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What are MREs?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) are packaged food rations created by the US military which are used to aid soldiers who may not have access to food preparation facilities. MREs may also be distributed as part of aid packages to people in disaster areas, as was the case with victims of Hurricane Katrina. They may also be part of supplies sent to refugee camps.

Typically MREs contain an entrée, a side dish, either crackers or bread, margarine or spread for bread, a ration of coffee and creamer, dessert and required utensils. They also contain a ration heater, which tends to work by adding a little water to the MREs. This effectively heats the entrée and the coffee. Most MREs contain about 1200-1500 calories.

Entrees vary, and food research specialists do try to express variety in MREs. Recently developed MREs include dishes like jambalaya, fajitas, omelets, penne, and manicotti. Traditional meals like meatloaf and pot roast are also included in MRE offerings.

One doesn’t necessarily have a choice of meals, and not all who eat MREs would do so by choice. In fact, one common complaint of MREs is that they seem to cause a high degree of constipation. Developers of MREs have tried to offset this by adding extra fiber to the bread or cracker portion of the meal. Still many who eat MREs have given them quite colorful alternative definitions like Meals Refusing to Exit or Meals Rejected by Everyone.

Part of the problem with developing MREs is that they have to be made for easy portability, and for conditions that will withstand parachute drops and extreme temperatures. They must also be able to last for about three and a half years. Making a tasty meal while fulfilling these requirements can be challenging.

An interesting controversy that has been occurring since Hurricane Katrina is the number of people selling boxes of MREs on auction sites like eBay. It is believed that MREs distributed to people during the aftermath of the hurricane may have actually been stockpiled. Technically MREs are not supposed to be sold, but this is rarely enforced. Until the government provides eBay with laws that specifically outlaw the auction of MREs, the site makes sure there is a disclaimer that they are not for commercial sale.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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