How soldiers dine in combat

February 18, 2003 in Food Companies, Manufacturing and Trends

How soldiers dine in combat

Ever wonder how troops in active combat make time for meals?

For soldiers, 1.2-pound, waterproof, weatherproof, bugproof pouches are the outer limits of food-processing technologists' efforts to make military rations more like home cooking.

M.R.E.'s for Meal, Ready to Eat, can last three years stored at 80 degrees and 11 years at 60 degrees, with no change in flavor or quality. They are the successors of soggy canned C-rations and the unheatable meals that troops in the Persian Gulf war scorned as "Meal, Rejected by Everyone." Each pouch contains 1,200 calories and three fulfill the typical soldier's daily need.

Thanks to advances in food processing technology and the Pentagon's concern with how the gulf war rations were ridiculed, this time there are 24 menus, twice the number served in the gulf war. And the meals can be warmed up too, thanks to the heating element.

But the M.R.E.'s are not home cooking. The producers cannot make a bacon-and-eggs breakfast. They cannot make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a hamburger, rare, or provide anything fresh, like an apple or broccoli. M.R.E.'s do not come with plates. Soldiers eat the entrees from the heated bag with a spoon. There is nothing to cut because the entrees, like chicken breast, come diced and formed into loose patties.

Most often, troops are served fresh food from cafeterias and field kitchens, but most must settle for M.R.E.'s in battle and some other parts of their tours. The M.R.E. menus for the troops in Iraq include beefsteak with mushrooms, ravioli, chicken with Thai sauce, manicotti with vegetables and a black bean and rice burrito. Each entree comes with a mix of snacks, desserts and side dishes. The chili and macaroni entree, for example, comes with a packet of jalapeno cheese spread, two Tootsie Rolls, a dense slice of bread and packets of cocoa and coffee.

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