The typical civilian response to the mention of Meals, Ready to Eat is a hearty groan of disgust, but the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadets at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., know first-hand that MREs have drastically improved in taste and variety in recent years.
Approximately 390,000 of these prepackaged meals were issued for the 6,064 Cadets at the Leader Development and Assessment Course this summer. With a shelf life of five years and an average of 1, 250 calories per meal, MREs are designed to fuel Soldiers in the field when there are no dining facilities in the vicinity.
“Usually the Cadets will eat at least one hot meal a day, but there are times when that plan just doesn’t work, so there are MREs available,” said Sgt. Charles Dukes, the 12th Regiment supply sergeant from Bend, Ore. “They’ll eat the MREs for breakfast and lunch and then usually get a hot meal unless mission dictates otherwise.”
Each meal includes a main entree, beverage, sides, dessert, and a Flameless Ration Heater that requires nothing more than water to heat the entree.
“It’s just a matter of learning how to use the equipment that comes with the MREs,” said Dukes. “A lot of it tastes like what you would buy at a store, like a microwaveable meal.”
Cadet Charles Boykin from the University of Arkansas sat outside the Central Issue Facility on day 26 of LDAC with the rest of 11th Regiment as he feasted on his chicken breast filet MRE with seasoned garlic and herbed seasoning.
“MREs taste just like the $1.50 Hamburger Helper meals,” said Boykin. “I’m currently indulging myself in the pound cake. I’ve never had this one before.”
MREs come in 24 different entrees, including several vegetarian options. The most popular entrees among Cadets are those that contain the best desserts, including Skittles and pound cake. Other MREs, however, are not so well liked.
“The egg and cheese omelet is the most hated of all the MREs,” said Dukes. “For the most part, it’s ‘here you go, take what you’re given,’ but the Cadets can trade amongst their friends.”
A big concern for the Army is being able to feed Cadets and Soldiers from all walks of life. In addition to the vegetarian options, there are gluten-free and kosher meals.
“The military has really come a long ways to make sure that everyone can eat,” said Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Rowe, the food service non-commissioned officer in charge from Indianapolis. “If they’re out there, we can feed them.”
Regardless of food preferences, MREs are a good source of fuel for Cadets who exert endless energy during their training.
“It’s a good meal because it’s high in calories,” said Rowe. “It’s nutritional. It has everything I need for that meal.”
In addition to the MREs, the Army provide shelf stables during LDAC, which are bagged meals that don’t last as long as MREs. They contain items such as apple sauce, juice pouches, and Cheerios. There were 7,176 shelf stables issued for lunches and 28,704 issued for breakfast this summer.
“If I’m not mistaken, there was a food budget of $1.5 million,” said Rowe, referring to the vast amount of food it took to feed all 10,000 Cadets and personnel at LDAC this summer.
“I’ve been in the military for 33 years, and the [MREs] are better now than they used to be,” said Rowe. “In older days, it was ‘I don’t want to eat military food.’ Now we do a wide range of food and make food attractive to people. When they first came up with them, people got tired of them because they didn’t change, but now with the variety of meals, you can have different meals every day.”
Story by Allie Pasdera.