Meals Ready-to-Eat Stored & Used for Emergencies

Meal Ready to Eat, or MRE, is considered emergency food supply in a special, layered aluminum foil wrapping designed to last longer storage times.  Manufacturers will label their MRE packages with expiration dates.  They can last 3-10 years, sometimes longer (even longer than the package says, they mostly print the expiration date to address a liability issue). It is wise to keep your MRE supply fresh and up-to-date, and because MREs DO expire, they should not be purchased in excess, but as part of a greater plan. 

Meals Ready to Eat must be stored as close to room temperature as possible in order to maximize the shelf life (generally around 70 degrees Fahrenheit).  They contain different entrees and generally serve pre-cooked food only.  The pouches are heated which plays a part in sterilization and will be fresh so long as it is not expired and it was not exposed to unsustainable conditions (extreme heats, certain types of contamination, etc).  Modern MREs can be quite advanced, sometimes even coming with flameless ration heaters. Additionally, these meals sometimes come with: utensils, crackers and spread (or cheese), powdered beverage mix along with a beverage mixing bag, chewing gum, a matchbook (sometimes water-resistant), napkins and a moist towelette. 

MREs are typically around 1,250 calories a piece.  They break down into 13 percent protein, 51 percent carbs, and the rest is fat.  These meals are designed with the intention of 3 meals being required per day, and each one contains roughly 33 percent of the recommended daily vitamin and mineral intake (, 2015). 

The food will taste much like canned food and is protected from bacteria and mold in the pouch, as long as it is void of any tears or punctures.  Many meal choices exist including beef teriyaki, chili, meatloaf and gravy, pork, and stew.  Generally the MREs will consist of additional ingredients to help attain the maximum amount of required nutrients possible from a pouch, including: bread, broccoli, carrots, corn, peas, and rice. These are usually called “side dishes”, although sometimes they are mixed into the entrée depending upon the MRE manufacturer. Seasonings are often included in the accompanying accessories pack, such as salt, sugar, pepper, creamer and hot sauce.  They even usually include desserts.  Vegetarian MREs are also available serving beans, rice and other vegetable and breads options.

The contents of an MRE are intended to sustain a human being in an emergency, therefore, generally can be ingested cold or hot.  If there is no heat source and the MRE does not include a flameless ration heater, or matches, the meal can technically be eaten cold without any problems.

MREs are temporary, they are not meant to last decades. Modern MREs are designed and planned using the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intake, which defines the minimum calorie intakes and nutrient requirements.  Ultimately, though, they are meant to be used to get through an emergency situation only. They should then be replaced as quickly as possible with a sustainable food source (such as a garden).  Various MREs exist targeting various applications (long-term sustained emergency living, all the way to short-term energy-bursts for soldiers to eat pre-battle). 

MREs are an important part of a good survival plan and it would be a mistake to skip stocking up on some MREs, however, purchasing too much would be a mistake as well.  Depending upon budget and what disaster is being prepped for, more or MREs may be reasonable to purchase. The number of occupants in your fallout shelter or bug out location should also be considered when purchasing MREs.

There are some longer-term MREs available, called MLRPs (Meal, Long Range Patrol).  These were invented for soldiers whom receive little support or supplies…therefore the calories and content of the meals must bear longer term sustainability.  These meals generally come with different accessory packs.  The MLRP is meant to include more nutrients than a normal MRE, so that more energy is gained from each meal in critical situations where meals are less commonly afforded.  These are not meant to sustain a human being for long emergencies; they simply resupply the human body for longer durations of time, so that meals are required less often.

There are also MREs which are capable of surviving extreme cold temperatures. These meals are known as Ration, Cold Winter (RCW).  RCWs are specifically engineered to provide the necessary calories and nutrients within extremely cold conditions (artic even).  These rations are a little different and require only 2 meals per day to attain the required calorie and nutrient intake.  In fact, each bag usually consists of both meals, and generally these are freeze-dried entrees (though thoroughly cooked).  Some options of available RCWs include: beef and chicken stew (more commonly chicken), spaghetti with meat sauce, oatmeal, cereals, raisins and nut bars, cookies, chicken noodle soup, teas and sugars.  These are specifically designed to meet the heavy calorie requirements of intense energy expenditure in cold weather.  The risk of dehydration decreases in cold weather when eating these meals, as RCWs limit sodium and protein. The shelf life of RCWs is usually less than normal MREs.

Click here to check out our full Nutrients Required for Survival in an Emergency Guide.

Buy the Best MREs for Emergencies and Disasters

Here are the best two MREs we have found, which we recommend on amazon:

MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) Select Your Meal, Genuine US Military Surplus Meals (Beef PattyJalapeno Pepper Jack)

Genuine U.S. Military Surplus Ready to Eat Meals (12 Packs)


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