The Meal, Ready-to-Eat – commonly known as the MRE – is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging originally bought by the United States military for its service members for use in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available. The MRE replaced the canned MCI, or Meal, Combat, Individual rations, in 1981.
A field ration, combat ration or ration pack is a canned or pre-packaged meal, easily prepared and eaten, transported by military, security or recreational users. They are distinguished from regular military rations by virtue of being designed for minimal preparation in the field, using canned, pre-cooked foods, powdered beverage mixes and concentrated food bars, as well as for long shelf life.
Such meals also prove invaluable for disaster relief operations, where large stocks of these can be ferried and distributed easily, and provide basic nutritional support to victims before kitchens can be set up to produce fresh food.
Most armies in the world today now field some form of pre-packaged combat ration, suitably tailored to meet national or ethnic tastes.
After repeated experiences dating from before World War II, US officials ultimately realized that simply providing a nutritionally balanced meal in the field was not adequate. Service members in various geographic regions and combat situations often required different subsets of ingredients for food to be considered palatable over long periods. Moreover, catering to individual tastes and preferences encourages service members to actually consume the whole ration and its nutrition. Most importantly, the use of specialized forces in extreme environments and the necessity of carrying increasingly heavy field loads while on foot during extended missions required significantly lighter alternatives to standard canned wet rations.
A key factor in the preparation of long shelf life food is to ensure that the final products are of a quality to provide the consumer with a meal that is enjoyed at any time.
It has been shown in numerous studies that an active male of average size will consume around 17 500 kj per day. To ensure individuals are able to maintain high levels of performance, energy should be maintained by eating nutritious meals.
Should the individual not receive sufficient kj they will use reserves and for extended periods of time this could cause weight and energy loss.
Each meal provides approximately 1,200 Calories (1,200 kcal or 5,000 kJ). They are intended to be eaten for a maximum of 21 days (the assumption is that logistics units can provide fresh food rations by then), and have a shelf life of three years (depending on storage conditions).
Packaging requirements are strict. MREs must be able to withstand parachute drops from 380 meters, and non-parachute drops of 15 meters. The packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of three and a half years at 27 °C, nine months at 38 °C, and short durations from −51 °C to 49 ° must be sustainable.
Each MRE weighs 510 to 1240 grams depending on the menu. Since MREs contain water, they weigh more than freeze-dried meals providing equivalent calories but this format was found to be more convenient as the food did not require extended periods of heating to infuse the water back into the pack.
The 24 hour pack is formulated to provide 3000 calories (3000 kcal or 14000 Kj) and follows the traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner formats with a range of meals, beverages and snacks to compliment the main entrees.
A typical pack would include porridge oats or granola for breakfast, tea or coffee, crackers cheese and biscuits. The main meal would have an entrée and a starch with an energy bar or fruit.
The evening meal could also include a soup, an entrée and a snack with tea and coffee to follow.