Pro-Con Battle: MRE vs. Just-Add-Water by R. Ann Parris for Preppergroups.com
First, by “MRE” I’m not just talking about the mylar bag marked with three lies for the price of one, or even just military rations. I’m talking about any meal that’s ready to eat, even those waiting in tins and tubs on supermarket shelves and those we bottle ourselves. The U.S. MRE and military rations will, however, have some special points over canned soup and tinned peaches.
I am mostly talking about storage and camping foods when I say “just-add-water”. Some of us do create blends of dehydrated foods that just need hot water to create a meal, but it’s not quite as common.
Between them, there’s two primary points of consideration:
– One’s heavy and bulky, and one’s light and compact.
– One is in competition with our other water uses/needs, and one is ready as-is and can even provide some of our hydration.
Water availability should weigh heavily.
Whether or not we can source clean water affects several types of food storage. Catchment, surface water, and backups for our taps, filters and treatments, will affect whether we can even rehydrate camping/emergency foods. If we’re storing water for those pouched meals, we almost definitely need way more than the commonly quoted 1 gallon a day.
Shelf life of just-add-water meals varies hugely, so it’s hard to make a good comparison there.
Double check the per-item expiration/best by dates. Usually things with powdered milks and oils, cheese sauce mixes, nuts, and whole grains will go rancid before plain, individual items and those with the bran coat removed. (Personal experience: At room temperature, 20-30% of our #2.5 MRE Depot cans didn’t even make it 3-5 years.)
Those variations make it hard to recite the consensus that, given the same storage conditions, just-add-water meals will outlast ready-to-eat options, whether they’re canned or the U.S. MREs that are supposed to last at least 3-7 years from the pack date. There are just too many exceptions and conditions that apply.
Other considerations need factored in, too.
Keep in mind time to prepare foods, the ability to eat/prepare small amounts at a time rather than a full meal, our fuel/cooking capabilities, smells (of the MRE, but also of fire and heating foods) and any risks from those fuels.
The garbage generated is also important – and while actual U.S. MREs are jam-packed with packaging waste, boil-in-bag options are still producing some. If we’re using pots, pans or bowls with our just-add-water meals there’s also extra labor in cleanup (and more water used).
Nutrition sometimes rears its head. Camping and emergency food storage kits tend to be lacking in total calories, proteins (and animal-based proteins), and sometimes fiber. Fiber also tends to be missing in U.S. MREs (hit or miss in other military rations).
Price can factor in. MREs aren’t cheap. A la carte camping meals and other freeze-dried and dehydrated components can be pricey, too. Just-add-water options get a bit more affordable as #10 cans and in some of the bucket/tote kits.
Both get a lot less expensive if we repack or assemble our own from supermarket shelves – canned/pouched meats, energy bars, ramen, pouches and boxes of seasoned noodles and pasta, Dinty Moore and Hormel tubs, canned soups and fruits, instant soups and 5-15 minute rice and grain options, tortillas and crackers, protein and energy drink mixes, hot cereals.
Which is better? Both and neither.
We can save weight and space with just-add-water meals. However, we have to have reliable water sources. They also take a while to rehydrate, usually, and longer yet if we’re using cold water.
We can pop open MREs and some other rations or DIY equivalents, and be munching immediately. There are components that require water, and some militaries rely heavily on just-add-water, but by and large, MREs and IMPs are consumable as-is. They’re heavy boogers, though, because we’re carrying that water.
When it comes to food, personal taste, who exactly we’re feeding, and what exactly we’re doing factors in there with smell, cost, garbage, calories, and nutrition. They’re just factors to be aware of, so we can make the best decisions for our situations.
What’s “better”, “best” and “be all” depends on personal circumstances.
Most of the time, a variety gives us the middle road, allowing for adaptability and making use of the strengths while offsetting the weaknesses of our options – for anything. Rations are no different.