Are MREs and IMPs Worth The Cost?

Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) and Individual Meal Packs (IMPs) are designed to provide a full meal that’s shelf-stable and easy to carry. This makes them popular among military personnel, campers, and preppers. The question is whether the cost of these meals matches their value, especially for long-term storage or frequent use.

MRE ration pack
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MREs and IMPs provide 1200-1400 calories per meal without needing refrigeration. However, they are more expensive than other food storage options.

I don’t object to MREs. If I was in a survival situation, I’d rather have MREs than nothing, but would I prioritize purchasing MREs over other buying other items and preserving my own food?


For emergencies or outdoor adventures, MREs and IMPs offer high-energy, nutritionally balanced meals with an extended shelf life and no preservatives. This makes them suitable for your emergency kit or backpack. However, at around $7.25 per meal, the expense can add up over time.

Assessing Value

Consider factors like cost per case, nutrients, convenience, taste, and alternatives when deciding if MREs and IMPs are worth it. They are designed for high-intensity scenarios, but their value decreases when cheaper alternatives are available. Your decision should align with your preparedness goals and budget.

Historical Evolution of Military Rations

Military rations have evolved from heavy canned goods to lightweight, calorie-dense meals, reflecting the need for easier transport and longer shelf life.

Development in Various Countries

Different countries have their own standards and meal configurations. France’s RCIR caters to the French palate, while Canada’s IMPs are similar to U.S. MREs but suited to Canadian tastes. South Korea includes traditional flavors, and Italy and Russia have tailored rations for their troops.

Transition from Canned to Packaged Meals

Canned rations like the U.S. Army’s C-Rations were replaced by MREs in 1981. MREs are lighter and have a longer shelf life, with components like main dishes, sides, desserts, and snacks.

Nutritional Analysis

MREs and IMPs are designed to meet high energy demands, providing:

  • Calories: 1200-1400 per meal
  • Carbohydrates: Up to 170 grams
  • Protein: Around 45 grams
  • Fat: Approximately 50 grams

This balanced profile helps maintain performance during high-stress situations.

Dietary Variety and Vegetarian Options

MREs and IMPs include vegetarian options and a variety of foods like vegetables, fruit, starches, and desserts. This variety helps prevent palate fatigue during extended use.


MREs and IMPs are designed for military use, providing high-calorie, portable meals. Civilian meal kits like Mountain House offer freeze-dried meals, but MREs often have higher sodium and cost more due to their survival focus.

Bulk Purchases and Cost Savings

Buying MREs in bulk can lower the per meal cost. A case of 12 MREs costs about $86.98, or $7.25 per meal, making them more economical for long-term storage or emergencies.


MREs and IMPs are ideal for situations where space and weight are limited. They fit into soldiers’ rucksacks and are great for backpacking trips due to their light weight and compact size.

Shelf Life and Preservation Methods

MREs and IMPs have a shelf life of about 5 years when stored at 75°F or lower, thanks to methods like dehydration and airtight packaging.

Taste and Quality of Ingredients

We’re talking store-for-decades survival food here, so don’t expect Michelin-quality appearance and taste. These things are meant to sustain you in times of scarcity or crisis.

Flavor Variety and Palatability

MREs and IMPs offer a wide range of flavors, like beef stew and vegetarian pasta. While flavors can be more muted than fresh meals, they provide familiar comfort foods.

Quality and Origin of Ingredients

Ingredients in MREs are chosen for stability and safety, with a focus on meeting nutritional needs and safety standards. Although not all ingredients are organic, they are designed to last without significant quality degradation.

Usage in Specialized Environments

IMPs are essential for the Canadian Rangers in the Arctic, as they are compact, nutrient-dense, and can withstand freezing and thawing.

MREs are ideal for disasters because they don’t require water to prepare and provide immediate nutrition. Retailers like REI recognize their importance in emergency readiness plans.

Packaging and Convenience

Aside from being lightweight and portable, MREs also need to be suitable for easy, on-the-go sustenance.

Ease of Opening and Consumption

MREs and IMPs have easy-to-open packaging, like tear notches and flexible pouches, making them user-friendly in any condition.

Efforts in Reducing Packaging Waste

Manufacturers are working on recycling programs and biodegradable materials to reduce the environmental impact of MREs and IMPs.

Limited Choices

Again, we’re talking survival food here. While there’s quite a wide choice of meals, you may not find your favorite dishes. But when you’re cold and hungry, you’ll be grateful for whatever meals you do have.

Selecting between MREs and IMPs

Choose based on variety, taste, and convenience. MREs offer more variety and are widely available, while IMPs are compact and designed for easy transport.

Preference for Organic and Allergen-Free Options

MREs and IMPs may not cater to all dietary needs, so read meal contents carefully. Some manufacturers offer organic options, but these are less common and more expensive.

Pros and Cons for Preppers

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Look, above all else, these are survival foods. Would I choose to eat them on a daily basis? No, absolutely not. I love to cook, especially when I can get so much of my fresh produce from my homestead. But in a survival situation when fresh food isn’t readily available? Yes, I’d be very pleased with an MRE, because they offer complete nutrition, they are shelf-stable food, and they’re much better than nothing.


  • Convenience: MREs and IMPs are ready-to-eat and require no preparation.
  • Long Shelf Life: They can be stored for up to 5 years, making them ideal for long-term storage.
  • Nutritional Balance: Each meal provides a balanced mix of calories, proteins, and fats.
  • Portability: Their compact size and lightweight make them easy to carry, which is crucial in emergencies.


  • Cost: At around $7.25 per meal, they are more expensive than other food storage options.
  • Taste: While they offer a variety of flavors, some people find the taste and texture less appealing than fresh food.
  • High Sodium Content: Many MREs have high sodium levels, which might not be suitable for everyone.
  • Environmental Impact: The packaging is not eco-friendly and can contribute to waste if not disposed of properly.

Making Your Own MREs

Now, making your own MREs isn’t the easiest, and it does require a bit of equipment – think dehydrator and a vacuum sealer for a start. But it’s totally doable. And, if you already have the equipment (I adore my dehydrator and use it all the time for all kinds of stuff) then it’s much more cost-effective than buying MREs.

Making your own means you can use whatever produce you have on hand, you can tailor the meals to your own tastes and dietary needs (hello gluten-free me), and you make goos savings.

But you have to get it right so there’s no spoilage. You’re essentially removing the vast majority of the moisture, then vacuum sealing in appropriate packaging to remove the air and prevent bacterial growth.

Do note, though, that most homemade MREs have a recommended shelf life of no more than 6 months, compared to the 5+ year shelf life of commercial MREs.

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