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Meals Ready to Eat – Not!

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: August 24, 2021
Meals Ready to Eat – Not!

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Dinner MREThe concept of a meal in a pouch is not new.  For years, military organizations have contracted to have “Meals Ready to Eat” (or MREs) made for distribution to hungry soldiers in the field when a mess kitchen was unavailable.

The evolution of military grade MREs from the 1960’s era to now has resulted in light weight pouches that contain a complete meal sealed into a tidy packet.  A typical MRE contains a main course, side dish, bread, dessert, and flameless ration heater.  There will also be a napkin, eating utensil and condiments such as salt and pepper.  True U.S. military MREs are well marked with the designation “U.S. Government Property, Commercial Resale is Unlawful” although this is a misnomer since there are no laws that forbid the resale of MREs.


The components of one of the MREs used for this article.

That said, the companies that produce military MREs market similar MREs to civilians, often in cases of 12 units but also as individual packets.

In addition, it is not unusual for companies such as Mountain House, Wise, Thrive Life and others to refer to their meal-sized food pouches as MREs.  Alas, this confuses the consumer since these pouches of food are not anything like the military MRES.  Instead these pouches represent a standalone entrée, side dish or dessert suitable for one, two, or more people.  Examples include chili, beef stroganoff, chicken alfredo and similar dishes that require the addition of very hot or boiling water before they can be consumed.


Last January, I was contacted by the Meal Kit Supply company and was offered a case of their MREs for testing and review purposes.  I accepted with the usual caveat that I would post an honest and truthful review.


The box of MREs arrived a few weeks later and thus began the disgusting discovery that these meals were not only expensive, but laden with chemicals and unhealthy ingredients.  Not only that, the flameless heater did not work worth a darn and the so called “meal ready to eat” had to be heated in a pot of boing water on the stove.  The portions were tiny when compared, for example, to the Food Insurance or Mountain House pouches and the company, well, more about that later.

MREs (22) MREs_3  MREs_4

I realized at this point that my opinion was not going to stand up on its own.  After all, the reviews I read at the company website and from other bloggers (who, by the way, were offered the same products for review) were all quite favorable.  I decided to call in some help by offering a few packets to my friend, Bruce Conway, who is a long time outdoor enthusiast and prepper.


When Gaye Levy, noted survival and preparedness writer, asked me to evaluate a couple of MRE meals (meals ready-to-eat) that had been given to her by for evaluation, I eagerly agreed. I had been interested in trying MRE’s for years, but had not gotten around to trying or buying them.

In the past, I had good camping experiences with MountainHouse™ freeze dried meals, and had been assured that modern MREs were now even better.

MRE’s, I was told, had been improving steadily over the years in both quality and variety. So, I could be reasonable assured that these MREs would prove to be preferred forms of preparedness meals to flesh out my personal bug-out cache.

Unfortunately, my first experience with an MRE was not a good one.

Gaye provided me with two of the MRE packets for review. One was Chili with beans, and the other was Chicken Fajitas. Both sounded good.

The MREs, were made/distributed by one of the largest MRE manufacturers in the world; Meal Kit, who proclaim their products to be “the gold standard” in the meals ready-to-eat industry. These are identical to the MREs supplied to the military of both Canada and the U.S.

As I pulled open the MRE bag and spilled the contents onto the table, I was at first impressed with the quantity of the sealed meal packs and extras in the bag which included a nonflammable meal pouch heater, beverages, dessert (pound cake), a moist towelette, plastic ware and condiments. It was like Christmas—military style, with an excessive amount of brown packaging.

When I trimmed the top of the flameless ration heater and poured the required two ounces of water into the bag to activate the heater, the reaction was instantaneous. It inflated the bag (which I had successfully wrapped quickly around two sealed entree pouches.) The steam scalded my hand, and caused mild asthma-like symptoms which lasted for about fifteen minutes.

The instructions caution using the ration heater with “adequate” ventilation, advising consumers to make the meal outdoors. The heaters are considered “safe to use, except when aboard aircraft.  To quote, “… the release of hydrogen gas from these flameless ration heaters is of a sufficient quantity to pose a potential hazard on board a passenger aircraft.”

O.K. I am now less than impressed, Strike one; toxic outgassing—hot steam and hydrogen. Strike two; an unbelievable amount of packaging and plastic trash.

The slim advantage of MRE “pros” versus “cons” was narrowing rapidly.

Then I ate the chicken fajitas. It was, at best, O.K. The Fajita meat and sauce were poured on top of the hot rice packet, with a couple of passable vacuum-packed flour tortillas. The rice heated unevenly, so some was underdone and hard. There are likely tricks to preparing these that I am unaware of.

Within 1/2 hour gastric distress began. My face got hot and flushed, stomach began twisting in knots. I didn’t get sick, exactly. It was some kind of toxic reaction.

Within an hour or so I knew that I had consumed a large dose of MSG. A similar thing had happened a year earlier when a manufacturer began adding MSG to a formerly MSG-free product. I kept eating it for several months, until symptoms similar to what the MRE caused showed up. I eventually re-read the product label and discovered the switch to MSG, and never ate that product again.

It turns out that most MREs are loaded with MSG (which has been linked to numerous diseases and conditions , in addition to being addictive), preservatives, artificial sweeteners, dyes, fillers, etc.

As these MRE’s are from Canada, and contain levels of MSG far beyond EPA suggestions, I suspect that some of these ingredients are actually manufactured in China, and only distributed by Meal Kit Supply. This is ONLY a suspicion on my part, and not backed up by evidence. But they “taste” like they are made in China.

It took a full week for my body to purge the MSG. During that time it ravaged my digestive track, requiring probiotics, hot cereal, yoghurt, and detoxification with lots of fluids. The excessive amount of MSG even anesthetized my urinary track, which was numb for several days.

When Gaye wrote the manufacture about my experience, they responded thus:

“As sorry as I am to hear you were ill, I don’t think our MREs were the cause: we have no preservatives or mystery chemicals in our product, and have never had issues with people getting sick after their consumption (they feed the troops after all — the government would throw a fit if their soldiers were getting sick!). Anyways, as it has already been 4 months and we continue to hit road bumps, it might be best to call off the review all together.”

To think that soldiers in the military are required to eat these day after day is mind-boggling. Most MRE reviews say that although tasty, MREs plug up the average digestive track in a week or two. Most eaters report distress after two to three days of MRE’s.

“Gulf War veterans are twice as likely to develop A.L.S. than those who did not serve.  These vets were all exposed to MSG by way of their MREs, or Meals-Ready-To-Eat.  The U.S. military has been adding MSG to MREs on purpose to make army rations more palatable.  MREs were actually required to contain a minimum amount of MSG up until very recently.  We have gotten new reports that fortunately, they are no longer using MSG in MREs. The intake of MSG by GIs in Iraq in particular, was compounded by the fact that diet drinks containing aspartame were also supplied to the troops – at the same time.  MSG and aspartame are more harmful together as research has shown (See Related Research).” – ( MSG, A.L.S., and Gulf War Vets – //

I would think that those relying on MREs during a disaster, or other large emergency, require food that is safe, nutritious and delicious. MRE meals from Meal Kit Supply may be edible, but they fall short in other regards: They are neither safe nor delicious. They are full of MSG and artificial sweeteners. They even loaded up the plain rice packet with MSG. Why would ordinary rice require MSG?

Get a clue Meal Kit Supply. Loading up your products with MSG and Aspartame may be legal, but it is highly unethical, as these chemicals used together contribute to many diseases and conditions. Get rid of them, and you will once again have a product to be proud of. Your competitors such as Mountain House, and Alpine Aire Foods are MSG free. Your products would be much improved by following their example.

To further investigate the hazards of the long-term consumption of MRE’s, go to:

Examining Typical Non-Organic MRE Ingredients & Why You Should Consider Making Your Own Healthy MREs

W. Bruce Conway


This article will not win any popularity contests with MRE distributors.  But it represents the truth as I see it and for that I will not apologize.  When I contacted Meal Kit Supply about the results of my testing, they asked me to call off the review but they did not scare me off.

As Bruce said to me, this is a story that needs to be told.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


If you have not done so already, please be sure to like Backdoor Survival on Facebook to be updated every time there is an awesome new article, news byte, or free survival, prepping or homesteading book on Amazon.  In addition, when you sign up to receive email updates you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

Bargain Bin:  After reading this article, you are probably ready for some good, old fashioned home cooking and bread baking.  Here are some items to consider.

Simple Sourdough: Make Your Own Starter Without Store-Bought Yeast and Bake the Best Bread in the World With This Simplest of Recipes for Making Sourdough (or Sour Dough):  This little e-book is only one penny.  That’s right – one cent.  It is not a book of recipes.  Instead, it is a short how-to on making your own sourdough starter from whole wheat flour and water.

Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet: This purchase changed the way I cook. I se my cast iron cookware for everything from salmon, to bacon and eggs, to biscuits. Don’t forget the Lodge Set of 2 Pan Scrapers, a must have for cleaning those food bits from your cast iron cookware.

Lodge Dutch Oven/Camp Stove:  I originally purchased this Dutch oven because it was so darn cute.  But over time, I have learned to love it for its versatility.  Remember, a camp stove is designed so that you can bake with it by arranging charcoal on top of the lid as well as underneath the Dutch Oven itself.

Lodge Cast Iron Loaf Pan: This is next on my “cast iron that I covet list”. As you know, cast iron heats up evenly and retains heat for super cooking results. Mmmm . . . think of the quick breads, meat loaves and more from a cast iron loaf pan!

Ove’ Glove Hot Surface Handler: These oven gloves withstand extreme heat up to 540 degrees F. If you could see the scars that I have from my pre-Ove Glove days, you would know why I endorse them. They can be used by both left and right handers and are washable in the washing machine. A Survival Woman must have if you do any cooking at all.

Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day: This is the latest edition in the Artisan In Five series and possibly the best. And yes, I need to write about and review this book. But that takes longer than five minutes LOL.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking: At an average cost of 50 cents a loaf, this bread is easy, delicious and inexpensive to make.

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients: Ditto.

Danish Dough Whisk: Besides the book, this is the one must-have. This gizmo makes mixing up the dough a lot – and I mean a lot – easier.

FD Tomatoes

Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials: The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 35% off sometimes a bit more.  They are currently selling their Freeze Dried Tomatoes for $25.99, a discount of over 40% off the normal price of $43.95 for a #10 tin.

Tomatoes are good to have on-hand in your food storage for your favorite recipes. They are easy to store and rehydrate anytime you need them and are great for adding versatility to your home food supply. I use them in chili, sauces and soups.

Another special this month is the Freeze-Dried Uncooked Salmon which is an amazing $20.99 per can which is 58% off the normal price of $50.95.

In the gear department, the Katadyn Vario Microfilter Water Filtration System is 26% off at $69.99.   My favorite emergency radio, the Kaito Voyager is only $39.99 this month.  Don’t let the picture fool you – this radio is quite compact and light weight and it works great – even in hand crank mode.

There are a lot more items on sale this month – be sure to take a peek.

Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials

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35 Responses to “Meals Ready to Eat – Not!”

  1. I agree with you Zack. There seems to be a wide variation in MREs for civilians. Given the price, though, I think some of the FD and Dehydrated meal pouches are a better deal. The problem, of course, is that they require hot water – something that is not always available in the field.

  2. I ate MRE’s at least 10 days a month for five years while in the military, and the only issue I ever had was that I still felt hungry afterward. The ones you reviewed don’t look exactly like the ones we had issued to us, they look like a knock off. I’ve even eaten them before in the states when I missed breakfast after our morning PT. I’ve got some as an emergency stock for when I need them, or when I’m going to be out camping/hunting for more than a day. I also like to keep canned foods to supplement.

  3. ive seen some *home made* MREs that are really well put together. the video i watched had a person putting a main course, along with side dishes, a sweet treat, candy, fruit in a cup, utensils, salt pepper, etc and napkins in a vacuum bag. i suppose they wont last as long, but you can put what you want into one, and know exactly what youre getting. AND im sure at much cheaper cost. he was very careful as to how he packed it in the bag, so it was like brick sized. when things start to get out of date or use by date, you could always open them and use the products.

    • Kelly,

      I have a book giveaway coming up that is all about creating meals in jars. You are going to love that one. It is not the same as a compact MRE but the concept is the same and the food is real food – no chemicals.

  4. If we are going to have a conversation about the potential health concerns related to food additives common in processed foods, that’s fine. I’m in agreement that processed foods and the various additives should be avoided if one wants to be as healthy as possible. We can disagree about the health effects of MSG in particular, but I will defer to established medical evidence rather than personal anecdotes.

    In the context of emergency preparedness, my concerns about food additives become secondary, and basic upkeep of calories and nutrients becomes primary. I suspect if anyone gets hungy enough they will willingly eat whatever is available despite common additives and food preservatives.

    As a health-conscious consumer I too am very interested in a sustainable, inexpensive, convenient, organic, tasty, preservative-free option for long term food storage. If anyone can tell me a product that fits this criteria, I would be all over it.

    Obviously this discussion of healthy vs storable/inexpensive food supplies is not an all-or-nothing proposition. On one extreme we have cheap junk food that essentially lasts forever, and the other extreme might be a working Amish farm with no electricity required for long term fresh food production for the entire community.

    Most of us don’t have the means to maintain the equivalent of an Amish farm, so we look to convenient alternatives.

    So back to the MRE discussion. With a case of 12 MREs for $40-50 ea, calorie rich, convenient, relatively portable and with varied menus, I think they are a great option for MOST people who want a –short term– emergency food supply that will store for 7+ years. For the millions of MREs consumed worldwide by US servicemembers and others, one cannot argue their effectiveness for their intended purpose.

    If one cannot consume food additives due to health concerns, then their options for survival foods are obviously much more limited.

    • Joe – You bring up some excellent points. One thing I might add is that if a case of 12 MREs is only $40 or $50, there is definitely value for individuals without existing health woes.

      In this case, the MREs were over $125 for a case of 12. I feel there are better options out there for a lot less money.

  5. As far as MREs ( Meals Refused by Ethiopians ) go , if you can get your hands on the more specialized rations , specifically the LRP / Cold Weather rations , it might be interesting to note the differences . From a review from Maineprepper channel on youtube , he notes that the LRP is made by the same company that makes MountainHouse .

    • Yeah , LRP’s are different because you do have to use water , this was done by the military on purpose , so that the soldier could carry more food into the field . I was also told that the only difference between the cold weather ration and long range patrol ration is the color of the packaging , one is white and the other brown MRE color .I think freeze dry guy has them .

  6. Gaye,

    Great article! Congratulations on trying your first MRE and giving your honest opinion. I was in the Army myself as some of your commenters and have eaten more than my fair share of MREs in the field without any side effects, but I don’t know of any issues I have with MSG. This was before the newer style of MREs when they got fancy and started adding hot sauce and scrambled eggs to the menu. When a Pork Patty was just about the worst thing you could ever try to eat.

    I can’t speak to the MSG claims, but I have to assume these are loaded with chemicals. Look at the shelf life… No processed food that lasts that long will be fresh. MRE’s weren’t really designed with a gourmet pallet in mind either I don’t think, just utility. The palatability varies wildly between meals. Everyone I worked with in the Army had their own favorites and when a box was brought out it was a mad dash to get the meal that you liked. If you didn’t get there in time, you were stuck with what was left. Usually that dreaded pork patty.

    I do view these as an option for easy to pack food you can eat cold if needed. We didn’t even have the benefit of heater packs. We just set the metal packets on our stove or in a pinch the engine block of our vehicles to warm them up. I have a box in my storage as a fall back, not my main supply of stored food. These aren’t nutritious you are very correct, but might save a life if you are starving. If I was buying long-term food I would stick with freeze dried food in cans. They last a lot longer and you can make food to suit your tastes. MRE’s are like the fast food of survival diets and I guess you have to make some sacrifices for convenience.

    Keep up the great work!


  7. There have been lots of medical reports from doctors reporting people even in wheelchairs that are able to get out and move around after getting off, both aspartame and MSG… someone better do a little research instead of shooting off their mouth about no ill affects! imho

    • THANKS!

      Another important point is that these MREs are VERY expensive. The meal pouches from Mountain House, Emergency Essentials, Thrive and Food Insurance are less money and somewhat healthier as well. More and more they are being certified as GMO-free as well as MSG free and lower in sodium.

  8. You gave it a shot to evaluate MRE meals but it was not realistic, you scored a 4 out of 10.This isn’t a Starbucks review or a fancy bistro it’s survival foods. In the event of an emergency an MRE could be all you have and be thankful to have them. The problems you and your guest reviewer had were not normal problems even a basic boot would have getting chow. After years of eating MRE’s I haven’t had any problems physically after eating them, Very few problems preparing them and although the taste of some entree’s are not that appealing they do satisfy the hunger pangs.

  9. This is a useful review? A guy Bruce Conway eats a single MRE, claims to have a reaction, and goes on to draw all sorts of conclusions upon which he has no reasonable basis to claim.

    Having been in the Army and eating plenty of MREs, I can say that some are less palatable than others, but I can say they are dense, calorie-rich, have basic nutrients and store well. Basically they do the job they were meant to do, and do it pretty well.

    One may claim that MSG causes an adverse reaction to certain individuals, but the fact remains that millions, if not billions of people around the world eat MSG, which is a naturally occuring extract from seaweed, and have no ill effects whatsoever. Japan invented the modern day version of widely used MSG and they are arguably one of the healthiest nations on earth!

    If you are going to make claims that MSG contributes to “all sorts of health issues” including ALS, then you better provide some real proof. So far I have seen none, other than the anecdotal “I get a headache.”

    Aspartame is another commonly used chemical in soft drinks, etc. I personally don’t believe it is a healthy ingredient, but I have not seen any scientific evidence proving toxicity or otherwise contributing to illness. This seems to be specific to one particular component of the meal.

    MREs may not be the ideal food source for long term use, but it does do a good job for emergency meals.

    I will continue to keep an open mind, and get my information from informed sources, not the ravings of a hypochondriac who tried a sample of one.

    • MSG and Aspartame…

      Consumption of neither is required to maintain good health..

      Both are subject to considerable controversy..

      I see no value in serving as one of the million test dummies for either..

      So the wise person avoids them..

  10. Very informative article, thanks! I was thinking of ordering MREs for my two kids who live in apartments – but both have touchy digestive systems, so I’ll send them a few pouches instead from Mt. House or Wise, etc. Who wants to feel lousy during an emergency?

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