View Full Version : The MRE Gourmet: How to make a pouch meal even better

07-29-02, 01:05 PM
By Jason Guttenberg
Special to the Times

I once overheard a wise gunnery sergeant addressing some Marines who were grumbling about their chow.
“MREs are getting better every day!” he exclaimed.

The gunny was right.

During my 10 years as a Marine, I have had many experiences with Meals, Ready-to-Eat, and I really can’t say enough good things about them.

As a young boy, my father would “treat” us to a raid on the stores of old Army C rations, LRPs and MREs he kept in the hurricane pantry.

While it was fun to dig into those olive-drab cans and pouches, I distinctly recall that they tasted awful.

My first experience with today’s MRE was at boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. Our senior drill instructor sat us down on our first real day in the field and gave an impromptu lesson on how to eat these field-expedient meals.

He extolled the importance of maintaining proper levels of nutrition in combat, and told us the MRE housed upwards of 3,000 calories (assuming you consumed everything, including the packet of non-dairy coffee creamer).

The senior DI tore a corner off of the main meal and taught us how to suck our supper as if it were a tube of toothpaste.

“You won’t have time to use a spoon in combat,” he said.

He showed us how to wring almost every morsel out of the pouches as we ate our first MRE “by the numbers” (a military euphemism meaning that each step was performed only on command).

The platoon couldn’t help noticing that our candy items — caramels, fruit chews, even M&M’s for some — still lay in the bottom of our packages. We eagerly awaited permission to eat them, but we were instructed to pass those items to the front. All the candy was accounted for and taken away.

I often wondered how drill instructors stayed in such excellent physical condition with 48 candy bars in their foot lockers.

There were 12 main meal options back then, which ranged from the desirable “spaghetti in meat sauce” to the widely unpopular “omelet with ham.” Each contained two large crackers. Some had freeze-dried fruit, a cube reminiscent of the “astronaut ice cream” sold in many museum gift shops.

A select few contained a pouch of “cheese spread.” MRE cheese spread is a highly sought-after item. While it’s nothing more than about four ounces of Cheese Whiz, this delight can jazz up just about any main meal. I have witnessed Marines trade entire main meals for a packet of cheese spread.

I can’t fault them for it. Some days, I’d rather dress up one main meal with some cheese spread than eat two meals.

What I’ve often wondered is, why does cheese spread appear in only four out of the 12 MREs meals? I can almost remember exactly which meals contained this gem: “spaghetti in meat sauce,” “tuna with noodles,” “chicken a la king” and, I think, “ham slice.”

Would cheese spread be as coveted if it appeared in all MREs? Do the laws of supply and demand or microeconomics apply? We may never know.

But while cheese spread has remained a scarce resource, meal choices have blossomed to 24 at my last count.

“Chicken cavitelli” and “beef frankfurters” are available. The “omelet with ham” has been discontinued. And the method of heating meals has taken a quantum leap forward.

MREs used to be heated only if one was able to procure a couple of “heat tabs.” These were small tablets that resembled Alka-Seltzer and burned for roughly 1.5 seconds.

Heat tabs were supposed to heat water in your canteen cup, in turn heating your meal. They just didn’t work.

However, in the mid-’90s, a genius developed the MRE “stove,” a chemically activated heater in a thin plastic bag that has revolutionized field chow.

One stove is found in each meal and, when filled with a little water, will make your meal steaming hot, warm up your dessert and still have enough left to heat your pockets on a cold night.

The advent of the MRE stove has been a renaissance of sorts for how fighting men and women eat in the field.

Many times, you aren’t able to sit down and fully prepare your MRE. Marines will “field strip” them, discarding unnecessary packaging, unneeded accessory items like the instant coffee, sugar packet, toilet paper, stove, etc. This cuts down significantly on the weight we have to cart around on our backs during extended trips to the field.

Once, I was issued 15 MREs at once for one such trip. You can bet I packed less than the 30-odd pounds those meals would have weighed.

In these situations, it’s common to tear off a corner of the meal and eat it like toothpaste. You may graze on items from one or two MREs throughout the day in order to keep your energy up.

But there are also situations in which enough time is available to make a good field meal. Here are some recipes for preparing some surprisingly palatable creations while in a fighting hole:

Cheesy spaghetti

Spaghetti with Meat sauce main meal MRE

“Cheese spread”

1. Heat main meal and cheese spread in same stove for at least 10 minutes.

2. Mix together in main meal pouch.

3. Add Tabasco sauce to taste.

4. Garnish with crushed MRE crackers if desired.

Beef stew and “dumplings”

Beef stew main meal

MRE crackers


1. Heat main meal for a minimum of 10 minutes.

2. While cooking, crush crackers, while still in package, into a uniform powder. Open package and add a small amount of water to form a pasty dough. Form into dumplings.

3. Add dumplings to hot beef stew. Add Tabasco sauce to taste.

Peaches and cream cake

This recipe also works with pineapples, but omit the creamer in that variation.

Peaches (not freeze-dried)

Pound cake

Coffee creamer

1. Heat pound cake and peaches in same stove (this can be done after your main meal has been heated).

2. Add creamer powder to peaches and stir.

3. Pour peach-creamer mixture into pound-cake package.

Ranger pudding

When made with less water, Ranger pudding also can be baked into a brownie (but don’t try it with the new MRE stove, because the chemicals in it aren’t healthy. Use an alternate heat source).

MRE Cocoa beverage mix

Coffee creamer


1. Mix all ingredients in cocoa pouch to the consistency of pudding and enjoy.

First Lt. Jason Guttenberg is a KC-130 Hercules co-pilot at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

Got an MRE recipe to share with us?

If you have a favorite way to “doctor” a field meal, send it in! We’ll share the best recipes with other Times readers.

Please include your recipe, along with information about yourself and how to contact you, to:

MRE Recipes

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