MREs: Best Prepper Food or Waste of Money?

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If you are reading this article, I would imagine that you have never eaten an MRE before. Why do I say that? Well, for anyone who has eaten MREs you probably already have a strong opinion about them or at the very least, your experience might be based upon military service years ago. That is the perspective I was coming from when Meal Kit Supply approached me about reviewing their MREs that they produce. I had eaten more than my fair share of MREs when I was in the Army, but things have changed as you would expect with the passage of more years than I want to think about so I decided to take them up on the offer and while I was at it, share my opinion on what if any place MREs have in the food storage plan for preppers.

My military experience was let’s just say in the last century and MREs have gone through some pretty decent changes and updates since the time I was chowing down. For those who don’t know what an MRE is, the Acronym stands for Meal Ready to Eat and this is what is given to our soldiers when they aren’t near a mess hall. When I was in the field we would usually get an MRE for lunch. Breakfast and dinners would be a hot meal, or it started out as hot when we crowded around the mess tent or the insulated containers they drove out to us on the back of a jeep. By the time you got somewhere to eat your meal it was usually cold. We would only go to the field in the winter time naturally.

MREs at the time were pretty much like they are now, but the menus have improved and some minor details have made this meal in a bag much more palatable if you can believe that. I served before they had things like M&M’s or skittles for dessert and hot sauce to flavor your food. We also didn’t have a built-in heater like they do now. If you wanted your MRE warm you were limited only by your creativity. MRE food packets are foil so they are both waterproof and allow you to heat them on almost anything. We would use the heater vents in our trucks, lay them on our stoves in the tent or on the block of our engines.MREPackage

MREs come in boxes of 12 and each MRE is a different meal. You quickly learn which meals you like and which ones you don’t. If you were unfortunate enough to be the last one to the box you got what everyone else passed over. When I was in the service I think the worst meal was the beef patty. There are some similarities between the meals. They all come with an entrée, some side and a dessert. You get crackers and peanut butter or cheese, a condiment packet and usually a drink mix. We would even come up with our own names for meals that displayed our disdain for the contents. One meal, Meatballs with barbecue sauce was affectionately called ‘Meat nuts with Barf A Shoe’ sauce by myself and the guys in my unit. I am sure there are millions of other creative renames. I actually liked that MRE and I think it was pretty much my go-to meal as long as I could beat everyone to the box.

Meal Kit Supply sent me a box and I opened it up looking for some differences in the contents on the bag and searching for my old favorites because I was definitely getting the best MRE and I wouldn’t be stuck with the Beef patty. I was surprised at the options. For starters we didn’t have anything vegetarian when I was in the service, but this box had Vegetarian Ratatouille, Vegetarian Lasagna and Apple Maple Rolled Oats. Breakfast?? They also had the old standbys of Pork Sausage Patty and it looked like my Meatballs with Barbecue sauce was changed to Meatballs in Marinara sauce. That is what I decided to taste first.

What do MREs taste like?

Before I get into what the MREs from Meal Kit Supply tasted like, I wanted to set expectations here. Just like I have said in other reviews on long-term storable food similar to this. When you tear open a bag like this, you aren’t getting fresh ingredients from the garden prepared by a classically trained French chef. You are getting food that was designed for the military to pack enough calories in there to keep them alive, be waterproof, tolerate being mistreated and last for 5 years sitting in a warehouse most likely. If you are expecting Ruth’s Chris here or maybe even Golden Corral, you might be in for a surprise.

Everything in the bag.

Everything in the bag.

I opened my MRE and noticed that everything was still pretty much the same. You have food in foil packets although my packets weren’t in separate boxes. They did include the nutritional insert though and I never understood why they had the extra boxes anyway. Another thing we didn’t have when I was in was the handy ration heater. The ration heater is activated by placing a little water in a bag. The water mixes with an element and causes a chemical reaction that generates heat. You wrap your entrée in the bag,  and in 10 minutes you are supposed to have a hot meal. It didn’t work that way for me.

Everything you need plus a big long spoon to reach the bottom of the bag.

Everything you need plus a big long spoon to reach the bottom of the bag.

I followed the instructions or so I thought but my heater didn’t warm up. I waited the 10 minutes but finally decided to eat my meatballs cold. They weren’t bad at all, but I know they would have been so much better warm. My survival dog certainly loved the taste too when I gave her one of the small meatballs to taste. When I finished eating, I noticed that the warmer was finally getting warm so I placed my Au gratin potatoes in there. Yes, they had Au gratin potatoes and although they didn’t have the slightly burnt edges from being in the oven but they were cheesy and filling. They only needed a little salt and pepper to doctor them up. The heater worked just fine after-all.

The Ration Heater instructions say that it works best if you place a heavy object on the packet.

The Ration Heater instructions say that it works best if you place a heavy object on the packet.

So far so good. I broke out the crackers; literally because they came apart in my hands. This wasn’t the fault of the manufacturer I don’t think. I was just clumsy. Regardless, once I had my peanut butter on them they were great. I finished up with the dessert, Vanilla pudding which to prepare you needed to mix a little water in the bag and shake the bag for 60 seconds before it was ready. This was definitely good!

How do MRE’s fit into a Prepper Plan?

Any prepper plan has to take into consideration what food options will be best in various situations. Usually we recommend different types of food for different scenarios. If the power goes out you look for food that doesn’t need to be cooked. Canned tuna, MRE’s and snack bars fall into this category of course so do a lot of other foods. You want to store foods that your family will eat but there is also a need to have long-term storable food that you can take with you in a bug out bag. Frequently I will recommend freeze-dried foods for bug out bags, but those do require some preparation. For starters they need hot water or else you are eating rocks. MREs do not need water (except the pudding) and you don’t even need to heat them up.

My dog was a big fan of the Meatballs.

My dog was a big fan of the Meatballs.

There are some weight considerations in that MREs weigh more than freeze dried food but they do have their advantages. I have a few boxes stored as part of my food storage plan because they are an easy way to get the calories you need for survival. I also have food stored in buckets, canned food and freeze-dried food. I am an equal opportunity food storage person and there is something to be said for having variety. Are MREs the the best prepper food? I don’t think there is ever a single best food for all prepper situations, but MREs are proven reliable. If our military uses them you can bet that you could find reasons to use them too. They are more expensive than other options but you don’t have to prepare anything, they even throw in the salt, pepper and a little moist towelette to wipe your face and hands when you are done. They used to come with toilet paper and chewing gum but apparently that is not part of these MREs.

The MREs from Meal Kit Supply tasted better than the food I ate many years ago so I am happy to recommend them to anyone looking for an MRE supplier. You can get a box of 12 MRE’s yourself from Meal Kit Supply and try them out or just place them aside for an emergency. MRE’s are another good food option that will store for a long time and could save your life.

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  • I think it depends on the situation. Dollar for dollar, I think you can get more for your money. A case of gov MRE’s is around 75-100 dollars. That’s 12 meals. If you have a family, and if this is your only means of ‘survival’ food, it is not going to last that long. For food on the run, the tactical run, it is an excellent option to have. For a 72 hour grid down fight or flight scenario, also a good option.

    While I wouldn’t completely write them off as useless or non essential in most survival situations, they do have their place. I would mostly put them into the tactical food category, on the run, stealth mode, cold camp, etc.

    However, you can feed a lot more mouths and make a lot more meals for that same 75-100 dollars, and possibly get more calories, as well as diversity from it as well.

    I am biased in my opinion though. I served in the Army and they couldn’t give these things away to us. In Korea we traded them with locals for cases of ramen noodles. And yes, I did have the skittles and little bottles of hot sauce in mine. Thank you for your service.

    • Pat

      Thanks for your comments and I agree with you that it all depends. It wouldn’t be my first choice for fine dining but they fit a need and can keep you alive. Just one part of my strategy like you said.

      Still haven’t seen the M&M’s yet. I guess I have to keep going through them. I could just open the bags find the goodies and then tape them back up…


  • Brian

    I was surprised to read an MRE review here. I’ve had my fair share of them as well. And for the record, if I was the first to the box, my favorite was Menu 3 Beef Ravioli in meat sauce. Not half bad. I never considered them an option for disaster preparedness though because they were always too bulky for what you got in them. Most of the time in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’d open them up, and stow the spoon and the main meal and toss the rest back in the box for others to pick over later. We simply didn’t have the room for all the bulk. When it comes to bulk food, I tend to focus on places like Costco and Grocery Outlet (at least here in the Puget Sound area they are common). The downside is once again, bulk. But at least you get a lot more for your money than the wasted space in each MRE. I also buy freeze dried meals from REI whenever they go on sale.

    Oh, and by the way, the cardboard inside the MRE’s was meant to be for the soldier to potentially start a fire. The cardboard is bone dry, and the matches inside will get it going just fine. Works in a pinch if you need to start a fire.

    • Fire! Ah, OK. I think I remember something like that. I know when we were out in the field we weren’t ever far away from our trucks and couldn’t make an open fire in the German woods in the first place. You have a good point though, but why not just use the toilet paper instead? I know, priorities… 🙂


  • Lawrence Black

    Thanks for another helpful article, Pat. I’d been wondering about long term food for my preps. I’ve never had MRE’s, although I have eaten “C” & “K” rations (remember those battleship gray-green cans?) an older relative brought home.

    My question is, how do I determine the best taste/value for my dollar? My goal of having 6 months to 1 year’s worth of food for a family will be significant in terms of money spent. Do you know of any “survival food” vendors who have trial offers for people to taste test BEFORE they plunk down 4 figures for boxes of food that they may discover to be unpalatable years after the fact?

    Thanks again, Larry

    • Good to hear from you Larry,
      Almost any company I have looked at seems to offer sample packs so you can try out a variety of their food before you go whole hog and purchase quantity. I know that every one of the freeze dried food vendors does. Nitro-Pak offers samples and even some of the smaller vendors.

      For 6 months, I would look at starting with what you know you like. A 50 pound bag of rice has a lot of servings. The long-term storable foods should augment what you have in the pantry I think.


  • Usmarinestanker

    Good ole MREs. My fav was chicken and shrimp jambalaya. Absolutely hated Country Captain Chicken.

    I include them in our 72 hour bags for convenience, but I field strip them for space. I once found an authoritative website with pictures and charts about how MREs stack up in prolonged heat (can’t find it now) and the results were frightening, so I don’t stock up on too many because I live in the desert with temps over 100 for many months and I’d be in trouble if power went out.

    But a case or two in an interior closet is a good thing to have. The comment about a cold camp is a great use. As an interesting tactical aside, you can make a tear gas bomb by pouring some water and tobacco into the heater bag and letting the aerosolized tobacco out, or taping it up tight so it pops (delayed fuse). We used to screw with each other in the field. Good times.

    • Usmarinestanker

      That should be “tobasco” not tobacco

    • I have to try that now! How much Tabasco? One whole bottle from the MRE?

      • usmarinestanker

        Yeah, just the bottle that comes in the MRE. Fun times when you toss it in a tent when no one’s paying attention.
        You’d need several to bother anyone other than those right up close to it or in a small space, but the MacGyver level of coolness for improvising it is way up there.

  • steve

    We used to call them “Meals Rejected by Ethiopia”

  • H. Nelson

    MRE’s are not bad. I would not eat them for an extended period of time. They’re either short term or transitional food. Short term is 1-2 weeks. Transitional is going from whatever came from the grocery store over to your long term storage food. The down side with consuming MRE’s and freeze drieds- they’ll plug you up. Drink plenty of water! Good reason to keep metamusal around.

    MRE Tabasco is a tiny bottle good for one meal.

    Alternate MRE heating. Open the salt packet up and sprinkle the salt grains onto a hot flat metal surface, lay your MRE on top of the salt grains. The salt will keep it raised and not melt the package.

    Side note- Start collecting cook books from the 1800’s through the late 1940s. Don’t buy and put away, open them up and read them. Pick out recipes you would like to try. Prepare those meals out of what you stock in your prep pantry. Have the family grade the meal, and determine if it’s a “love it! Do it it again!” meal or not. Build up a binder of recipes you’ve found and like. Constantly try something new because the stand by meal of beans and rice day in and day out will get tiring.

    The MRE chart Usmarinestanker was talking about is here:


    (they also sell MREs, condiments, bulk packs of a item. Never ordered from them, but they have a nice selection)

    These guys also have the plates and alternators for building a generator out of a lawn mower engine.


    Interesting blog with recipes for army rations (worth checking out, especially Cinnamon rolls recipe US Army 1943)


  • J.R.

    Sigh, yet another ‘prepper’ website with zero to little factual or useful information. I’m convinced none of you fools have a clue. You have no practical experience, no thoughtful knowledge, no real advice. You don’t even know what the MRE consists of or what the heater chemicals were (and it matters, as there is a ton of useful applications here). And your website royally sucks. Girls in bikinis? End of the World advertisements? Celebrity pictures? You’re just like every other reseller out there trying to promote the fear card. No thanks. I’ll shop elsewhere where the propaganda isn’t so incessant and disgusting. Let’s see if you have the balls to post this, or if you’re like most site, you remove any comments you don’t like (even if they are true).