As we are all still reveling in Thanksgiving glory, complete with delicious, tender turkey; creamy mashed potatoes; baked casseroles of all varieties; toasty bread; and of course, pies – I wanted to take a minute to reflect on the less delectable Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) that we consumed during our recent deployment to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
During a brief period of down time on this Super Typhoon Yutu response operation, our Logistics Section Chief (Jacki Temple) hand-drew a chart for our team to rank the 22 different kinds of MREs we brought with us. The ranking system was simple. One was terrible. Five was awesome.
Before we sink our forks into the reviews, here’s a quick MRE overview. The Meal Ready to Eat, or MRE, is a complete and calorie dense meal that is already cooked and packed in airtight plastic – ready for transport. MREs are not typically considered health food. They’re made to keep you alive in austere environments and to keep you going under extreme exertion.
What follows is a review of the top three MREs based on our team’s experience. I will guarantee you that none of these are as delicious as the left-over, smoked turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce you may be eating right now.
Beef Stew: 4.42 Overall Rating
The Beef Stew MRE consists of cubed beef, carrots, corn, green beans, onions, potatoes, and tomatoes in a beefy gravy that appears to have been thickened by a roux. Definitely not as good as Grandma made, but I was pleasantly surprised with this MRE. The ingredients are simple but offer a refined, hearty taste. With 29 grams of protein, the Beef Stew is perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Perhaps the best, and most versatile, part of this MRE was the “snack dish”. Beef Stew MRE comes with a package containing two giant saltine crackers and a tube of peanut butter. You can dip the crackers in your stew, or you can spread the peanut butter on the crackers. Alternatively, you can trade your M&M’s for some jam and make a saltine cracker PB&J.
Chicken with Egg Noodles: 3.9 Overall Rating
This MRE consists of chicken with flat, rectangular egg noodles along with colorful veggies including mushrooms, carrots, and green beans. The sauce is chicken broth-like and is generously salted. The noodles were al-dente and very palatable. There are lots of heaping chunks of chicken – both light and dark meat. This MRE is a solid choice. The flavors are strong and there is no hint of “MRE flavor” preservatives. The Chicken with Egg Noodle MRE also comes with the giant saltine crackers but instead of peanut butter, it comes with a sweet grape or apple jelly. Or, if you were very lucky, you’d get a tube of spicy jalapeno cheese spread.
Apple Maple Oats: 3.8 Overall Rating
The Apple Maple Oats MRE, and flash-dried coffee mix it comes with, made for a solid breakfast choice. The modest chunks of apple combined with strong hints of maple mixed in with the oats were surprisingly tasty – whether warmed-up or eaten cold. The oats’ consistency was spot on – not too soupy nor too thick and dry. The one thing this MRE was missing was a solid protein source. On this deployment, we also brought along a Pork Patty with Maple MRE. If you were to pair the pork patty with the oats, you’d have the field deployment breakfast of champions.
While many make “tongue in cheek” comments about MREs, I admit they definitely do their job well. We went into an environment where there was no electricity, no running water, and food supply on-island in Tinian was very low because the commercial ports were closed. As part of our disaster response operations, one of our objectives is to be self-sustaining in these situations so that we do not place any additional strain on the resources in the affected communities. By packing in MREs, we did not have to worry about food. The MREs consistently kept us full and provided the energy our team needed to provide medical aid and assistance to the communities impacted by Super Typhoon Yutu.