Best MRE Kits (Meal, Ready to Eat)

by Tommy Grant

I have had plenty of MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) in my lifetime, having served in the military for several years. They toss you your first ones in basic training and you get to sample the many types throughout the training, exercises, and deployments. They are compact with lightweight packaging and include a chemical heater. These make them great for bug out bags and other survival kits. There is a wide range of military and civilian MRE options but some menu options are downright horrible.

This is where we come in. We’ve tried a variety of the best MREs, and now the results are in: the overall best, a budget option, and an upgrade option. If you need a meal, ready to eat- one of our picks will keep you from picking a vomelet.


Contents (Jump to a Section)


The Best MRE

US Military Surplus MREs

12-pack, Tight Seal, and Trusted

US Military MREs with current date codes are easy to come by from this reliable surplus reseller.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

These are the real deal MREs- the current menu with great date codes, flameless heaters, and accessory packs. Many times you’ll find the stripped-down versions that are sold without the heaters or accessories, but not with this surplus reseller.

While we complained about them in the military, US MREs have come a long way over the years and have been studied and tuned for better nutrition and performance. They still taste better than international MREs and come with a wide variety of menu items in each pouch.

Here is everything you get with this case:

  • 12-pack case
  • Case A or B with current menu items 1-12 or 13-24 respectively
  • 1250 calories per meal
  • Flameless heaters and accessory packs included
  • Stackable design with handle
  • 16″ x 10″ x 9″ case
  • 1.6 pounds (each)

Pick up the real deal and see why the US Military Surplus MREs top the rest.


Budget MRE

US HDR MRE

10-pack, Efficient, and Effective

Get more bang for your buck with ration meals packed full of calories usually distributed by the US Military and FEMA.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

If you’ve been issued an HDR that means you’ve seen some tough times and needed military or FEMA assistance. Luckily, you can get a hold of them without a federally declared disaster or emergency straight from the supplier, Wornick.

The main difference between HDRs and traditional military MREs is that the humanitarian rations don’t include the chemical heater or accessories. This may not matter if you run with a camp stove because these have significantly more calories and cost much less.

Here is how this rations case measures up:

  • 10-pack
  • 2 serving entrees per pack
  • Total 2250 calories per pack
  • Eat cold or hot
  • 20″ x 16″ x 12″ case
  • 2.4 pounds (each)

If you are looking for an inexpensive MRE and don’t need the chemical heater, these HDR Humanitarian MREs are the best option.


Civilian MRE

Nutrient Survival NRE

Lightweight, Nutritious, and Tasty

A big upgrade from the bland world of MREs, this self-contained pouch will give you some great-tasting energy.

*Price at time of publishing; check for price changes or sales.

With way more vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber than traditional US MREs, these ‘NREs’ are tuned to be nutritious and delicious. You’ll need your camp stove to heat and eat, but you’ll be rewarded with 14 vitamins and minerals and great taste.

Here are the specs:

  • 7-pack
  • 3 selectable menus (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie) – I prefer Bravo just on taste preference.
  • 1355 calories per pack
  • Eat cold or hot
  • 20″ x 16″ x 12″ case
  • 2.4 pounds (each)

If you need the best civilian MRE solution, the Nutrient Survival NREs are the best choice.


Everything We Recommend


The Kits We Compared

Our research narrowed the field down to a few meal kits that we compared: US Military Surplus, HDRs, Nutrient Survival, Wornick, Ameriqual, Sopakco, Baxters, MRE Star, and more.

You can see our full list of review criteria below in the What to Look For section, with an explanation for each.

We considered a wide range of ready-to-eat meals from all over the world. There are cultural differences that may make some prefer their native country MREs, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with any international MRE that I tried.

We’re always looking for new and better supplies, so if you have MREs you use in the field and love, let us know in the comments. We review most of our tested gear annually so we can try to get it in the next roundup round and see if it will beat out our top picks.


What to Look For

The best MREs have a few features to look for:

  1. Value
  2. Calories
  3. Nutritional Content
  4. Taste
  5. Versatility

When you get the right blend of these, you can find the perfect ready-to-eat meals. Below, we break down what each of these features means for the menus that truly set themselves apart.

Value: Cost vs. Benefit

The amount of money you spend on something like an MRE shouldn’t blow out your entire budget. There are less expensive options for survival food and calories, even on the go.

Some older and international MREs can be marked up since they have been lately sought out by collectors.

You never want to spend too much money on one resource, even when it comes to food. It’s better to diversify your spending to make sure you are covered for a wide range of scenarios.

Calories

The target calories for US military MREs is 1250, which is pretty good for most people if you eat two per day- which we usually did. That’s a total of 2500 calories for someone usually operating in a physically taxing environment.

The Department of Defense has conducted tests and found that when compared to other meals, soldiers lost weight when on MRE diets mainly because they didn’t eat the entire MRE. In an emergency, you’ll need to keep this in mind and prioritize calories over your palate.

Nutritional Content

MREs aren’t the most nutritional food source you can find and have been proven to cause constipation despite their inclusion of fiber. Meal, Refusing to Exit is caused by a lack of good gut-feeding bacteria in the heavily processed food.

They also can run low on key nutrients and minerals, with studies highlighting low levels of magnesium and potassium.

Our civilian MRE pick addresses these concerns since it is chock full of nutrients.

Taste

Taste is subjective, but I can assure you that there are MRE menus to avoid. A few US Military MREs that I’ve never seen anybody enjoy include:

  • Veggie Omelet – earning the name ‘vomelet’ due to its taste and texture, this menu at least came with some brand-name candy.
  • Chicken a la King – a mushy, putrid mess.
  • Veggie Burger – palatable, but usually selected from the case last.
  • Beef Enchilada – it sounds like it wouldn’t be bad, but the taste and texture are way off the mark.

Some people complain that MREs are bland and not palatable and that this gets worse as you continue eating the same ones. Sometimes, boxed batches would only include a single type of MRE, which made eating them a bland task. Even some of the most popular MRE options will be unexciting if you are sitting down to eat them for the 10th time in a row. William Cowper put it best in a poem he wrote; “Variety is the very spice of life.”

Versatility

One of the biggest parts of the MRE besides the food is the chemical heater. The flameless heaters use a water-activated chemical to cause an exothermic reaction to get very hot.

Set a pouch of whatever you are trying to heat against this heater, and you’ll have a hot meal in less than 15 minutes. They do not like to typically pack these heaters in MREs sold to civilians because they off gas and present a dangerous explosion hazard if they are not stored properly. They also can put off enough hydrogen gas to be a hazard in a confined space, so be sure to use them with plenty of ventilation.

Besides, the heater, the small accessory pack of seasoning and utensils helps you get the food down your throat.


MREs are constantly having their menus updated for taste preferences, nutrition, and calorie count. When ordered and stored by Logistics, they are usually packed with a specific variety in each case. When popping a case, many soldiers choose and trade MREs to find the menus they want.

Here is the latest menu, in order and broken up by case:

Case A

My personal favorites include Menu 10: Chili Mac, and Menu 1: Chili with Beans. I prefer to stay away from anything chicken since it is a little chewy after being dehydrated. Personal preference is a big factor here since there are so many to choose from, but Case A is usually solid.

  1. Chili with Beans, Corn Bread, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Crackers, Cheese Filled Snack Food, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder
  2. Shredded Barbeque Beef, Seasoned Black Beans, Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Spread, Tortillas, Dried Fruits, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder, Barbeque Sauce
  3. Chicken with Egg Noodles & Vegetables, Wet Pack Fruits, Peanut Butter, Crackers, Jelly, Candy, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder, Hot Sauce
  4. Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce, Toaster Pastry, Peanut Butter, Multigrain Snack Bread, Dried Fruits, Fortified Cocoa Beverage Powder, Jelly
  5. Chicken Chunks, First Strike Bar, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Tortilla, Candy, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder, Hot Sauce, Buffalo Sauce
  6. Beef Taco, Wet Pack Fruits, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Tortillas, Nuts and Raisins with Chocolate, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder, Seasoning Blend Spice
  7. Brisket Entrée, Au Gratin Potatoes, Cookies, Peanut Butter, Snack Bread, Jelly, Candy, Irish Cream Cappuccino Drink Mix
  8. Meatballs in Marinara Sauce, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Cookies, Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Spread, Italian Bread Sticks, Beef Snacks, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder
  9. Beef Stew, Fudge Brownie, Peanut Butter, Multigrain Snack, Jelly, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder, Hot Sauce
  10. Chili and Macaroni, Pound Cake, Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Spread, Crackers, Beef Snacks, Candy, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder, Crushed Red Pepper
  11. Veggie Crumbles with Pasta in Taco Sauce (Vegetarian), Wet Pack Fruits, First Strike Bar, Peanut Butter, Crackers, Nuts, French Vanilla Cappuccino Drink Mix, Chili Lime Hot Sauce
  12. Elbow Macaroni and Tomato Sauce (Vegetarian), Cheese Spread, Snack Bread, Nuts and Raisins, Candy, Chocolate Protein Drink, Hot Sauce

Case B

The title entrée for each MRE menu item may drive your choice, but it is important to consider the items that come with it as well. Many times in the field, bland MREs became savored meals with peanut butter or cheese spread. If you aren’t splitting up a case with others, you may want to eat your least favorite first to get it out of the way.

  1. Cheese Tortellini in Tomato Sauce (Vegetarian), Cheese Tortellini in Tomato Sauce, Dessert Powder, Peanut butter, Crackers, Nuts and Raisins, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder, Hot Sauce
  2. Spinach Mushrooms and Cream Sauce Fettuccine (Vegetarian), First Strike Bar, Peanut butter, Crackers, Pretzels, Chocolate Protein Drink, Hot Sauce
  3. Maple Pork Sausage Patty, Maple Muffin Top, Peanut Butter, Crackers, Nuts, Table Syrup, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder
  4. Rib Shaped BBQ Pork Patty, Santa Fe Style Rice and Beans, Ranger Bar, Peanut Butter, Wheat Bread, Jelly, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder, BBQ Sauce
  5. Mexican Style Chicken Stew, Wet Pack Fruits, Cheese Filled Snack Food, Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese Spread, Vegetable Crackers, Candy, Chocolate Hazelnut Cocoa Beverage Powder, Crushed Red Pepper
  6. Beef Ravioli in Meat Sauce, Muffin Top Chocolate Banana, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Wheat Bread, Meat Snack, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder, Hot Sauce
  7. Grilled Jalapeno Pepper Jack Beef, Cherry Blueberry Cobbler, Cookies, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Bacon, What Bread, Nuts, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder, Ketchup, and Mustard
  8. Hash Brown Potatoes with Bacon, Peppers and Onions, Granola, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Crackers, Nuts and Raisins, Sugar-Free Orange Fortified Beverage Base
  9. Lemon Pepper Tuna, Pound Cake, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Tortillas, Snack Food, Carbohydrate Fortified Beverage Powder, Mayonnaise
  10. Asian Style Beef Strips with Vegetables, Fried Rice Chunky Peanut Butter, Snack Bread, Jelly, Candy, Chocolate Cocoa Beverage Powder
  11. Chicken Pesto Pasta, Bakery Item, Sugar Cookies, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Snack Bread, Carbohydrate Electrolyte Beverage Powder
  12. Southwest Beef and Black Beans, Spiced Apples, Pound Cake, Cheddar Cheese Spread, Chipotle Tortillas, Meat Snack, Mocha Cappuccino Drink Mix

I have had most, although probably older versions, of everything on this list. Notably missing is the Scrambled Egg MRE, which usually got a strong reaction from people.


MRE Shelf Life

MREs are not straightforward in listing their shelf life, but there is instead a code you have to decipher. They don’t last as long as bulk food storage, but that’s usually okay since they are meant for mobile kits and loadouts.

To be sure you don’t sit on one for too long, check the code printed on the MRE and rotate them through before they get several years old.

We’ve made a whole calculator to help you figure out how old your MREs are and how much time you have left on their suggested shelf life: MRE Code Calculator.


MRE Alternatives

MREs are somewhat of a novelty and well-known- but they aren’t always the optimal solution for your survival kits. For starters, their shelf life isn’t the best. Once you decode their cryptic MRE code, you’ll find that you’ll need to rotate your supplies quicker than you think.

Secondly, freeze-dried food has become much cheaper over the last several years making camp food pouches and emergency food much more affordable. These don’t include the iconic chemical heater, but camp stoves have become lighter and more efficient over the years as well.

If you are open to MRE alternatives, I suggest:

  • Emergency Food Bars – These straddle the middle ground between boat rations and a Snickers bar, with a ton of portable calories that you don’t have to cook but don’t taste bad either.
  • Freeze-Dried Food Pouches – Emergency food suppliers offer a wide variety of food that works well in the pantry or on the go. The shelf life simply can’t be beaten, stretching past 25 years.
  • DIY MREs – You don’t need a military to make a ready-to-eat pouch. If you get some mylar bags, oxygen absorbers, and your favorite dry food to store you can make your own Meal, Ready to Eat.

Usually, the best answer is never just one thing but a variety. Don’t just get MREs, and don’t just settle for MRE alternatives- get a mix to have a variety available.


Who Needs MREs?

MREs are widely recognized for their use in wartime forward deployments and they can give you the same food security with the bonus of having your meal hot.

We have them as essential items in a variety of mobile survival kits:

They are suggested for an even wider range of kits and lists:

If you find yourself with extras, they are useful for camping and hiking, plus they make great novelty gifts. My mother-in-law even leaves them as gifts for her AirBnB guests.

How We Review Products: We research thoroughly before selecting the best products to review. We consult experts in the field for a better understanding of what makes the gear great. Hours on end are spent field testing gear in stressful conditions. We assign performance criteria and impartially rate each tested item. You can support us through our independently chosen links, which can earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. After our review process, some of the items reviewed end up in our giveaways.

Sources and References

All of our experience and taste testing we do to determine the best MREs are useless without listing our research sources and references. We leaned on these for the book knowledge that we paired with our hands-on testing and practical survival experience:

Feagans, J., et al. (2010). Meals Ready to Eat: A Brief History and Clinical Vignette With Discussion on Civilian Applications. Military Medicine. Volume 175. Issue 3. Pages 194 – 196. (Source)

Hirsch, E., et al. (1984). The Effects of Prolonged Feeding Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE) Operational Rations. United States Army Natick Research and Development Center. Report TR-85/035. (Source)

Edwards, J., et al. (1991). The Influence of a Calorie Supplement on the Consumption of the Meal, Ready-to-Eat in a Cold Environment. Military Medicine. Volume 156. Issue 9. Pages 466 – 471. (Source)


The Final Word

MREs are just reserved for warfighters, anyone and everyone can pick them up for their survival kits, bug out bags, or emergency food storage.

Here are a few other gear reviews and guides our subscribers have found helpful:

We presented quite a lot of information, but as always: if you have any questions let us know and we would be happy to help. Our testing found the US Military Surplus MREs to be the best solution given their value, calories, nutritional content, taste, and versatility.

Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.


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