MREs – What do Soldiers Eat?

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MREs – What do Soldiers Eat?
Food Rations from the 19th century to the present day.
Meal, Ready-to-Eat
The modern ration has been refined over many years and various conflicts to be both nutritionally balanced and contain all the calories a soldier requires when in the field, with one MRE bag containing approximately 1250 calories. In addition to this, the MRE has been designed to fulfil all operational requirements. This means that they remain shelf stable for a minimum of three years, or nine months in warmer climates. They also are highly durable and have the ability to survive non-parachute drops of 100 feet and parachute drops of 1250 feet. With all these elements considered, a soldier can eat a full, nutritional meal wherever they find themselves.

Modern military rations
from the tin can to the mre
in 1795 during the french revolution the
french government was concerned about
the problems they were having feeding
their army they offered a 12 000 frank
prize for anyone who could come up with
a new method of food preservation it
would be 15 years before the prize was
finally claimed in 1810 by nicholas
appare a maker of fruit conserves
by 1804 a pair had worked out that
multiple foodstuffs could be preserved
for months or even years if they were
placed in an absolutely airtight glass
container and then heated in boiling
water for several hours
although he had discovered the technique
behind canning production a pair’s
choice of container never really became
widespread as glass was simply too heavy
and prone to breakage
the inventor of the tin can was philippe
gerrard in 1810 however it was brian
duncan john hall and john gamble who
would allow it to become available to
the masses from feeding the royal navy
to even later arctic expeditions
gerard had asked the london broker peter
durant to patent his process and it was
bought for a thousand pounds by duncan
hall and gamble in 1812.
duncan then set up another company with
his business associates and established
the first major commercial canning plant
at fort place burmancy in 1813.
this firm was to later merge with the
now familiar company of cross and
america’s canning industry was
considerably slower to take off and the
new technology was not adopted into
military use for some time
the american civil war fought between
the years 1861 and 1865 did see some
canned goods being made available to
certain sections of union soldiers these
were only available on a small scale
however and didn’t form a major element
of the common rations this all began to
change in the late 1800s when the u.s
military started to provide its soldiers
with individual ration packs
the first version of these was named the
1878 travel ration it was specifically
designed for use when the soldiers were
in transit and so it was designed to be
both small and compact and easy to eat
in a short amount of time importantly it
contained both canned meat and
in 1896 this version was followed by an
emergency ration which consisted of
canned chocolate cakes meat and flour
cakes as well as dried bread as the name
would suggest this was only designed for
emergency scenarios and would only keep
a soldier fed for a limited amount of
time it also was only to be opened on
the orders of an officer
by world war one canned goods now made
up the bulk of the standard us military
ration throughout the war the u.s army
used three basic ration types these
being the iron ration the trench ration
and the reserve rations
the iron ration was an emergency ration
consisting of three three ounce cakes
made from beef bouillon powder and
parched and cooked wheat these came
along with three one ounce bars of
chocolate and small packets of salt and
all of the items were sealed in a small
tin can and were easily carried in a
soldier’s kit
the trench ration consisted of various
canned meats and fish which were sealed
in a large tin crate and covered in
canvas this to some extent protected the
contents from contamination in the case
of a gas attack
the third variant the reserve ration was
far more substantial than the others it
contained meat usually corned beef or
sometimes fresh bacon two cans of hard
bread otherwise known as hardtack a few
packets of coffee salt and sugar and
finally a small cigarette ration this
often provided the soldiers with a short
but well-needed morale boost
the period between world wars allowed
the u.s army to develop a more
comprehensive set of rations having
learnt during world war one what had
worked well and what could be improved
the process of refining the rations
continued throughout world war ii
over the period of the conflict five
standard rations were utilized as well
as several highly specialized ones that
were designed for use in specific
geographical areas these included the
jungle and mountain rations
the five main rations used were
the a ration a garrison ration that was
fresh refrigerated or frozen food that
was prepared in the cook house for a
field kitchen
the bee ration a field ration that was
prepared using any type of canned food
the k ration an individual ration used
by fast-moving assault troops and only
designed for short-term use
the d ration which was an emergency
ration that contained a concentrated
chocolate bar that was specially
designed to have a high calorie content
the resulting bar was so hard that
soldiers often had to use a knife to
shave slices off of it rather than
simply taking a bite and risk damaging
their teeth
then there was the sea ration this was
arguably the most famous us military
ration and one that formed the basis of
military rations for the next few
it consisted of pre-cooked and ready to
eat individual canned meals and a daily
ration contains six cans of which three
were m units or meat rations and three
were bee units or bread and dessert
the original menu was only limited to
three options for the main course these
being meat and beans meat and vegetable
stew and meat and potatoes too
the bee unit or bread and dessert
section contain high calorie crackers
energy and sugar tablets and beverage
mixes either coffee bullion powder or a
synthetic lemon drink
by the end of the war several
alterations had been made to the sea
ration more variety was added to the m
units including meat and spaghetti and
chicken and vegetable dishes
cold drink mixes were also added and the
energy tablets were replaced with a
variety of different candies
in addition to food the sea ration also
contained an accessory pack that
provided soldiers with a few basic
necessities the contents changed over
the time to see ration was in use but
included items such as chewing gum
cigarettes toilet paper sugar salt water
purification tablets a can opener and
matches in 1958 the c ration began to be
phased out and was replaced with the mci
or meal combat individual in essence
this was largely just a slightly
improved c ration with an additional
menu item in fact it was so similar that
among the troops it continued to be
referred to as a c ration
along with the m unit and b unit there
was now a separate desert option called
the d unit
the mci was the primary ration issued to
troops during the vietnam war it was
here that the limitations of this type
began to present themselves
a single day supply for each soldier
consisted of a generous 12 cans this
came at a cost however they were heavy
noisy and difficult to pack meaning that
oftentimes men would opt to leave parts
of the ration behind and didn’t receive
their full daily calorie intake that
they’re required to function correctly
the vietnamese by contrast relied on
rice as their primary food source which
was comparatively far easier and more
lightweight to transport and prepare
the us military’s current standard
individual field ration the mre or meal
ready to eat was introduced in 1986 and
was originally created to tackle the
shortcomings of its predecessor the mci
mres are lightweight easy to carry and
most importantly don’t come packaged in
heavy and cumbersome tin cans
instead the perishable goods are first
thermostabilized and then sealed in a
laminate plastic retort pouch this
allows for the goods to remain
consumable for very long periods and be
able to withstand harsher climates
the mre was the first ration that was
specifically developed with taste and
variety in mind the military
establishment realized that simply
providing men with their basic
nutritional requirements was often not
good quality food that varied in content
was recognized as being important for
morale as well as for ensuring that
soldiers ate the entire ration thus
meeting their full energy requirements
mres contained the following key items a
main course side dishes crackers or
bread spreads such as jam and peanut
butter candy dessert drink mixes and
just like the earlier rations there’s
also an accessory pack which includes
basics such as matches toilet paper and
chewing gum
since the mre’s introduction it’s
remained in a continual state of
development with new menu items being
added and unpopular ones discarded
perhaps the most substantial change to
the mre though was in 1990 with the
introduction of the flameless ration
heater this is a small pad that produces
a chemical exothermic reaction when it
comes into contact with water creating
an intense heat to warm up packaged food
this makes it possible for a soldier to
enjoy a hot meal when out in the field
without the risk of an open flame
when the ration was first introduced
there were 12 main courses this has
since been expanded to 24. the new
choices include vegetarian options and
food from different cultural backgrounds
such as halal options
an example of a current mre menu is a
vegetarian crumble with pasta in taco
style sauce one wet pack of fruit a
nutrient bar peanut butter crackers
plain nuts a drink mix a coffee mix and
a bottle of seasoning often hot sauce
the modern ration has been refined over
many years and various conflicts to be
both nutritionally balanced and contain
all the calories a soldier requires when
in the field with one mre bag containing
approximately 1250 calories in addition
to this the mre has been designed to
fulfill all operational requirements
this means that they remain shell stable
for a minimum of three years or nine
months in warmer climates
they’re also highly durable and have the
ability to survive non-parachute drops
of a hundred feet and parachute drops of
1250 feet with all these elements
considered a soldier can eat a full
nutritious meal wherever they find


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