10 Tips for Eating MREs, from a Pro

Six years ago, citizens of the Gulf Coast were starting to understand the immediate implications of their world post Hurricane Katrina. Power had been out since the storm made landfall, which meant that refrigeration systems were inoperable, food was spoiling, and people were hungry. Eventually federal, local and volunteer aid agencies started to distribute cooked meals to those affected by the storm.

In the interim, the National Guard and police distributed MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat) at filling stations and by Humvee. MREs are a full day's calories consisting of an entree, appetizer, dessert, beverage and accessories (i.e. a heater, condiments, gum and toilet paper) packaged in a waterproof vinyl pouch.

A deputy sheriff delivered two cases (12 per case) of MREs to Mom and me at her home in the dense, piney woods 20 minutes north of Lake Pontchartrain. It was finally time to take a break from our cans of cold Chef Boyardee ravioli.

Top 10 Tips for Eating MREs

10. Save used spoons, and duct tape them together to make tongs that you can use when you've run out of MREs and need to flip the foil-wrapped grub you've cooked on the engine block of your truck.

9. Carefully cut the exterior pouch along the top seam in order to maximize your ability to reuse it to catch rain water, which you can then use to mix your Kool-Aid.

8. MREs are designed to be a one-meal-per-day system for soldiers in combat and as such are high calories. You will blow up like a balloon from water retention and weight gain if you pig out on more than one per day.

7. Seek another meal option if you are prone to constipation. MREs will interrupt your daily ritual. Think about it. Deucing on trailblazer while camping on Galveston beach is tricky. Now, imagine the risk and discomfort a soldier would experience thanks to a case of "the runs." Thus, the cork-like qualities of MRE food. Drink enough water, and you should be good to go.

6. Do not overfill the food heater, and don't seal it too tight. MREs come with a food heater that requires only a couple of ounces and a few minutes to get your entree off-the-stove hot. Adding more water does not make it hotter, but it will cause the pouch to burst open from added pressure. You don't want that.

5. Hoard your Tabasco (and other condiments) for the MRETS (MREs That Suck) like the anything starting with or containing a derivative of the words "vegetable" or "vegetarian." For example, the cheese & veggie omelette has the texture of and tastes worse than sawdust bound together with processed cheese food.

4. Trade the crap like veggie entrees, dairy shake and mocha coffee for stuff that's actually good like a pork rib entree, cheesy pretzels, wheat snack bread or jalapeno cheese spread.

3. Combine the MRETS and any leftover ingredients to make a goulash, suggests my friend, Mark, who spent a career in the Army living on MREs. "It sounds gross, but it tastes better than you think." Perhaps you could pair it with a sweet amalgam of Boone's Farm.

2. Do not release your grip on your Beef Ravioli entree. My side-by-side taste test surprised me in that the MRE had beefier "meat" and richer, more savory sauce that its canned cousin that I loved as a kid and trucked from Spring Valley to Folsom, LA.

1. Do not eat the silica gel, jackass. That's the little packet of stuff that is packed in each accessory pack to absorb the excess moisture. You will confuse it with salt. Toss it ASAP.

P.S. For those of you thinking, "you're referencing 2005 menu options in this post." Yeah, you're right. The shelf life is officially three years, but MREs last forever. Chances are better than average that you may run across a 2005 version during your time in a refugee situation. Good luck.

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