The MRE, or meal-ready-to-eat, is a standby field ration staple of military service but also beloved, if not enjoyed, by preppers, hikers and anybody who wants to keep long lasting, safe food stored in pretty much any conditions.
Love them or hate them, there is no denying that these ubiquitous, pouched meals can survive pretty much anything and remain edible. Great attributes to be sure, but MREs are pretty expensive and growing more expensive by the year. Just why are MREs so doggone expensive?
MREs cost more than comparable survival food predominantly due to the greater expense of packaging and significant processing attendant with each meal. A case of MRE’s could number between 10 and 12, and cost anywhere from $70 to upwards of $100.
This means the cost of a complete MRE at retail will run you between about $6 and $10, pretty costly on a per calorie basis.
We know what MRE’s can do in regards to their resistance to hostile storage conditions and overall excellent shelf life, but the question remains: Are they worth it? Only you can decide. Keep reading and we will go over some of the salient factors.
Is $10 That Bad for “Survival” Food?
I can’t say whether or not spending $10 for a complete survival meal is “bad” or not, but I can tell you it is pretty expensive, even when compared to other similar offerings that are freeze-dried or likewise durable.
As preppers, if we are wise we will calculate both the expenditure and the acquisition of our rations on a per calorie basis. This makes sense because it allows us to estimate calorie requirements for ourselves or a group just like any other unit of fuel.
When you start calculating the caloric payload of an MRE against its cost, you will find that they are expensive no matter how you try to square it, especially against other more traditional shelf stable staples.
This means your food budget does not go as far if you are buying MRE’s exclusively. However, there is more to consider than just this factor.
You Are Paying for Durability, Too
It isn’t all about calories. Probably the single biggest advantage of MRE’s is their durability. While durability is a characteristic that is rarely, if ever, associated with food outside of prepping and logistical circles it is nonetheless an important one.
Especially for preppers, who might have food set about for a long time or even stored in conditions that would ruin typical, grocery bought foods, MREs have much to commend them.
As a rule, MRE’s, packaged in a heavy duty, polyethylene bag, will easily resist moisture, most pests and sunlight and are further sub-packaged as individual components in boxes, pouches and other containers that will further protect the food and keep it fresh.
The biggest advantage MRE’s offer us is an extreme resistance to both heat and cold compared to other foods, and that means an MRE banging around in the trunk of your car for a year is likely to remain perfectly safe and edible whereas other foods would be either destroyed or spoiled.
They are also designed with extreme shelf life in mind, so MRE’s kept in good conditions are likely to last several years at least.
You Also Pay for Convenience
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There is no denying that MREs are extremely convenient, even if you don’t find them particularly palatable. Just like it says on the package, the contents of an MRE are ready to eat with no or virtually no preparation.
You don’t need to heat them, and the most you are expected to do is tear open the package and then dig in with a spork. If you want to get really technical, you might have to stir your drink mix into a mug of water.
We take this ready to eat characteristic for granted as a rule, but pulling it off is a marvel of food production relying on many processes and many chemical additives to keep this fully cooked, safe to eat, food stable – to say nothing of reasonably tasty.
Also included in most MRE’s is a little packet of extras, everything from plastic silverware and condiments to a flameless heater packet that can produce a warm entree and just a couple of minutes.
Those are inclusions that you won’t find and your typical freeze dried survival meal or other basics like a sack of dry beans. Naturally, all of the above drives up the cost of an MRE.
You Must Weigh the Advantages against the Expense
In summary, MRE’s are definitely expensive when you calculate their cost based on their caloric payload alone. But as we have discovered together, there is more to consider in the value analysis then calories by themselves.
You are paying for convenience, you are paying for durability, paying for longevity and paying for a little bit of certainty that your food will be there, viable and reasonably tasty when you need it.
Is that worth it? Well, like everything else we embark upon in prepping the answer is it depends. If your survival plans consist predominantly of hunkering down at home or you can stockpile shelf upon shelf of canned, dried or otherwise preserved normal foods and nutritional staples, you probably won’t need too many MRE’s except for perhaps stocking a go-bag, bug-out bag or contingency stash of food.
However, if your plans revolve mostly around bugging out, escaping or otherwise getting on the move MRE’s have much to commend them, and they are also the perfect option for storing in a survival cash whatever form that takes.
Similarly, if the notion of having to prepare your survival food in an already bad situation stresses you out just thinking about it, even if all you are doing is boiling water, the ready to eat nature of an MRE will still allow you a proper meal with all the fixings and absolutely no additional preparations required.
In short, let your requirements be your guide when it comes to buying and stockpiling MRE’s, and don’t think you have to have them just because they are designed for the purpose.
MRE’s are expensive mostly due to the amount of processing that is required to produce ready to eat food with a long shelf life. Additional costs are incurred by the abundant, heavy duty packaging present in every MRE along with other inclusions such as silverware, condiments and so forth.
Though expensive on a per calorie basis MRE’s are nonetheless a worthy investment if you require durable, shelf stable rations for any purpose.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.