The Meal, Ready-to-Eat – commonly known as the MRE – is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging 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 and is the intended successor to the lighter LRP ration developed by the United States Army for Special Forces and Ranger patrol units in Vietnam.
Some Development History
In 1963, the Department of Defense began developing the "Meal, Ready to Eat", a ration that would rely on modern food preparation and packaging technology to create a lighter replacement for the canned meal. In 1966, this led to the Long Range Patrol, or LRP ration, a dehydrated meal stored in a waterproof canvas pouch. However, just as with the Jungle ration, its expense compared to canned wet rations, as well as the costs of stocking and storing a specialized field ration, led to its limited usage and repeated attempts at discontinuance by Quartermaster Command officials. In 1975, work began on a dehydrated meal stored in a plastic retort pouch. It went into special issue starting in 1981 and standard issue in 1986, using a limited menu of twelve entrees.
The MRE has been in continual development since 1993. In an array of field tests and surveys, service members requested more entree options and larger serving sizes. By 1994, commercial-like graphics were added to make the packets more user-friendly, while biodegradable materials were introduced for inedible components, such as spoons and napkins. The number of entrees expanded to 16 by 1996 (including vegetarian options), 20 entrées by 1997 and 24 entrées by 1998. Today, service members can choose from up to 24 entrees, and more than 150 additional items. The variety allowed service members from various cultures and geographical regions to find something palatable. In 1992, a Flameless Ration Heater (FRH), a water-activated exothermic reaction product that emits heat, allowed a service member in the field to enjoy a hot meal.
In 2006, "Beverage Bags" were introduced to the MRE, as service members have begun to depend more on hydration packs than on canteens, thus denying them the use of the metal canteen cups (shaped to fit in a canteen pouch with the canteen) for mixing powdered beverages. In addition to having measuring marks to indicate levels of liquid for precise measurement, they can be sealed and placed inside the flameless heater.
Most recently, MREs have been developed using the Dietary Reference Intake, created by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM indicated service members (who were classified as highly active men between the ages of 18 and 30) typically burn about 4,200 Calories (kcal) a day, but tended to only consume about 2,400 Calories a day during combat, entering a negative energy balance. This imbalance occurs when service members fail to consume full portions of their rations. Although manipulations to the food items and distribution of macronutrients to help boost the amount of kilocalories per MRE have been made, more studies are showing many service members still do not meet today's standards of daily consumption, often trading and discarding portions of the ration.Researchers continue to study the habits and eating preferences of service members, making constant changes that encourage service members to eat the entire meal and thus get full nutritional value.