Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About MREs, and Then Some

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information about MREsMeals Ready to Eat (MRE) seem to make it into the stockpiles, bug out bags, and trunks of many preppers.  Yes, I have a few cases of them, too. Unfortunately, few people do the leg work to fully understand MREs and whether they are a wise decision for themselves. Below are some tips to help if you have considered buying these meals as part of your food storage and emergency plans.

Purpose of MREs

You should consider the source and purpose of MREs. Most of us are familiar with MREs as military food. Uncle Sam created them to fuel fighting soldiers in combat situations. The taste has to be decent enough to avoid revolt from the troops and to encourage them to eat the whole thing.  If the the troops aren’t eating, it is a waste of money, weight, volume, and more importantly, calories/fuel.

Equally as important as what goes into MREs, is what doesn’t get put into them. Uncle Sam does not want troops to have gas, loose stools and lots of bathroom breaks on the battle field.  You can expect a certain amount of constipation to be “built-in” to MREs.  Ingredients are not added to increase constipation, but they definitely remove any items or contents that would encourage a regular or loose stool. The objective with the MRE is to fuel the troops and for that fuel to be 100% eaten and converted into energy.

MREs And Food Storage

I have never seen the cardboard cases that MREs are packed in. Included should be a label that says- MREs are only intended to be eaten for 21 days! Using the military’s plan of two per person, per day, times 21 days equals 42 MREs.  Twelve are in a case, which is almost four cases of MREs per person. Keep in mind that these MRE stocking levels only account for half of your daily caloric need, and you would still need to augment this diet with at least one hot meal of regular food per day.

Three years is the advertised shelf life of MREs.  Of course, with proper storage, they could last much longer, but we shouldn’t be planning for best-case scenarios. We should definitely be planning for worst-case scenarios. To learn more about food storage, check out these articles!

Math And Rotation

With the assumption that MREs have a shelf life of three years and that you can eat them 21 days in every year, you would then stockpile 42 times 3 = 126 MREs per person at any given time (minimum). That’s 10.5 cases per adult. To make the math easy, I will go ahead and round that up to 12 cases per person.  Every year you will need to buy four new cases of MREs, and respectively use up four cases per year. As a result, this will maintain the restocking rate and freshness.

The above figures are minimums. Let’s assume that we could go 21 days “on” MREs, and then two or three or five months “off” MREs. And again, return to another 21 days “on” again. Stockpiling twice as many MREs is possible if you wanted. Just remember, you need to double your consumption to keep up with proper rotation. Four MREs a month need to be eaten by each person.

Think twice about your MRE stockpiles. If you are going to buy them, be prepared to buy them annually and exhaust an equal number annually. Figure on buying or restocking a third of your supply each and every year.

Side effects

Any person that is considering MREs for food storage should first understand the duration at which our bodies can tolerate them. Eating an MRE based diet is like going on any new diet. You are consuming food that your body is unfamiliar with processing.   Anyone who has spent any time on a diet, will tell you that, weird things can happen to their body. A change in stool, urine, digestion, energy or appetite is not uncommon. MREs are no different.  A persons body is not accustomed to them and will revolt in some manner. Keep in mind, that these side effects are not necessarily unique to MREs. If you switched to a 100% freeze-dried diet from a commercial manufacturer, for example, you would probably encounter similar results.

Supplement Your Storage

As a general rule of thumb, Uncle Sam tries to get the troops at least one hot meal per day.  Guidelines like this imply that with 21 days of MREs, this isn’t the only thing the troops are eating.  Troops in combat burn about 4,200 calories per day. Each MRE contains about 1,200 calories.  The troops are issued two per day, assuming a hot breakfast, and then MREs for lunch & dinner while out on patrols/maneuvers. This typically creates a negative caloric balance. With our military troops are only eating about 2,400 – 3,600 calories per day, but burning about 4,200 calories. As you can see by the numbers, this is not the ideal food pyramid or anywhere close!

MREs are simply a survival food. Can you eat them for more than 21 days and survive?  Sure.  Should you?  Probably not. It’s much more economical to buy freeze-dried products in #10 cans, which have a shelf life of 10, 20, 30+ years. Freeze dried products don’t need to be rotated as often, so there is less worry about eating them up before their expiration date. To learn more about freeze dried food and what is available, check out Thrive Life!

Practicality and Traveling

It is not practical to use MREs in bug out bags or when hiking. They are heavy, bulky and contain water. Remember, these are designed for troops who are going out on short-term, lightweight patrol missions. The military will airdrop any extra-needed supplies and food they may need. Some preppers may not feel compelled to stock MREs. Much lighter and possible cheaper alternatives are available!  Ration emergency food bars are one of these alternatives. The caloric intake you need is there and they are easy to pack. Check out this informative article about the importance of calories and food storage.

Take note if you are traveling on an airplane with MREs. They are not TSA approved the way they are. Heating elements within them are banned from checked, as well as carry-on, baggage.  Since you want to fly with your MRE, break it open and remove the individual packets, and take the heater element out.

What I Store

Our food pantry has about 90 days of food & water for four people. In addition, we have one hundred #10 cans of foods per person (400 cans total).  I am slowly working on tripling that amount. Lastly, we have 24 cases of MREs per person, 96 cases total. We annually refresh at 8 cases per person per year. Each person in our household has to exhaust eight MREs per month. To do this, we take them with us on vacations, cross-country trips during the holidays, on the boat, etc.  We even give them away to friends and family. In the trunk of our car, we always keep about a half-dozen. If they go bad, we just throw them away. Over time, we have noticed that they don’t really spoil, they just seem to lose their nutrition.

What About Others?

Within our food storage, we keep twice as many MREs as we should have. During an emergency we are prepared to help support family, friends and neighbors. Our storage is not equipped, nor do I want to feed them for the long term. Rather, to give them about six MREs per person, and tell them to hike-out to safety or to other friends.  We can’t have them drain our pantry, but they can take the MREs as a gift and use it to get the heck outta dodge.  They don’t have to go away empty-handed.

By my calculations, we could send as many as 36 people away with six MREs per person, and still have 63 MREs per person for our family. Added to that, we also have one hundred #10 cans of freeze-dried food, which should be enough to feed one person for a whole year. We have four people and store 400 cans of food. From our experiences, we have learned that about 100 cans will fit beneath a king-sized bed.

Hopefully this has been a beginning point for you, as you consider MREs and the other types of foods that you can store. Buy a case or two and try them out. Take note of how your body digests them, what meals you like the taste of and plan your MRE storage and rotation accordingly.

information about MREs

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

12 thoughts on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About MREs, and Then Some”

  1. Thank you for your informative article. More info than any other have encountered and also because it considers several angles.

    I’d post my website but having trouble getting it up and running.

  2. Pingback: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About MREs, and Then Some – Survival Mom – Wolfdancer's Den

  3. Good information.

    From a veteran’s point of view. The full MRE was hardly ever all eaten at one time. It was spaced out over time. Main meal pouch might be eaten first. Crackers and cheese/peanut butter eaten later as a snack. Often the coffee pack was never heated in water. We would just open the pouch and put it in our mouths while on guard duty and wash it down with water. Ramen noodles were a useful add to an MRE meal. You could heat water add noodles, one of the meal packs and the cheese and make a great soup. During the warmer season we would suck on the match tips to get extra sulfur into the blood to keep the mosquitos away. Deserts like the m&ms were usually used for trading.

  4. Your shelf life of three years is just an average. The military has charts showing the shelf life at various temperatures. Depending on your storage temperature you might be rotating your MRE’s to often or not often enough. Also, be aware that there are multiple MRE packers and quality and taste may vary, and it is illegal to sell MRE’s designated for military use, civilian packaging is used for sale to the public. PS – I liked the old C-Rations before the MRE’s were introduced.

    1. I liked the “C” rations too, Denis, much more than the MRE’s. You didn’t need water for anything except the drinks. All you needed was your P-38 (can opener) and you were in business.The old type flash suppressors on M-16’s made great metal band cutters for opening cases of C rats. In Vietnam, at night, while on post, we’d sometimes have a small fire going in a barrel. We’d put cans of rats that we didn’t care much for in the fire, and eventually they would explode. One of us would yell “incoming” and the new guys would dive for cover! lmao!

  5. My dad would bring home MREs after AT every year back when he was still in the reserves. Not a lot of them, just enough that each of us kids got one. I don’t recall them having heating elements in them back then, and we just put the entree packets on the dashboard of an old car that wasn’t running and let the sun heat them up.

    I agree with Marc. Even we kids didn’t ever eat the whole thing at once–we made them last for days because for us it was a treat. We never used the coffee. The matches went to mom right away, the rest was ours.

  6. You can buy surplus MREs, but most on the market are not the same as the MREs used by our troops, to include less caloric content, and often not even the same type entrees. I have bought some surplus MREs, and same as others have stated, never consumed the entire packet at one time. I have bought MREs items on line, in particular the packets of peanut butter and the flat bread, which are easier to carry with you and have on hand for emergencies. Some of the MRE entrees are quite tasty, to me, and others not so much so. Easier to buy separately instead of buying by the case and getting stuck with some that no one is really going to want to eat. A lot of the side dish items can also be bought separately and used, if desired, as side dishes to other meal sources. They have some nice side dishes. I have tried several of them, again, some are really good, some would, in my opinion, gag a healthy maggot. Check them out before you need them. Stock up on the ones you and your family members like. Great variety available. Be aware, the hotter the area where you store them, the shorter the viability of the MRE, best stored at under 70 degrees. You do not want to store them in the trunk of your car in the warmer months in the warmer parts of our nation. Also, if the grid goes down during the summer months and you live in a warm area, eat them quickly or they will become next to useless really quick. From what I have read, the same goes for most “survival foods,” the given shelf life is based on optimal temperature of storage. Most “survival food” will become useless in short measure when stored in temperatures over 90 degrees. Anywhere over 70 starts lowering the shelf life expectancy.

  7. Pingback: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About MREs, And Then Some

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