Meals Ready to eat, or simply MREs, are very popular among preppers and survivalists. Although MREs are primarily intended for use in the field by the military, they are now being stockpiled by average Americans. Before you fill your pantry with Meals Ready to Eat, there are a few things you should know about these food rations.
Meals Ready to Eat are ideal when other food facilities are not available and their legacy can be dated back to the C-Rations used during WWII. Since then, there has been a constant process to improve the taste, texture, shelf life, but most importantly, food variety. Nowadays, these are used during crisis and disaster relief efforts and it’s easily understandable why the prepper communities love them.
Many survivalists consider MREs to be the perfect food for both bugging out and hunkering down scenarios. They are the preferred ready to eat emergency food storage, especially for urban preppers. Even more, I’ve seen Meals Ready to Eat being eaten by campers and hikers looking for a quick meal that requires no cooking and provides a high-calorie intake. MREs can be eaten hot or cold, which makes them ideal for those traveling into the wilderness. So as you can imagine that Meals Ready to Eat are not only appreciated by us, the “crazy preppers.”
If you think that Meals Ready to Eat are a possible food option for your emergency preparedness plans, there are a few things you should consider. The following facts will help you sort things out and decide if MREs are suited for your pantry.
The Secrets Behind Meals Ready to Eat
A complete meal should provide at least 1,200 calories with adequate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fat and vitamins. During harsh weather conditions where intense physical activity is required, a higher calorie count may be necessary. Keeping that in mind, you should calculate how much Meals Ready to Eat you would need during an average week. That being said you should know that MRE’s contain the following:
- Complete fully cooked entrée
- Side dish,
- Bread or cracker
- A spread (peanut butter usually, but it can also provide jelly or cheese)
- Dessert and candy
- A beverage mix
- Seasoning package (salt, pepper, etc.)
- Accessory package (sugar, creamer, spoon, etc.)
The Shelf Life
If stored in ideal conditions (50°-70° F), Meals Ready to Eat have a shelf life of three to five years. Most preppers suggest eating them during this period, although they can last longer. If you store your MREs in a cold and stable environment away from heat, humidity and pests, you can eat them past those 5 recommended years. However, keep in mind that their nutritional value and taste will decline over time.
Suggested article:10 Requirements for Long-Term Food Storage
Nutritional Facts and Your Health
This is an important thing to keep in mind and the nutritional value can often dictate what you buy. For example, the sodium content of an entrée might be higher than the one recommended for your diet. This may not seem an essential factor in a survival situation, but if you eat only Meals Ready to Eat for extended periods of time, it may become critical. If you’re age 51 or older and if you have blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes, you need to keep an eye on the sodium content.
The Date Code
On each MRE there should be a four digit code also known as the Julian date code. The first number is the year of packaging and the next 3 numbers are the day. This is used by the manufacturers to indicate the production date. You should find on both the box and pouch. This code will help you manage and rotate your inventory and keep your Meals Ready to Eat edible. As said above, the storage condition will affect the shelf life of your MREs. Having to deal with a medical emergency is the last thing you need during a survival situation. Check if you or one of your family members is allergic, intolerant or sensitive to gluten, peanuts or one other common ingredient in Meals Ready to Eat. The nutritional label can save your life, so make sure you read it before you eat the MRE.
The Taste Test
As I said in my previous articles, dealing with food fatigue or appetite fatigue is a pain. There are specific categories of people (young and old ones) for which a sudden dietary change won’t work. Before you buy a significant supply of Meals Ready to Eat, make sure you sample the ones you plan to buy. Do so with your family and find out if you can tolerate them. You might be able to do so, but others would have trouble keeping them down. Do a taste testing, long before you swipe your credit card.
I call this the 24 hours test and it’s a complementary step to the taste test. You may like the taste and everything could be fine, but you need to wait for your digestive system. Your gut will tell you if you made the right choice or not. That being said, experiment now when you have the chance and toilet paper. Don’t wait for a survival situation to discover you can’t keep down your Meals Ready to Eat. Sample different meals from different manufacturers before you stock up.
Heat It Up
Check if your Meals Read to Eat come with flameless heater and if you can heat them. Specific brands provide water-activated chemical heaters. Those heaters will help you produce a temperature above 100° F in approximately ten minutes. That being said, those Meals Ready to Eat are convenient if you need to keep a low profile and avoid starting a fire. Even more, when bugging out when the time is of the essence, you will not have to worry about having to carry a portable stove or waste time starting a fire. Not to mention that a hot meal tastes much better than a cold one. This is an important morale booster when the situation is critical.
Related reading: Smart strategies to keep a low profile during SHTF
What did you get? Military or civilian MREs?
When you buy Meals Ready to Eat, there are two options: U.S. Military MREs and civilian MREs. Although companies that produce military MREs are not allowed to sell to the general public, you can still find them for sale. The majority of Meals Ready to Eat you can find online for sale are civilian ones. If those do not contain a flameless heater, you can purchase one separately.
A Quick Eye
Regardless the date labeled on the box, you should do a quick inspection. Avoid buying all Meals Ready to eat that are swollen, punctured or ripped. The same goes if the box has a foul odor or the content looks doubtful. To be on the safe side, always by from reputable dealers and read reviews when you shop around.
My 2 cents
In the last 30 years or so, Meals Ready to Eat have evolved significantly. Everything has improved and now the shelf life, taste, nutrition and even packaging technologies are much better. Likewise, the costs have increased as well and a case of 12 or 24 MREs can cost up to $100. This can be quite expensive for some and I recommend tracking deals and holiday sales. Although Meals Ready to Eat may not be for everyone or every emergency situation, they are indeed an alternative worth considering.