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    The Truth About MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)

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    The Truth About MREs

    MRE’s are often touted as a great meal option for preppers. And while these meals do present some advantages, the truth is they may not be the best option for you. There may be better, less expensive, and healthier options for storing emergency food

    MRE stands for Meal, Ready-to-Eat. This is a self-contained meal first developed by the Department of Defense in 1975. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that MREs were actually tested on the battlefield by soldiers. Over time, the prepackaged meals were adjusted to include more variety and items such as heat-stable chocolate and shelf-stable bread. 

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    What’s In an MRE?

    Most MREs include a main entrée (like spaghetti), a side dish (such as mashed potatoes or corn), a starch (like crackers or bread), some kind of spread, a dessert, a piece of candy, and sometimes coffee or drink mix.

    You might find some hot sauce and a specially designed flameless heater to warm up the entrée. These meals were created specifically for soldiers in combat to have enough calories to perform their duties. However, to keep these items shelf-stable under a variety of extreme conditions, they have been highly processed with ingredients you might not normally want to eat. 


    There are pros to storing MREs for personal use. These prepacked meals certainly last a long time, and they are a single, self-contained meal.

    MREs are convenient because the work of preserving and packaging has already been done for you. You could store MREs for years.

    If needed, in a hurry, you could grab a few and go, knowing you would have a food source that is complete and ready to eat. 

    MREs in the Field


    Although there are some benefits to purchasing MREs, they are more useful as a backup plan than as a main food source.

    MREs have very limited options. There are about 24 different meals to choose from. But each meal is prepacked, so you don’t get to choose your ingredients or side dishes.

    You simply get what you get, and if you don’t eat certain parts of the meal, such as bread or soy or some other particular ingredient, then you will have wasted the food. Chances are, you won’t like everything in the package.

    You won't have many leftovers. Since an MRE is only meant for one meal, you won’t be likely to save leftovers for the next meal, which will waste all those precious calories.

    Or perhaps you are trying to reduce calories – you won’t want to eat those high-calorie candies and desserts that are already packed in there. There are healthier options if you want to store your own food

    MREs take up a lot of space due to the packaging. Although convenient, the packaging does require extra room for storage. Also, these items are so prepackaged that you end up with a lot of package waste.

    For example, everything inside is individually wrapped, leaving you with lots of plastic to dispose of. And if you aren’t in a combat or hiking situation, you’ll probably just heat the food in the microwave or on a woodstove rather than with those little plastic heaters. 

    Lastly, MREs are pretty expensive per calorie. They cost over $10 each. So if you eat three meals a day, this will cost you at least $30 per person, over $900 per month. This gets expensive, especially if you consider all the food that gets wasted. Instead, you are better off creating your own food storage system for a number of reasons. 

    Dietary Needs

    You can prep your own food according to your dietary needs. If you are on a specialized diet, or if you have children who are picky eaters, you can keep this in mind if you prep your own food rather than investing in MREs.

    You can choose items that avoid allergies, items that are more paleo-friendly, or even more vegetarian items. You have a lot more freedom when you store your own food. 

    Stack of MREs

    Healthier Options

    MREs are made to last through all kinds of situations. However, the preservatives, calories, and ingredients may not be the healthiest choices.

    When you do your own canning, preserve your own food through dehydrating, and store your own dried goods, you can choose healthier, more nutritious items without all of the preservatives or extra calories that you don’t need. 

    More Variety

    Appetite fatigue occurs when you eat the same foods every day. You begin to lose your appetite because your brain is tired of the same tastes and smells. This can occur with MREs because they are all packaged the same, with similar ingredients.

    However, when you store your own meals or meal ingredients, you can be prepared to fight this fatigue with herbs, spices, sauces, and varieties of pasta, rice, beans, and many other items. You’ll be able to tailor your food storage to include a healthy variety of foods to satisfy your palate and your nutrition.

    Save Space

    You can save wasted space. MRE’s take up a lot of space due to their packaging. However, if you package your own foods, you can save a lot of space. For example, you could package up bulk beans, rice, or pasta into mylar bags with oxygen absorbers.

    These will last 10 years or more and take up very little space. Putting them into buckets with gamma lids will make them easy to store and even more convenient. These items will store for just as long. 

    Save Money

    You can save a lot of money by storing your own dried goods over the cost of MREs. For example, a 50-pound bag of rice generally costs under $25 and contains 250 servings. You can separate a bulk bag into smaller, more usable amounts and store them.

    A one-pound bag of dried beans is less than $2 and will provide 12 servings when cooked. These foods will last many years when stored correctly and will save you a lot of money as well. They do not contain preservatives, making them healthier and more nutritious. 

    There’s nothing wrong with storing MREs if that is what works best for you. However, as you build your prepper pantry or continue to expand the one you already have, you may want to incorporate more nutritious, less expensive meals and ingredients.

    Beans, rice, and pasta make great staple items and can be supplemented with canned meat, fruit, sauces, and vegetables. You’ll save money, eat healthily, and be prepared. 

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