MREs, or meals-ready-to-eat, are military ration packs that every single person serving in uniform is already familiar with, and they also happen to be a long-term food storage solution for preppers.
Though expensive, their combination of extraordinary shelf life and stability across a great temperature range makes them good survival food for civilians just like they are for soldiers.
But a big part of prepping is planning out how many calories you have on hand for any given requirement. So, how many calories are in an MRE?
United States Military-issued MREs have about 1,300 calories in them more or less depending on the contents. Commercially available MREs usually have fewer calories than their military counterparts.
For a complete meal an MRE has a lot of calories, and you’ll really be packing it on if you are eating three of these every single day.
That being said, in a survival situation you might have cause to! You can learn more about the calorie contents and the variations of MREs below.
Standard U.S. MREs Contain About 1,300 Calories
MREs contain tons of calories, by design. This is because MREs are intended to support soldiers in the field, and your average soldier working in the field, no matter his or her branch and job, is going to be burning up a ton of calories every single day.
For this reason, your typical US military MRE has about 1,300 calories in it, although this can vary a little bit anywhere from 1,200 calories to 1,400 calories.
These calories are composed of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates no matter what the contents are and represent the sum total of calories combining the entree with all the sides, snacks, and other consumable items inside.
Once you know a little bit more about precisely how many calories an MRE contains, and what the variations are, you’ll be better able to plan your food stockpile or to make sure you bring enough calories with you to sustain your activity level no matter what you are doing, be it camping, hiking, hunting or just scouting out your bug-out location.
“Civilian” MREs Usually Have Fewer Calories
One interesting thing to note is that civilian, or commercial, MREs typically have less calories than their actual military issue counterparts.
Depending on the brand and the menu, they might have significantly fewer calories or just slightly fewer.
Although this might not make sense on the surface since a civilian would ostensibly choose to carry MREs for the same reasons that the military issues them to soldiers, the reality is somewhat different.
A civilian that is going on some kind of outdoor adventure, be it for work or for play, is simply not burning quite as many calories as an active duty soldier under field conditions, no matter what they’re doing.
Accordingly, even if a civilian is living off of MREs while they are in the field, they don’t need quite so many calories as a soldier.
As we all know, surplus calories means weight gain, while a calorie deficit means weight loss.
Whether this matters or not or is simply an interesting bit of trivia is up to you and your requirements.
For instance, if you were buying any given brand of MREs and just made a blanket assumption that you were getting 1,300 calories per pouch, like an average military MRE.
In reality, you were buying civilian MREs that contained 1,100 calories per pouch, or even less you’ll be racking up a pretty impressive deficit of calories on hand the more you accumulate.
Always check the nutritional info if it is available, and if it isn’t, contact the manufacturer of the MRE to find out for sure.
Calories Vary with Menu Selection
Another obvious cause for variance in the calorie content of any MRE, military or civilian is the menu, or the selection of items in the MRE.
You probably already know that your average MRE contains a variety of foods, everything from an entree, or main dish, to a couple of sides and snacks that can accompany the meal.
Most even include a high-calorie powdered drink mix and a dessert.
This, naturally, leads to variance in the total amount of calories. Calorie-dense entrees like pasta with meat usually contain the most calories whereas lighter, vegetarian fare like mixed vegetables or tofu contain far less.
Understanding the calorie and nutritional variance in a given MRE menu will better help you plan according to your energy and nutritional requirements.
International MREs May Have More or Less Calories
Another fun fact about MREs is that they are not all created equal. There isn’t one giant international company that is selling these ubiquitous MREs to all the world’s militaries.
In fact, it is quite the opposite, with virtually every nation depending on its own unique and culturally relevant MREs for its soldiers.
Some MREs are far more spartan, having much in common with the barely-edible tinned ration blocks of wars from decades past, while others are even more varied or even luxurious compared to US offerings.
The composition of the calories varies significantly also, with differing ratios of protein, carbs, and fat depending on the country of origin.
Many MREs issued by modern militaries in typically cold climates contain more calories than U.S. MREs, while those in hot environments often contain less.
Again, probably just an interesting bit of trivia for most readers, but if you are buying or come into possession of foreign-made MREs don’t automatically assume they have the same number of calories as US-made ones.
MREs are Only Nutritionally Complete in the Short Term
One more important thing to keep in mind is that MREs are not the end-all be-all solution to survival food.
Yes, they have plenty of calories. Yes, MREs last a long time. Yes, they are easy to carry and durable enough to stand up to rough handling.
They even have a good cross-section of vitamins and minerals to keep you working hard when the chips are down.
However, MREs cause trouble when you eat them often for too long a period of time.
First, MREs have way, way too much salt for your average person and they have also been linked with causing all sorts of gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, and constipation alike.
No matter how convenient and cool you might think they are, remember that these are essentially ration packs, highly processed and highly adulterated with preservatives and other things. They aren’t what I would consider “real” food.
This is not to scare you away from MREs. They certainly have their uses, and I still eat them voluntarily when the situation demands.
I’m always looking for ways to keep my diet as normal as possible, and if I know I’m going to be eating MREs for an extended period I try to have as many usual meals with whole foods as I can.