What is the History of the MRE?

Combat rations have evolved dramatically over the last 100 years of MRE history: from the K-Ration to the MCI, and finally the MRE we know today.

How to Feed an Army: MRE History

MREs, Meals Ready-to-Eat, have improved drastically since their first field use in 1983: the beginning of MRE history. The improved nutrition and taste are a result of the combined (and continued) effort of the US Military and Department of Defense. Before the MRE, soldiers endured a plethora of food rations — none of which were popular (yeah, we’re talking about k rations and c rations).

From C Rations to MCIs

The “Reserve Ration” was a field ration of the early 1900s, and included one pound of dehydrated meat (i.e. jerky) and hard tack biscuits. Due to its nutritional inadequacy, it was replaced by the infamous “C Ration” in 1938. The “wet” C Ration was canned, pre-cooked, and contained prepared food. While it was intended for limited consumption (during times when there was no access to the camp kitchen, A-Ration, or to unprepared, packaged food, B-Ration), it was prevalent in World War II. It seriously lacked variety — as did the Reserve Ration — consisting of the M-unit (meat) and the B-unit (bread).

In 1958 C Rations were finally retired and replaced with another wet ration: the Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) ration. The MCI showed little improvement upon C-Rations and was still widely disliked by soldiers, but remained in use until 1975 — when the first MRE was developed.

The MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) appears in 1975

Right away, the MRE exhibited major improvements on previous field rations, especially with regards to portability and nutrition. The taste and texture, however, were not widely liked. The Department of Defense responded to this with expanded menus in the MRE-XIII, released in 1993. The expanded menu (of 12) eliminated the most hated items of the previous generation and introduced new ones (i.e. chocolate bars that wouldn’t melt in desert heat and bread that looked/tasted fresh). Further, the 1992 introduction of the Flameless Ration Heater greatly increased the calorie intake of soldiers in the field. Meals for specialized diets (i.e. vegetarian) first emerged in 1996, along with an expansion of 18 meals.

Meal Combat Individuals (MCI) rations were not very popular. Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) have shown great improvement on military nutrition.

Meal Combat Individuals (MCI) rations were not very popular. Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) have shown great improvement on military nutrition.

Today the Continuous Product Improvement (CPI) program enlists dietitians, engineers, and scientists to work with soldiers in the field by testing out MREs first hand. The focus of MRE tweaks has shifted from “scientific adequacy” to the tastes and needs of soldiers. The CPI program has produced such improvements as Tabasco sauce and powdered beverage packets.

Contemporary MREs include an entree, a side dish, a dessert, crackers or bread, and a spread of cheese, peanut butter, or jelly. Additionally, each MRE has an accessory pack which includes 3 powdered beverage packets (coffee, cocoa and electrolyte), utensils, Flameless Ration Heater, chewing gum, a matchbook, and spices (salt, pepper, tabasco).

What are MREs? A favourite of emergency personnel across North America.

Meal Kit Supply MREs are not your grandpa's combat rations.

Meal Kit Supply MREs are not your grandpa’s combat rations.

Having been in the MRE business for almost 10 years, we’ve heard it all — Meals Refuse to Exit, Meals Rejected by Everyone, Meals Rarely Edible, Mr. E. When you think of an MRE you recall your grandpa’s horror stories about C Rations or even your father’s stories about early versions of the MRE. The truth is, Meal Kit Supply MREs are not the ancient combat rations you’re used to — they’re tougher, they last longer, and they taste a hell of a lot better. We’ve got pop tarts, beef ravioli, meatballs in marinara, brownies, tortillas, chili, and so much more. We’ve got one of the widest varieties of food items out there because we know that even in emergencies you’ve got standards — these are the standards which drive us to continuously improve our product.

So before you knock MREs, try Meal Kit Supply. We guarantee you’ll agree that they aren’t your grandpa’s combat rations. You might even think you’ve cooked worse.

What are MREs? A favourite of emergency personnel across North America.

Meal Combat Individual (MCI) Ration vs Meal Ready to Eat (MRE)

Meal Combat Individual (MCI) vs a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE)

Here you see an actual military fried ham Meal Combat Individual (MCI) ration compared to its modern day version: a pork sausage patty MRE (Meal Ready to Eat). Modern MRE packaging is a lot more durable and informative. The MRE is also lighter, despite having more food components.

meal-combat-individual The Meal Combat Individual (MCI) ration has comparatively fewer components than the MRE, and also lacked variety.