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Can You Live on MREs?


MREs, or Meals, Ready-to-Eat, are prepackaged meals that were originally designed for military personnel. They have a long shelf life, are lightweight, and are easy to transport, making them ideal for use in the field. However, in recent years, MREs have become increasingly popular with civilians as a convenient and portable meal option. In this article, we will explore whether it is possible to live on MREs, the nutritional content of MREs, their shelf life, and whether or not they can cause constipation.


Can You Live on MREs?

Can you live on MRE. A Case of Total Prepare MREs or Meals Ready to Eat. Canadian MRE. The short answer is yes, you can live on MREs. MREs are designed to provide all the necessary nutrients and calories for a full day’s worth of meals. However, it is important to note that MREs are not intended for long-term use. MREs are high in sodium and low in fiber and fatty-acids. It is not recommended to eat nothing but MREs for more than 21 days. Eating MREs for extended periods of time can lead to nutritional deficiencies that can affect your health.

It is also important to monitor your calorie intake when eating MREs. Depending on the type of MRE, they may contain up to 1,200 calories and 25-30 grams of protein. While this may be appropriate for some people, many people will need more than one MRE a day, depending on their individual nutritional needs. 


The Nutritional Content of MREs

live on MREs

MREs are designed to provide a complete meal, containing an entrée, side dish, crackers, a dessert, and a beverage powder. Each MRE contains around 1,200 calories, with a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

The specific nutritional content of MREs can vary depending on the specific menu item. However, as a general rule, MREs are high in protein and carbohydrates, but low in fiber. They also tend to be high in sodium, which can cause dehydration and constipation if not properly balanced with adequate water intake.

Despite their lack of fiber, MREs contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. This makes them a good option for those who need a convenient, portable meal that still provides essential nutrients.


The Shelf Life of MREs

One of the key benefits of MREs is their long shelf life. MREs are designed to last for up to 5 years at a cool, dry temperature.

The long shelf life of MREs is due to a number of factors, including their packaging and the processing techniques used to create them. MREs are vacuum-sealed in durable packaging, which helps to prevent the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause food spoilage.

However, it is important to note that the quality and nutritional content of MREs can degrade after the 5 year shelf life or if stored in hot temperatures. As MREs age, the food may not be as palatable as it was when it was freshly made, and the nutritional content may decrease. It is also possible that the packaging of the MREs may become damaged over time, which can compromise the quality and safety of the food. This is why Total Prepare recommends replacing meals that are coming up to their 5 year life.

Can You Eat 30-Year-Old MREs?

As seen above, MREs have a remarkable shelf life, which is one of the reasons they are so popular among preppers and survivalists. However, it’s important to understand that MREs are not immune to degradation over time, and the quality and nutritional content of the meals can be affected by a range of factors such as storage conditions, temperature fluctuations, and exposure to sunlight and moisture.

While MREs could theoretically last for 30 years, the quality past the recommended shelf life of the meals can vary depending on a number of factors. MREs that have been stored in optimal conditions (i.e., cool, dry, and dark environments) are more likely to retain their quality and nutritional value over time than those that have been exposed to extreme heat, humidity, or light.

So, can you eat 30-year-old MREs? Probably, yes. If the MREs have been stored correctly and are still sealed in their original packaging, they are likely safe to eat. However, the quality and nutritional value of the meals may have degraded significantly, and they may not be very palatable or provide all the necessary nutrients you need to maintain a healthy diet. You do take on a risk when eating any food that is outside of its stated manufacturer’s shelf life, however, so this is not recommended by Total Prepare. That being said, many people have tried older MREs with no negative side effects.

Do MREs Cause Constipation?

It is a long held joke in military circles that MRE actually stands for “Meal, Refusing to Exit.” This is based on a long history of anecdotal evidence that a diet of MREs will cause constipation. In 2019, the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry conducted an experiment to confirm if MREs actually stopped up soldiers. They found that due to the lack of helpful bacteria found on fresh foods, MREs do cause constipation if they are the only thing you’re eating. This experiment happened over a 3 week period – the maximum recommended time to eat nothing but MREs.

Preparing MREs

Preparing MREs is straightforward and requires minimal effort. To get started, you will need to locate the packaging line on the MRE, which is typically marked with a dotted line. Using a knife or scissors, cut along the dotted line to open the package, or tear from both sides with your hands. Inside, you will find the various components of the MRE, including the entrée, side dish, crackers, dessert, and beverage powder.

To prepare the entrée you will need to place it, along with the chemical heating pad, in the provided heater sleeve. Next, add water to the heater sleeve up to the fill line, and then fold the top of the sleeve over to seal it. The chemical reaction between the water and the heating element in the sleeve will generate heat, which will cook the entrée in around 10-15 minutes.

Once the entrée is cooked, you can remove it from the heater sleeve and enjoy it immediately. The side dish, crackers, and dessert can be eaten as-is. A small amount of water is required to mix the beverage powder, and any included coffee or tea. 

Benefits of living on MREs

MREs offer several benefits over traditional food options, making them a popular choice among military personnel, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Some of the benefits of MREs include:

  1. Convenience: MREs are designed to be convenient and easy to use. They require no cooking or preparation, making them ideal for situations where access to cooking facilities is limited.
  2. Portability: MREs are lightweight and compact, making them easy to transport. They take up minimal space and can be easily carried in a backpack or other gear.
  3. Long shelf life: MREs have a long shelf life of up to 30 years, making them ideal for emergency preparedness kits and other long-term storage solutions.
  4. Nutritional content: MREs are designed to provide all the necessary nutrients and calories for a full day’s worth of meals. They contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that help to provide a balanced meal.
  5. Variety: MREs come in a variety of flavors and options, allowing you to choose the meals that best fit your preferences and dietary needs.

Drawbacks living on MREs

While MREs offer several benefits, they also have some drawbacks that are worth considering. Some of the drawbacks of MREs include:

  1. High calorie content: MREs are designed to keep soldier’s going in the feild, which means they can be high in calories. If you’re not careful, eating too many MREs can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
  2. Lack of variety: While MREs do come in a variety of flavors, they can still get boring after a while. Eating the same meals day after day can be unappetizing and can lead to a lack of enthusiasm for mealtimes.
  3. Sodium content: MREs are high in sodium, which can lead to dehydration and other health problems if you’re not careful. It’s important to drink plenty of water when eating MREs to avoid these issues.
  4. Lack of essential nutrients: While MREs are designed to provide a full day’s worth of meals, they are low in some essential nutrients such as fiber and essential fatty acids. Eating MREs for more than 3 weeks can lead to nutritional deficiencies that can affect your health.
  5. Cost: MREs can be more expensive than traditional food options, which can make them cost-prohibitive for some people.

An MRE Infographic – click for PDF

All about MREs infographic. Answers questions like What is an MRE? The History of MREs? and more


In conclusion, while MREs can provide a convenient source of calories and nutrients, they are not without their potential health concerns. Individuals relying on MREs for prolonged periods may need to supplement their diets with additional sources of fiber, healthy fats, and protein. It is also important to balance MRE consumption with adequate water intake and to be mindful of the high sodium content and use of preservatives in these meals.


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