Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE)

The Meal, Ready-to-Eat, commonly called just MRE, is a ration system designed to sustain an individual engaged in heavy activity such as military training or during actual military operations when normal food service facilities are not available.

The Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) was adopted as the main DOD combat ration in 1975. The first buy, a large-scale production test, began in 1978, with delivery in 1981.

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Unpacking MREs from cases, USMC, January 2005
Unpacking MREs from cases, USMC, January 2005.

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What is a Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE)?

Carton of Meal, Ready to Eat

The MRE is a totally self-contained operational ration consisting of a full meal packed in a flexible meal bag. The full bag is lightweight and fits easily into military field clothing pockets. Each meal bag contains an entree and a variety of other components as may be seen in the Table of Menus.

Production is segregated, typically with menus 1 - 12 designated as Case A, and menus 13 - 24 designated Case B. Each shipping pallet then contains 24 A cases and 24 B cases. The net weight per case is approximately 22 lbs. and 1.02 cubic feet, while each pallet weights 1,098 lbs., approximately 56.1 cubic feet. The markings on the cartons include the traditional "Black Crescent" indicating rations.

The shelf life of MREs in their original packaging is three years at 80 degrees F. However, the shelf life can be extended through the use of cold storage facilities prior to distribution.

Although U.S. military MREs are not sold to the public, MREs and components often show up on eBay and other militaria auctions. has a variety of commercial versions of the MRE listed for sale.

Contents of the Military MRE

Meal, Ready to Eat MRE

The twenty-four different varieties of meals are listed in the Table of Menus. Components are selected to complement each entrée as well as provide necessary nutrition. The components vary among menus and include both Mexican and white rice, fruits, bakery items, crackers, spreads, beverages, snacks, candy, hot sauce, and chow mein noodles for the pork chow mein entrée. The fruits may be applesauce, pears, peaches, pineapple, or strawberry. The bakery items include a fudge brownie, cookies, fruit bars, a toaster pastry, and pound cake in flavors of lemon, vanilla, orange, pineapple, and chocolate mint. Each meal also contains an accessory packet.

The contents of one MRE meal bag provides an average of 1250 kilocalories (13 % protein, 36 % fat, and 51 % carbohydrates). It also provides 1/3 of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals determined essential by the Surgeon General of the United States.

Except for the beverages, the entire meal is ready to eat. While the entree may be eaten cold when operationally necessary, it can also be heated in a variety of ways, including submersion in hot water while still sealed in its individual entree package. Since mid-1992, a flameless ration heating device has also been packed into each meal bag to heat the entree.

Evolution of the Military MRE

The MRE program managers have been responsive to experience and user requests. In some cases, items have been dropped due to complaints or excess costs. As a result, the contents and variety of the MRE has changed over the years and will continue to do so. Here is a partial accounting of changes in the 1992 to 2006 time period:

  • 1992: Hot sauce in every menu
  • 1993: Flameless Ration Heater added
  • 1994: Last year for freeze-dried fruit (too expensive)
  • 1996: From 12 to 16 menus and nutritional labeling
  • 1997: From 16 to 20 menus and beef jerky
  • 1998: From 20 to 24 menus, to include 4 vegetarian
  • 1999-2006: A wide variety of new entrees, starches, candies, desserts, snacks, beverages
  • 2005: Hot beverage bag added
  • 2006: Ergonomically designed drink pouch for dairy shakes added

Find More Information on the Internet

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