little care. The best items to store for your next disaster besides the MREs are foods like beans, rice, dried spaghetti and pastas, jerky, dried peas and other dried foods. These have an almost unlimited lifetime if kept dry. They store really well in tightly sealed glass or plastic jars, especially if also kept inside their original plastic packaging as well.
Most canned goods are also excellent for adding to your emergency foods. Things like canned meats, fruits, and vegetables can last up to 10 years if unopened. Also, peanut butter, jelly, crackers, oatmeal, cereals, and other types of canned or dry foods keep really well. Don’t open them, put them as-is directly into sealable large glass or plastic jars so they are not susceptible to rodents, insects, or moisture and they are good for years, sometimes 10 or more.
Finally, put a date on everything as you store it with a large felt-tip marker, then rotate out old stock and put in new stock every few months. That way you’re always up to date and what you’re eating at the time is only a few months old. Don’t forget to buy some gallon sized water bottles too, you’ll need those more than food. Add to your emergency pantry a small camping cook stove and lantern that runs on butane cylinders. Then some water-proof matches or lighters and you’re all set for the next catastrophic event, whatever it may be.
Whether you’re an avid outdoor person, a survivalist, or just want to be ready to feed your family in a catastrophe, MREs are an excellent, complete, fully self-contained centerpiece for your emergency food supply. After that, you can supplement them with other foods and supplies that you might have saved up that still need to be cooked before eating. The problem with nearly every other type of food is that it needs something to go with it to make it work, either a cook stove, or other perishable to make a meal. The MRE, on the other hand, has everything you need all in one of the toughest packages you’ll ever encounter. They’re worth every penny when it the time comes that you really need them.