MRE stands for Meal Ready to Eat and are the standard field rations for the United States military. They are also available to civilians for food that is easy to store in preparation for an emergency. While they are not the only ration option, they are the most common.
The original MREs were introduced in 1975, with 12 menus. They were more concept than reality until 1983, when one division of infantry subsisted on MREs for just over a month. At that point, they evaluated the meals and what the troops had eaten and adjusted them, replacing 9 of the original twelve meals. They made the entrée more and added sauce, sweets, and for all meals, a drink.
MREs became standard fare in Operation Desert Storm when more changes were made out of necessity. Coffee was added, all menus got hot sauce, and dehydrated fruit was replaced with wet pack fruit; a melt-resistant chocolate candy bar and bread that was shelf stable were also added. In 1992, a heater that does not use flame was included.
The United States is not the only country that has MREs for their military, and the meals provided by other countries differ, as would be expected, by the general meals of the nation. Accessories also vary; the French include a toothbrush with their MREs. It is common for troops from different nations to trade MREs when stationed in proximity with one another.
Even in the United States military, there are different MRE types, and some of them are created to give to people in need, such as those who are displaced due to disasters or war. Others are meant as a little something to tide one over to their next meal. Some are specific to the weather in the area. They are all set up and packaged in similar ways but have different contents and different intended persons.
Most U.S. military MREs include an accessory packet, a flameless heater, a hot beverage bag, a paperboard insert card, a paperboard sleeve, and a spoon. The accessory packets include a towelette, salt, toilet paper, chewing gum, and coffee or other beverage base, at least. Civilian MREs are similar, but lack the hot sauce, gum, and toilet paper.
There are 24 various meals available, each with its own menu. They are sold in cases of 12, with Box A containing menus 1-12 and Box B containing menus 13-24.
While they are edible straight out of the package, most are more palatable when heated, which can be done with the heater or by submerging the unopened package in hot water.
These meals have a 3-year shelf life at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be extended by using cooler storage. They are processed, freeze dried, or otherwise prepared to last. They are also prepared to meet nutritional needs of military troops in combat.
HDR (Humanitarian Daily Ration)
These were created to feed refugees and other displaced people during emergency situations. They provide nutrients for a full day to nourish an individual who is suffering from malnourishment. These are mostly vegan (there may be minimal dairy) and no alcohol-based ingredients, in order to avoid issues of religious or dietary restrictions.
For those who follow their religious diets strictly, these rations are certified Kosher or Halal and accompanied by items that are acceptable to offer complete nutrition.
LRP (Long Range Patrol)
This variation is intended for personnel who will be very active for an extended time period. For example, special operations or reconnaissance missions that are long range.
MCW (Meal: Cold Weather)
Created to prevent freezing, this also includes extra drink mixes because cold weather can cause dehydration.
TOTM (Tailored Operational Training Meal)
A quick lunch option, this one is not a full meal, but more of a large snack. It is meant mainly for those who are studying rather than training, who do not require as many calories to keep going.
There are companies that have taken the idea and created a similar product for civilians. They offer complete meals, packaged in a sturdy package that can travel anywhere, in a size that fits neatly in a backpack.
It may be possible to find actual military MREs online but be aware that military MREs are not available to the public until they are past the inspection date (which is usually three years after the manufacture date). While MREs are usually edible for much longer than the date stamped, they do get to a point when the military will no longer provide them to troops and they are then sold as surplus.
MRE 2019 Inspection Date Case, 12 Meals with 2019 Inspection Date, 2016 Pack Date. Military Surplus Meal Ready to Eat. (A-Case)
Ozark Outdoorz, LLC 2020 Pack Date/2025 Best by Date - XMRE 1300XT (Meals Ready to Eat) - 4 Pack Random
MRE Meals Military Style by DAFF. Full Day Box 1 (2 Apricot Breakfast, 2 Pasta Meal, 2 Paella Meal) (6 Single Meals). Full MRE Ideal for Camping, Survival and as Emergency Food. [1000 Calories/Bag]
This box of MREs includes 12 meals which are randomly selected from available meals. The seller does not guarantee specific contents, but they are outdated meals that are still edible.
4 genuine rations from 2012 or newer can be stored for some time but should be used sooner rather than later. Good for an educational lesson or to take camping or hiking.
This box of MREs is a full case of menus 1-12 and only just past inspection date. Those who want to see exactly what the military eat when out on missions can do so with this case of genuine military MREs.
Three meals (one ration)provide nutrition for 24 hours for one person. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included: enough for one full day.
Made in the USA, these MREs are military grade, fully cooked, with an extended shelf life. The packaging is durable and waterproof, with labels that include nutritional information. Each set includes four random meals packed in 2020. A flameless heater is included.
A 12-pack of MRE Star meals, this food can be kept for up to four years without losing any quality. Flameless heaters are included. There are a variety of entrees and desserts are also included.
Military MREs include plenty of sodium, which is needed by active troops. Since civilian MREs are often purchased by less active people, a reduced sodium version is available. This case includes 14 meals, each of which includes 5 or more food items plus the accessories (heater, spoon, salt, wet wipe).
Six full meals are included in this box, perfect for camping or survival situations. Excellent flavor and useful accessories are included. Military grade materials are perfect for emergencies.
This handy pail includes 8-12 pouches of food that can be stored up to 30 years in a cool dry place. Emergency rations have never been so easy to store and use. This is best for a family rather than an individual.
Only entrees are included in this box of twelve meals, containing six or more different main dishes, including both chicken and beef options.