A Brief History of U.S. Army MREs (from Past to Present)

MREs have fed countless people since the ’60s. But how exactly did the U.S. Army MRE as we know it evolved? MREmountain.com is here to explain.

Ah, MREs. The little package that feeds the standing armies of the world and keeps them going. 

If you’re new to the world of MREs, you might be wondering what it stands for. MRE stands for “Meal, Ready-to-Eat.”

MREs have been used to feed countless individuals and individuals since the heady days of the ’60s and remain a staple in the outdoor camping, hiking, and backpacking subcommunities. 

Suffice to say, MREs have come a long way since their official field debut in 1983. 

Today’s MREs - as you can see in MREmountain.com’s vast catalog of selections from all over the world - are literally high-quality meals that can pass off as fine dining compared to previous versions.

Unlike today, MREs haven’t always enjoyed a sterling reputation insofar as taste is concerned. That’s why they still get called “Meals, Rarely Edible” by some quarters. 

MREmountain.com takes a look at how MREs have evolved since their introduction, as well as the efforts that the U.S. Department of Defense is undertaking to make them even better than they are now.

U.S. MREs: The Timeline

1907: The DoD issued the first individual combat ration for military personnel. It was known as the “Iron Ration,” whose notable items include a filling, if not an appetizing pack of three 3 oz wheat and beef bouillon powder cakes. The Iron Ration also consists of a pack of three 1 oz bars of chocolate and packs of salt and pepper to taste.

1917: “Reserve Rations” were issued to American soldiers following the end of World War I. These rations were notable for expanding the range of food items included. These rations would either have one pound of canned meat or 12 oz. of fresh bacon, two 3-oz. cans of hardtack, a flour-and-water biscuit, 1.16 oz. of ground coffee, 2.4 oz of sugar, and a pack of salt.

1938: The “C-Ration,” which was the forerunner of today’s MRE as we know it (and is closest to it), was released. C-Rations included a canned, pre-cooked wet meal. Service members would choose between a meat and bean dish, a meat and vegetable stew, or meat with potato hash.

1942: The DoD improved the C-Ration with the release of the “K-Ration,” which boosted the calorie content and entree options for servicemen in the middle of the war effort. K-Rations included three square meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Menu options had canned ham and eggs for breakfast, cheese and bacon for lunch, and meatloaf for dinner - but were regarded as unpalatable.

1958: The K-Ration was updated. The new Meal, Combat, Individual (MCI) featured canned wet rations that packed 1,200 calories. The MCI would remain the U.S. Army’s only field ration option for the next 20 years or so.

1975: The MRE was adopted as the official combat ration of the Department of Defense. 

1978: Massive industrial-scale production of MREs began.

1981: The first delivery of the new MREs were completed. While the food was rated acceptable by servicemen, only half of the MREs were consumed.

1984: A newer generation of MREs was produced and distributed to servicemen, much to the same results three years ago.

1988: The MRE was updated to carry 8 oz instead of 5 oz, and nine out of the 12 existing entree options were overhauled. This generation of the MRE also saw the addition of candies, hot sauce, and cold beverages.

1991: The DoD made further tweaks on the MRE based on field testing and Operation Desert Storm feedback. Freeze-dried coffee superseded what was then spray-dried coffee, dried fruits were replaced with wet-packed fruit, hot sauce was included for all 12 existing menus, while candy choices were offered on four menu choices.

Shelf-stable bread was included, as well as a chocolate bar resistant to high temperatures. Flameless ration heaters also were included, which remain a convenient method for service members to heat their MREs for extra palatability.

1994: The DoD tested pseudo-commercial graphics on the MREs to boost their consumption and acceptance within the military community. MRE packs became much easier to open, while biodegradable utensils were also included.

1996: New MREs were developed for service members with special dietary needs. The MRE menu also expanded to 16 items, with new additions of chili and ham slices. 

1997: The MRE menu was yet expanded to offer 20 entree items, featuring pork chops with noodles and cheese tortellini.

2006: “Beverage Bags” were introduced to the modern MRE because servicemen relied more on CamelBaks and similar hydration bladders than canteens. The use of such hydration devices prevented them from using the metal canteen cups that were meant for mixing powdered drinks. Beverage bags have measuring marks for exact measurement and can be sealed and heated using a flameless ration heater.

At present, current menu staples feature Southwestern-style beef and black beans, spinach fettuccine, vegetable crumbles with pasta in taco sauce, and pepperoni pizza. 

While the current menu options may not be overly appetizing for some, they are much, much better than the menu offerings of 1907. It’s a far cry from a beef bouillon cake, that’s for sure! The difference is night and day.

The best MRE in the market today is regarded as the chili mac menu. This MRE also includes crackers, jalapeno cheese spread, candy, and pound cake. Oh, and did we mention you can order it with freshness, quality, and longevity guaranteed from MREmountain.com?


  • Soldiers have over 24 entrees to choose from and over 150 supplementary items on the MRE chain.
  • MREs are required to withstand parachute drops from 1,250 feet high and non-parachute drops from 100 feet.
  • MRE packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of 42 months (or three and a half years) at 80 degrees F or nine months at 100 degrees F.
  • Peanut butter, jelly, or cheese spreads are available in MREs.
  • AmeriQual, founded in 1987 and headquartered in Evansville, Indiana, is the largest MRE supplier to the U.S. Army.

Ready to go on an MRE hunt? Check out our most comprehensive selection of MREs from all over the world! MREmountain.com has exclusives you won’t find anywhere else - only while supplies last! 


amazon ANZAC APO asian aussie Australia backorder BCB beginners guide best by best by date bitcoin Britain BTC Bulk caffeine camping Canada Canadian carrier chocolate code cooker COVID CR1M custom date date codes disaster DPO FAQ field test ForeignMRE FPO France freeze dried French frequently asked questions freshness germany gift global shipping guide guides history how to ICR IMP inspection date international japan japanese jsdf Latvia Latvian learn more MCW meal cold weather meal ready to eat mess kit militaryfood mountain house MRE MRE basics mre buyers guide MRE storage NATO news ordering ORP out of stock outdoor package payment prepping product guide products quotes rations RCIR recreation reproduction review Russia Russian scho scho ka kola shelf life shipper shipping shipping time spain spanish steve1989mreinfo storage life Survival tracking transit transite TTI uk united kingdom vintage weight Wholesale world war 2 WW2 WWII

Top blogs:

Our MRE and combat ration beginners guide!

Read more

Shipping to APO/FPO/DPO addresses

Read more

Welcome to our new full retail site!

Read more
Share Tweet Pin it
Previous post
Next post

Leave a comment