In May of 2011, my older brother joined the Army. Since enrolling, I have noticed a slow build up of MREs (aka “Meals Ready to Eat”) under his bed, all leftovers from trainings with his unit where they run field drills and simulations.

With each package containing a total of 1200-1300 calories, and receiving 3-a-day, I can understand why he struggled to finish them. However, considering the amount of energy a soldier overseas uses, the ridiculously high-calorie count does make some sense.

Today, my older brother is a sergeant in the Reserves while my younger brother is now a freshman in an Army ROTC program, and both willingly snack on the MREs stored in the bedroom. I was a little disgusted by this sight, but also intrigued. I mean, why would someone choose to eat a package when they had access to a full kitchen? My brother even stated once that he and his buddies preferred the MREs to the food coming out of some of the mess halls.

MRE stands for Meals Ready to Eat. That's not a foreign concept for our society — think frozen meals or ready prepared food from the grocery store. MREs are different in that they don't need to be heated up; they don't even have to be stored in a cooler — frightening. Because kitchen access isn’t always a given, all meals are defaulted to MREs.

Designed to be eaten in the field when you're not sure what resources will be available, MRE’s are handed out to each individual in large packages with only the entrée listed on the label. The selected snacks and drinks remain a mystery until the soldier is able to open the box.

The contents always include (working our way from the center, then up and around counterclockwise in the below photo): an entree, starch, beverage powder, heating pouches for both the entree and drink, a spread or condiment for the starch, matches, utensils, a bag of salt, pepper, and mini Tabasco, dessert, and then possibly another snack. (This particular MRE had a bonus snack of sour Skittles. Score.)

Kate Foody

The starch is commonly bread or crackers. I'm convinced the crackers alone could be used as a weapon — in their package they feel like a wooden board. The beverage can range from a "lemon-lime electrolyte drink" to a "chocolate dairy beverage," and desserts are typically seen in the form of flavored pound cakes or brownies.

The heating pouch is a particularly fascinating detail of the pack. Like I mentioned, all the food is ready to eat as is, but, unsurprisingly, soldiers appreciate a hot dish too (soldiers — they’re just like us!). By placing the MRE entree with the heat pack and filling it with water, the entree can be warmed throughout. The instructions suggest placing it on a "rock or something" to have the most success. No seriously, look:

pizza, beer
Kate Foody

There are some things to note about our grand taste-test. We only tasted and ranked a selection of entrees (no sides or beverages), which were selected from my brothers' personal stock. It was decided that heating up the entree would be in our best interest, but since it was in the single digits and we had access to a microwave, we steered away from perching them on a rock.  

Also note that all of the names listed below are reported exactly how they are written on the packaging. 

7. Vegetarian Lasagna

Kate Foody

Yes, that is supposed to resemble something like lasagna. It was a little frightening squeezing the mass out of its packaging. The veggies included are zucchini, spinach and tomatoes, as well as pinto beans. The flavor had an abundance of onion, plus some dried oregano and basil. The sauce was thick and had a bitter aftertaste, landing it a spot on the bottom of our list.

6. Shredded Chicken in Buffalo Sauce

pork, beef, sauce
Kate Foody

This dish was slacking on the buffalo — it had a little heat at the end, but overall needed more flavor and punch. We're pleased the sauce was there because it could almost hide how dry the chicken was.

5. Pork Rib with Barbecue Sauce

butter, peanut, chocolate, peanut butter
Kate Foody

Some compared this to a McRib, but I thought it paralleled Polish sausage. The meat was extremely tender and basically melted in my mouth. My only huff was that the barbecue sauce was very sweet and again, gave a bitter aftertaste.

4. Beef Patty, grilled, Jalapeno Pepper Jack Flavor

tea, coffee
Kate Foody

When I read beef patty I expected more of a burger texture, but it resembled more of a meatball. The patty was spicy, but the only flavor was really beef with jalapeno, nothing more. 

3. Meatball in Marinara

beef, meatball, meat, sauce
Kate Foody

Initially, the strangest part of this dish is the fact that it is just meatballs and sauce, no pasta. It smelled like Chef Boyardee and the sauce reminded us of a standard jarred sauce (Prego, Ragu, etc.), except it was thick, and not in a good way. The meatballs, and I do not say this lightly, had a hint of cardboard flavor to them. 

3. Gravy with Seasoned Beef Brisket Slices

pudding, chocolate
Kate Foody

One word: salt. The dish is extremely salty. But moving away from being overly seasoned, it's actually a solid meal. The brisket has a decent texture and the dark sauce reminded us of comfort food. 

1. Chili Mac

rice, chicken
Kate Foody

Honestly, it would be really difficult to mess up chili mac — no one really has particularly high expectations for this dish. That being said, this dish still stood out to us as no. 1. No bitterness or excessive salt, just chili and macaroni. 

Overall, there was nothing that revolted me enough to spit it right back out. Everything was edible and many could be compared to other frozen or canned meals that we have all consumed before. That being said, I don't foresee myself seeking out these meals for a quick lunch anytime in the near future. Sorry, bros.