Meals Rejected by Everyone

If you know a young soldier in todays Army, chances are they have told you how terrible the MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat is. He’s lying. They taste great. Now.

Back in the dark ages when the MRE was first introduced, they were so bad, people prefered the old C-ration. With good reason, too. The meals were terrible. The Army had abandoned the C-ration because of issues with the weight of the canned meals, and the difficulty of packing them in a soldiers load. The problem was that few foods were stable enough to be stored in the new foil pouch packaging. That shortcoming led to the following selection of less than inspiring menus:

Pork Patty (a dehydrated chunk of ground pork)

Ham and Chicken Loaf (yes, it is as bad as it sounds)

Beef Patty (similar to the aforementioned Pork Patty)

Beef Slices in BBQ Sauce (think shoe leather)

Beef Stew (almost palatable)

Frankfurters with Beans (The Four Fingers of Death, since there were 4 dogs in a pack)

Diced Turkey with Gravy (not like Mom’s home cooking)

Beef Diced with Gravy (best of the bunch, which ain’t saying much)

Chicken a la King (in 5 years, I never finished this one- that’s how bad it was)

Meatballs in BBQ Sauce (heartburn, here we come!)

Ham Slices (again, almost palatable, how do you screw up ham?)

Beef Ground with Spice Sauce (whoever came up with the sauce committed a war crime)

Chicken Loaf (this, and the Ham and Chicken Loaf, had the looked a lot like tuna in a pouch, but dry and tasteless)

In addition to this entree, each meal had crackers; a spread -such as jam, peanut butter, or processed cheese; a desert such as a rock hard chocolate bar or what they called pound cake; and an accessory pack with salt, pepper, sugar, instant coffee, creamer, a toothpick, matches, and a tiny little bundle of toilet paper (EVERY grunt knows to take his own roll or baby wipes with him)

When we went to the field, that’s all we got. MREs. Generally, if we were going to be out in the field for a week or less, that’s all we got. If we were lucky, they would bring us one hot meal (hot is a relative term- it was cooked, but stone cold by the time we got it). Each meal had about 1200 calories. Now, I know that the svelte ladies who read this site will say that that’s enough for a full day. But consider this- the average grunt burns between 4500 and 6000 calories a day in the field. That leaves us 2400 calories short per day. In fact, because the meals were so bad, most folks ended up getting only about 2400 calories a day. You would be weakened by hunger in two or three days.

The Army actually worked hard to fix this problem (no, really), but progress was very slow and it wasn’t until Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm that improved MREs came into the field.  New menu items, larger portions and better accessories made for a much more survivable experience. Later, in 1992, a big leap forward came with the Flameless Ration Heater- a plastic pouch that heated the entree in by adding just a little water to it. I can’t tell you how great it was to have a hot meal.


By 1997, there were 20 different entree, including some breakfast menus, and all the original menus had been dropped. Every year now, new menu items are tested to see what the troops like. If it’s popular, it’s added and the least popular menu is dropped.

In the aftermath of Desert Storm and in Somolia, MRE were given to refugees facing starvation. Turns out, that wasn’t the wisest course of action for people suffering from malnutrition. The rich, fatty, high-protein menus were difficult for them to digest. In response, the Humanitarian Daily Ration was developed. This was a single pouch with food for one day, and was usually a high starch meal, such as beans and rice or lentils. They were also kosher/halal so there were no cultural issues in distributing them. Quite a few soldiers snuck a few of these and found them very tasty. As a result, the menus made their way into MREs as well.



14 thoughts on “Meals Rejected by Everyone”

  1. Never had the Tuna Loaf. But I like tuna straight out of the pouch. And I’m not saying I’ve had an HDR, but I kinda like Red Beans and Rice. I’ve not had any of the new, new menus. I think the last time I was issued an MRE was around 95-96. Still, better than Chokin’ on the King.

  2. There was a time in Iraq when the DFAC sucked so bad, I preffered MRE’s. But I really hated the breakfast omlette. Nasty.

  3. PDizzle, you should have tried the contractor food in Kuwait in 91. I still have no idea what I was eating. But at least they served “Zit” soda with it.

  4. I think the best field rations I ever came across were the French ones … at a joint exercise I took part in in the 90s, the ‘rate of exchange’ was one French for two British … for some reason, American MREs never figured in the barter, except for the excellent spoon which came with them.

    (They tell me the Italian ones were even better, but I never had a chance to try one)

  5. travelrat, welcome. I wasn’t wild about the British Rats, but then I’m no gourmand. I’ll freely admit to having poor taste. I’ve had one Brit rat. I wasn’t impressed, but the Tommy’s seemed to think they were ok.
    We had two Legionares go to Graf with us one time, and they kindly shared their rats with us. Not bad at all, and I’m no fan of French food (or the French, for that matter).
    If you have some insights into Brit or French rats, send it my way. I’d love to do a post to compare.

  6. Hey us in Patriot land get an MKT however work and crew shifts mean MRE’s and Jimmy Dean for lunch. I still love MRE’s though. Evern had ranger pudding? 2x Coco powder with the creamer and sugar packets added in. Add the vegatable crackers fopr a ranger brownie. (Real rangers don’t actually eat these, I suspect it’s like the “Ranger IV 🙂

    Has anybody eaten the first strike ration? Is it any good?

  7. Chockblock, we had MKTs as well, and our cooks were great. The problem was getting food from them to us. We would be scattered all over hell and creation.

    Had the pudding, had the brownie. If you had time and fuel tabs, the beef patty could actually make a decent stew with the gravy mix, cheese spread, and usually, some top ramen thrown in. We just never had the time.

    I never had the first strike ration. Heck, the cutting edge when I got out was milkboxes and MRE bread.

  8. >>If you have some insights into Brit or French rats,<<

    I’m old enough to remember the tinned ‘compo’ rations … some of it was as old as we were!

    I think the first ‘retort’ meals were the dehydrated ‘Arctic’ rations … presumably, in Arctic conditions, there’s plenty of water available. Then came the true retort meals in the late 80s/early 90s. If memory serves, there were 5 menus available, and the meals could be eaten hot or cold. A little stove called a ‘hexe burner’ which was fuelled off hexamine blocks (or firelighters, in English) was issued saperately. The big plus was when you’d finished, the foil packaging was easier to carry out than empty tins.

    On the news the other day was an item that said more menu items were being introduced. The Toms they interviewed said they liked them … but, were they just saying what their superiors wanted them to say?

    I must say I liked the American heat packs, surprisingly, they generated sufficient heat. I still have the scar on my leg from when I put a heat pack and some food into the leg pocket of my trousers when we had to move out in a hurry.

  9. I’m giving away my age but the cans of jelly that came with C-rats were okay. About two years ago one of them finally started leaking in my pack. I’d put its age at about 35 years, Vietnam era if it was a day.

    I liked the pork patties. Most of the people I knew did not like them so it was easy for me to trade for them. If you could heat up some water, even body temp water and soften the patty up some it was okay. Pour in the pouch of applesauce and I thought it was pretty damn good. Crackers and any jam or jelly was pretty good.

    I had one captain who would take that pouch of cheese and just squeeze it out and down his throat. Made me want to projectile vomit. The cheese was gross.

    I’ve had the beef slices in BBQ sauce. That shit sucked majorly. I haven’t had any of the newer stuff, I retired in 1997, but it sounds like it is way better than some of the stuff I consumed. I swear to God that in 1974 I was once given a C-rat tuna fish sandwich or something involving tuna fish that was a couple of years older than I was.

  10. Cranky, I thought you were old enough that you marched the beef along with you, to be slaughtered as needed.

    Pork patty was ok if you could get it on a fire to rehydrate. We just never had the time or fire. Applesauce was terrible, but when you put it up against everything else in there, it SEEMED pretty good. The first formula for cheese was pretty rancid, especially since it tended to separate a you ended up with curd and oil. EEWW. The next formula was actually pretty damn good.

    By the early 90’s MREs weren’t bad, just monotonous.

    Only C-rats I ever had were surplus that friends had snagged when they were in. Some good, some not at all good.

  11. We ate our horses when they couldn’t go on.

    If you could get the pork patty wet then you dumped the applesauce down into the same pack and mushed it together. Used to be able to buy MREs at the Commissary. Haven’t seen any in quite a while.

    MREs do make up excellent emergency rations and I wish I had some. Hurricane season is here. We had a nice little thunder storm with torrential downpours an hour or two ago. Tree limbs came down on my neighbors power and phone lines. Ripped the power line right off the house. I stay away. Power company still hasn’t made it to her house. I suppose we had damage all over the area.

  12. Yeah, but have you found a good numbers station yet? If you had, you would have gotten the message about the Bushitlerburton weather machine sending the storm your way.

    They took the MREs out long ago, they were having lots of problems with folks looting the war stocks and saying they bought them. Each pack now says that you can’t resell it, but there’s no law that says you can’t. Just google for MRE and you’ll find some dealers.

Comments are closed.