MRE meals are pre-packaged meals with a long shelf life that are designed to be eaten either hot or cold. They are used by the military, and also by preppers, survivalists, campers and people who work outdoors. They are easy to carry, easy to store, and highly calorie dense, which means that they are perfect for those days when you need to put away a lot of calories to make up for walking miles, carrying heavy loads, or spending a lot of time in a cold environment.
MRE meals usually come with one large packet that is the main meal, and some smaller ones for the starter. There may be a cookie, protein bar or other similar long shelf-life dessert as well.
You can eat an MRE cold straight out of the packet, but they usually taste much better heated. Some MREs are simple 'boil in the bag' affairs and expect you to have a camping stove to do that with. Others come with their own heaters – for example XMRE or Eversafe come with a sleeve, a saltwater packet and a flameless heater, so you can cook it on the go without needing to carry heavy equipment with you.
To cook one of those meals, firstly tear open the flameless heater sleeve and then put the meal pouch (unopened) into the sleeve. Next, open the pack of saltwater, and carefully pour it into the heater pouch. Try to hold the pouch by the sides when you do this, because the saltwater will react with the heater pouch and produce lots of steam and heat. Once you've emptied the packet, fold over the top of the sleeve to trap the warmth, and then slide the heater sleeve into the cardboard pouch, making sure that the heating pad is seated in the bag below the MRE itself. Lay the pouch down at a slight angle (prop it up against a tree, or against your bag, for example) so that the water doesn't leak out.
The pouch should bubble and steam while the heating process is going on. Leave it for 10-12 minutes to heat up, then remove the pouch from the cardboard sleeve, carefully tear the pouch open, and remove the meal – taking care not to scald yourself.
Open the meal, and either eat it from inside the bag, or pour it out onto a plate to eat it that way if you fancy the luxury of a sit-down meal.
MREs have a long shelf life, and most of them are fine to eat cold as well. Make sure you check the use-by date just to be on the safe side, and remember that while MREs are nutritionally balanced, they are also designed to be used by very active military people or survivalists so they are quite calorie dense.
It would be unusual for someone to eat MREs every day if they had a desk job, but you should still be mindful of what you're eating. They often seem like they're small in volume so if you're out on a camping holiday you might eat an MRE for lunch then feel like you need to eat an evening meal as well, just out of habit – but really you've consumed your calorie allowance for the day.
MREs are a great time saver and for emergency preparedness they'll keep you going for a surprisingly long time. They're easy to stockpile, easy to use, and there are lots of different menu options to choose from.
Once you get used to heating up MREs you should find that they're an incredibly convenient source of calories for on the road. You might even get your kids making them 'for a treat' and to camp in the garden if you can't be bothered to cook!
If you're thinking of trying MREs, buy a few individual packs and try them out to see if you like the recipes before putting in a bulk order. Once you know what you like, you can start buying bigger packs so that you can stockpile them and have a nice stash for long trips, or for a power outage, storm or emergency.