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MRE menu debuts new items

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 04, 2003) -- Servicemembers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere will soon have several new MRE options to choose from for their deployed-dining pleasure.

The newest meals, ready-to-eat, feature three new entrée items: pot roast with vegetables, barbecue pork ribs and vegetable manicotti. The menu also includes clam chowder, both peanut butter and crispy M&Ms, almond poppy seed pound cake, pumpkin pound cake, chocolate mint cookies and vanilla waffle-sandwich cookies.

The new entrée additions come at a cost, according to Defense Logistics Agency spokesman Jack Hooper.

"We are dropping three menu items that were found to be less popular than others," Hooper said. "We will continue working with military members who are consuming the products -- finding their likes and dislikes -- and adjusting as necessary."

Jamaican pork chops, pasta with Alfredo sauce and beef with mushrooms are no longer on the MRE menu.

Research into the popularity of menu items came from all branches of the military, said George Miller, director of Air Force Food Services. Air Force Services Agency officials are responsible for providing the Air Force input when decisions are being made on new MRE items.

"We get a lot of feedback from end-of-tour surveys and from after-action reports," Miller said.

Air Force feedback came mostly from the service's largest consumers of MREs -- the special-operations community, air-combat controllers, elements of the civil-engineering community such as Prime Beef and Red Horse, and Prime Ribs from Air Force Services.

While feedback from all services is what ultimately influences changes to the MRE lineup, Miller said the Air Force was instrumental to the addition of a couple of MRE items.

"We had a lot of input into some of the new snack items, (like) the cheese spread with bacon and the jalapeno cheese spread," he said.

The jalapeno cheese spread first appeared in the MRE in 1996. If all goes according to plan, Miller said bacon-cheese spread should appear in MRE pouches sometime next year.

MREs are designed to provide a complete nutritional meal for servicemembers while in the field, Miller said. They are also designed to be a certain weight and size. There is always discussion on how to balance those two requirements and still maintain palatability.

"The bottle of hot sauce has some weight to it," Miller said. "We asked if we could add something more nutritious than hot sauce to the MRE. Maybe increase the size of the entrée or add a fruit module such as raisins -- anything to replace that hot sauce for nutritional value."

Palatability won out in this case, even though the alternative might have been nutritionally better for the troops. Troops in the field nearly threatened to go on a hunger strike if they did not get their hot sauce, he said.

"They don't care if you put raisins or a candy bar or anything else in there, they aren't going to eat (the MRE) without that hot sauce," he said.

The newest MRE menu lineup features the familiar bottle of hot sauce in 15 of the 24 menus.

Production of the latest MREs began in June. They will be made available for immediate use by military services.