HeaterMeals vs. MREs

When speaking of shelf-stable, self-heating food entrees used for mobile emergency feeding, there are two names that have become the standard in the industry  HeaterMeals and MREs. In fact, the words “Heater Meals” have become a generic term for these emergency meals, much like “Kleenex” has in the facial tissue industry. It’s gratifying for HeaterMeals to have become a generic name within the emergency food industry; but it also leads to some confusion. There is a major difference between HeaterMeals and Commercial MREs.

Commercial MREs

It is true that we make ALL the food heaters (over 1.5 Billion to date) in every type of MRE, so the food heating method is similar. The key difference, however, is in the makeup of the food. HeaterMeals Entrees are NOT MRE rations. MRE rations are designed nutritionally for a young soldier in combat who is exerting himself physically.

Therefore, MRE rations contain higher calories and high levels of sodium, carbohydrates and fats. These things are needed to fuel the body of a young soldier who is active in combat. Commercial MREs, sold to the public, are essentially formulated the same as military rations. The only significant difference between the two is that some snack and food components have been removed from the military MRE, to make up the commercial MRE.

HeaterMeals Nutrition

HeaterMeals Entrees, on the other hand, were nutritionally designed to feed civilians from all walksof life. Civilians are not physically stressed as combat soldiers are, and do not require the high calories, high sodium, high carbohydrate diet of a soldier. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has developed “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” Please see their table detailing the daily Estimated Calorie Requirements for Each Gender and Age Group.

In an attempt to meet the nutritional requirements of civilians, HeaterMeals provides entrees for a wider array of dietary needs. Of the six varieties of HeaterMeals Entrees, two are reduced-sodium heart healthy entrees, one HeaterMeals EX meal has only 3 grams of sugar, and we also provide Vegetarian entrees. Compared to MREs and other emergency shelf-stable meal options, HeaterMeals offer 35% to 70% less sodium content.

HeaterMeals also offer the widest variety of meal selections for people of all ages and dietary needs. In public shelter feeding situations, the age of those being served may range from children through senior citizens. An MRE is simply not suitable for feeding all segments of the population, but there is a HeaterMeals variety for almost everyone.
HeaterMeals 3 Self-Heating Meal Kits were developed in2006 as an alternative to military-style commercial MREs. The “3” in the name refers to its 3 year shelf-life, based on the production date. HeaterMeals 3 Kits offer a more healthy option to MREs. Brand name snacks come in all HeaterMeals Meal Kits. Compare that to those found in commercial MREs, which are packaged in Army Green or tan vacuum-packing. Of course, all HeaterMeals have a colorful package to create appetite appeal. You’ll even find a convenient serving tray provided in every package to easily enjoy your meal after heating. This beats the “pouch only dining” option of MREs. Also, when HeaterMeals and MRE rations are served in the same field location or shelter, the HeaterMeals are the first chosen.

The 12 ounce main entrees found in HeaterMeals are 50% larger than 8 ounce MRE Entrees. HeaterMeals 3 Self-Heating Meal Kits are higher in protein and fiber content, as well, yet are lower than MREs in sodium, cholesterol, and fat. In fact, HeaterMeals 3 Kits contain no Trans Fats, which continue to be found in all varieties of MRE rations.

Nutritional Comparison


  • HeaterMeals 3 Self-Heating Meal Kits vs. A Popular Commercial MRE Ration
  • HeaterMeals 12 ounce main entrees are 50% larger than 8 ounce Commercial MRE Ration Entrees.
  • In the HeaterMeals 3 Meal Kit  The 12 ounce Entree and the Healthy Snack Fancy Fruit Mix provide 53.6% of the total Meal Kit calories. In this Commercial MRE Ration, the 8 ounce Entree and the Healthy Snack Raisins provide 29.6% of the total MRE calories.
  • Nutritional Comparison Chart – Click Here to See Enlarged
  • Compared to these Commercial MRE Rations, HeaterMeals 3 Meal Kits provide more Protein and Fiber content than Commercial MREs, yet HeaterMeals 3 Self-Heating Meal Kits have less fat & cholesterol, no trans fat, and 38% less sodium content.

An additional note regarding nutrition, some Commercial MREs suggest on their website that, “Just one meal meets an individual’s full daily caloric needs.”

We respectfully disagree. Although a person could, perhaps, survive on 1,200 calories per day, we subscribe to the USDA established benchmark of a 2,000 calorie daily intake. 2,000 calories per day is the standard used for the % Daily Values on USDA Approved Nutrition Facts labels. As per the HHS Estimated Calorie Requirements for Each Gender and Age Group table referenced above, 1,200 calories is the recommended daily calorie intake for a 4 to 8 year old sedentary female. Thus, MREs averaging 1,213 calories are not a suitable replacement for an average adult’s daily caloric intake. Instead, two HeaterMeals 3 Self-Heating Meal Kits provide 2,100 to 2,300 calories per day, which, we believe, is a much more realistic calorie intake to maintain an adequate energy level for a typical adult.

Despite a common perception, MREs do not have a shelf life of eight, ten, or 12 years. Here is why the confusion exists.

This misconception is due to the widespread use of an obsolete shelf-life and storage temperature chart published and shared by some MRE web retailers and aficionados on the internet. Yes, this historical chart was, in fact, created and published by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, the organization responsible for the development of Meals, Ready To Eat MRE Field Rations, in 1980. However, Natick spokesperson shared with us the following:

We developed the shelf-life and storage guidelines almost 30 years ago to chart accelerated shelf life and taste tests that were conducted on the first generation of MRE Rations, which, at the time, were primarily dehydrated and freeze-dried food products. The chart does NOT apply to the retort pouch technology used for the modern generation of MREs.

On their current website, The U.S. Army Soldier System Center – Natick states, The MRE’s shelf life is three years at 80 degrees F and six months at 100 degrees F.” The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) echoes the same statement on their website, stating, “The shelf life of the MRE is three (3) years at 80 degrees F. However, the shelf life can be extended through the use of cold storage facilities prior to distribution.”

HeaterMeals EX, With Up to a 5 Year Shelf-Life
The shelf-lifechart found at HeaterMeals.com details the expected shelf-life in months of both HeaterMeals tray and pouch entrees. HeaterMeals EX entrees are served in a high barrier, flexible 4-layer foil pouch. Our meals are cooked, sealed in the pouch, then heated again under pressure to assure a safe, easy-to-store meal. The result is EXtended Storage without refrigeration and a ready-to-eat meal which retains its natural moisture, texture and taste.

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