Military Diet: Heavy on the Rations
There is nothing better than a home-cooked meal still steaming as it’s pulled from the oven. But what do you do when there is no room or time to prepare a home-cooked meal for thousands of soldiers? You create rations. The goal of military food is pretty simple. The armed forces needed food that could be prepared and distributed quickly, easy to eat, on-the-go, and stored for a long time. So the military had to get a little creative. Find out what soldiers ate throughout history, and how it has become the military food of today!
The History of Military Food
The history of military food dates back to the Revolutionary War when there were two kinds of food allowances: garrison rations and spirit rations. Garrison rations consisted of meat or salted fish, vegetables, and bread or hardtack (a type of biscuit made with flour, water, and sometimes salt). The spirit ration was four ounces of rum in 1785 but was reduced to two ounces of brandy, whisky, or rum in 1790. Soldiers who were preparing to fight on the front lines, or who were just returning from combat, were eligible to receive double the spirit ration. In 1832, the spirit ration was replaced by coffee and sugar, and these allowances were in use until after the Spanish-American War.
During World War I, the food supplies were revised, and three different meals were introduced. In 1907, the iron ration was created and consisted of small biscuits made from beef bouillon powder and wheat. In addition to the biscuits, the meal package included chocolate, and salt and pepper. These meals were only meant to be eaten in emergencies when fresh food couldn’t be obtained or prepared. In 1917, in the midst of trench warfare, the armed forces discovered that gas attacks were ruining their iron rations. To remedy this, the trench ration was introduced. It was simply a can of meat (usually salmon, beef or sardines). As you can imagine, these meals were unappetizing, and the cans were heavy, making them harder to transport and stock in the trenches. The trench ration only lasted until 1918. The reserve ration was introduced in 1917, the same year as the trench ration, but still wasn’t used in the trenches because the armed forces still worried that the food would be spoiled by the gas attacks. The new meal included meat (usually bacon or canned meat), bread or hardtack, coffee, sugar, salt, tobacco, and 10 cigarettes.
The military food system was completely redone with the onset of World War II. Using feedback from soldiers, the armed forces created a system of five different meals to be used in different circumstances during military service. The first was the A-ration, which was fresh or frozen food that could be prepared in a kitchen, if one was available. The B-ration was similar to the A-ration in that it could be prepared in a kitchen, but it consisted of canned, packaged, or preserved food to be used when refrigeration was not available. C-rations were pre-cooked, ready-to-eat meals that resembled the reserve rations from World War I. K-rations were introduced for soldiers that were traveling for short durations. The K-ration included meat, cheese, candy, powdered milk, sugar, salt, cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, and a bouillon packet. The final food allowance was called a D-ration, and it was meant to be used in emergencies when other food could not be obtained. The D-ration consisted of a single bar of chocolate that had been fortified with nutrients and other ingredients so that it was high in calories.
Military Food Today
The A and B-rations are still used by the armed forces today, but the other military meals have been updated or done away with altogether. The C-ration was replaced in 1983 by the Meal Ready-to-Eat, commonly called an MRE. The MRE includes a main course, a side dish, crackers (or bread), a spread (usually cheese, jelly, or peanut butter), a dessert, a powdered beverage mix, a utensil, a small heater to heat the food, a beverage mixing bag, and an accessory pack that includes gum, matches, napkins, toilet paper, wet wipes, and seasonings like salt, pepper, sugar, coffee creamer, and tabasco sauce.
Each MRE is about 1,200 calories and is fortified with nutrients to keep soldiers in good health during their military service. The MRE can be stored for up to three years, but the military aims to use up and replace the MREs every 21 days. The menu options for MREs change often but usually include things like chili, cheese tortellini, ratatouille, or spaghetti.
Military food has come a long way since their inception in the late 1700s, but Low VA Rates knows there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal, and we have a strong team of certified loan officers who are ready to help you secure a VA loan to fund that home. For more information on how we can help you, feel free to visit our website.