Military MREs are the main operational food ration for the United States Armed Forces. It originated from the c-rations and k-rations from World War II, and later developed into MCI (Meal, Combat, Individual) rations used in Korea and Vietnam. In 1980 the MRE was developed and is still the U.S. Army's primary ration.
Each MRE provides an average of 1,250 calories (13 percent protein, 36 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates) and one-third of the Military Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamins and minerals. A full day's worth of meals would consist of three MREs.
A MRE is truly a "Meal Ready to Eat", although it tastes much better when heated with the supplied ration heater and powdered drinks are mixed with water. The contents—heated and cold—can be eaten out of the wrappers with the plastic utensils provided.
Instructions that come with each meal tell the Soldier how to pour water into each heater, and insert the packet of food. When the food has finished cooking, each meal should be carefully opened, and then eaten with a fork or spoon--one of which is usually provided in the MRE. The meals are designed to be cooked and eaten anywhere, at any time. There is no need to find a table or a kitchen in which to set up.
Soldiers can choose from up to 24 entrees, and more than an additional 150 items in the MRE chain. Also Military MREs must be capable of withstanding parachute drops from 1,250 feet, and non-parachute drops of 100 feet.
The packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of three and a half years at 80 degrees F or nine months at 100 degrees F.
In 2006, "Beverage Bags" were introduced to the MRE, as service members began to depend more on CamelBaks or other hydration bladders than canteens, which denied them the use of the metal canteen cups for mixing powdered beverages. In addition to having measuring marks to indicate levels of liquid for precise measurement, they can be sealed and placed inside the flameless heater.