Food Advocacy

Evolution of the MRE

Today, I salute our Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard Veterans by looking at the history of the MRE – Meal Ready to Eat.

MRE’s were surprisingly not developed until post World War II.

In 1963, the Department of Defense began working on a project to develop a variety of nutritional meals that military personnel could not only carry but would also fill their nutritional needs.

Researchers knew they had to devise a package that not only was cost-effective, but was transportable into extreme terrain and circumstances, which many special force members encounter.

First Prototype MRE

Meal Ready to Eat
Prototype of the first “meal ready to eat.”

In, 1968, Dr Abdul Rahman, a food scientist at the Natick Labs created the first meal ready to eat.

Dr. Rahman’s team used traditional food preparation in conjunction with a new lightweight, packaging technology to replace the “canned” meat meal being used by the military at that time.

It was basically a dehydrated meal in a canvas type pouch, when combined with water, would serve as a meal.  However, this was not as cost-effective for the Department of Defense as the “canned” rations being distributed.

Vietnam and before the MRE

My dad, D.C., served in the Army, infantry division, during the Vietnam war.  They did not have the modern version of the meal ready to eat.

He drove supplies in large trucks to the front lines and ate C-Rations.

“Each C-ration came in a 4″x 4″ x 2″ box, enough food for one meal,” D.C. recounts, “and you were issued three boxes a day.”

Each box contained various pressurized cans of beans, eggs, bacon, and other foods, much of which did not taste very well.  However, D.C. says the pound cake and canned peaches were a treat to be appreciated.

Unlike the Revolutionary War, or either World War; during the Vietnam War, “any soldier who was near a compound of some sort, could get a hot meal, anytime, 24 hours a day,” D.C. said.  Although he drove to the front lines repeatedly, he could catch a warm meal at the mess hall.

C-Ration Vietnam War

The government continued funding research for a better alternative and in 1975, work began on a dehydrated meal stored in a “retort pouch.”

This pouch was made from flexible plastic, using an innovative sterilization process, which allowed a wide range of food and drinks to be packaged.

In 1978, the United States military began distributing MRE’s in the retort pouch, which depending upon the contents, could be ate cold, warmed by submersion in hot water, or through the use of a flameless ration heater, a meal component introduced by the military in 1992. Which, after water is added to the pouch, uses heat to cause a chemical reaction so a soldier can enjoy a hot meal.

Modern MRE

Eventually, The Pentagon incorporated freeze-dried food in flexible packaging, for Long Range Patrol, or “LRP”.  The LRP was issued in 1964 for Army use for troops in operations lasting two to ten days, where resupply was nearly impossible. The main feature of the LRP was a precooked, freeze-dried entrée in a reconstitution package.

Modern MRE

The Department of Defense continues researching and developing new technologies for the MRE.

Considerations during development:

  • weight
  • cost-effectiveness
  • cannot contain reflective material
  • must be at least 1200 calories in each MRE
  • minimum shelf life of 3 years
  • packaging must be durable enough to withstand a parachute drop
  • storage temperature

More varieties and larger portions have been developed, as well as vegetarian options.

Packaging color has been altered to better blend in with the terrain of the military.

Now, even long distance hikers and campers use MRE’s, available at surplus outlets and outdoor enthusiast stores.

The government continues to research better ways to proved MRE’s to our service men and make sure they are receiving proper nutritional sustenance for their dedicated service.

Thank you to all our military veterans!




One Comment

  • David

    Thank you for your “Thank you to all our military veterans!”

    “could be ate cold,” should be “could be eaten cold,”

    This is backwards –
    “Which, after water is added to the pouch, uses heat to cause a chemical reaction so a soldier can enjoy a hot meal.”
    Should be –
    “Which, after water is added to the pouch, a chemical reaction causes heat so a soldier can enjoy a hot meal.”

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