New year, new MREs[MIGRATE]

By Lance Cpl. R. Drew Hendricks | January 03, 2006


If you are tired of trying to make Meal-Ready-to-Eat menus more palatable, then your search may be over.

The field rations have progressed a long way from the C-rats of the past, and they continue to change even to this day.

Four of the current 24 MREs have been removed and are being replaced by new and improved menus, according to the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, located in Natick, Mass.
Usually the ASSC only replaces two MREs a year, but this year they wanted to give the list a boost in variety.

“There was a lot of negative feedback on these four MREs, we couldn’t narrow it down to just two,” said Judith Aylward, the MRE Improvement project manager.

Country Captain’s Chicken, Thai Chicken, Beef Teriyaki and Pasta with Vegetables have all been scratched off the MRE menu.

The ASSC has come up with four new main meals and an assortment of new sides and candies approved by servicemembers by suggestion or taste tests.

“If there were four MRE boxes with one MRE left in each, all of them would be Country Captain’s Chicken,” said Sgt. Rusty Campbell, who while deployed in Afghanistan, had eaten MREs for 35 or more days straight. “If you got stuck with one, you just took everyone else’s Tabasco sauce and made the best of it.”

The four new meals include a penne pasta dish, chicken fajitas with soft tortillas, Sloppy Joe sauce to put on wheat snack bread and a cheese omelet breakfast meal.

The new meals were put on trial to ensure quality.

“All of our meals are put through field tests, which allows us to see how well the new meals fare against the current menus,” said Aylward.

The Operational Forces Interface Group is a team that takes surveys from Marine and Army installations throughout the nation. These surveys are used to get an accurate look at what the servicemembers enjoy, and what they just throw back in the box.

“Troop preference is the biggest consideration. We can make the meal fit every regulation, but if you don’t like it you’re not going to eat it,” said Aylward.

The new meals did well in recent taste tests with chicken fajitas being the favorite.

“I might be a little cautious about eating chicken fajitas from an MRE, but the idea does sound fairly appetizing,” said Sgt. Wayne R. Welty, a security specialist at Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.

Main meals are not the only thing needed to make an MRE the gourmet meals they are; sometimes little treats can make an unpopular meal great.

Snacks like the cinnamon scone and the orange carbohydrate drink, which has a strong resemblance to Gatorade, both scored high in the taste test. However, one item surpassed them all; Walnettos, a caramel and walnut flavored candy.

“The Walnettos went over surprisingly well, so we have started to work on a similar chocolate flavored candy,” said Alyward. “We have also been looking at adding more commercial items such as M&M’s, which are big moral boosters.”

Coming up with new menu ideas is a rather large challenge. Nutritionists like Alyward have to meet all sorts of standards.

These standards include nutritional value, weight & volume, and variety. There are even certain stipulations that require MREs to be made with only American-made products.  

“There are so many factors to juggle, but the by far the most influential one is whether or not you like them,” said Alyward.

There shouldn’t be too much to worry about if you don’t like the taste of some of the items. Chances are if a lot of people share your opinion, the item will be gone by next year.

According to Alyward, the items for 2006 and 2007 have already been selected and the list for 2008 will be approved sometime in Feb. 2006.

“In the end, we may complain about it but we will still eat it,” said Campbell. “Its just a bonus if it tastes edible.”

Here is a sneak preview at the items slated for 2006 and 2007.

2006 What’s in:
· HooAH! Bar
· Chili with beef
· Tuna fish
· Mango peach apple sauce
· Raisin nut mix with pan coated chocolate discs
· Caramel apple bar
· Chocolate banana muffin top
· Pizza cheese spread
· Chocolate peanut butter spread

What’s out:
· Beefsteak with mushroom gravy
· Chicken tetrazzini

2007, What’s in:
· Meatball with marinara sauce
· Chicken with dumplings
· Cornbread stuffing
· Wild berry and tropical Skittles
· Marbled pound cake
· Apple butter
· Chunky peanut butter

What’s out:
· Jambalaya
· Cajun rice with sausage