What Soldiers Eat


Photo from Ali Base USAF photo Sr Airman Christopher Griffin 2008

Like me, I am sure you saw the TV reports of American troops eating turkey for Thanksgiving. It is always heart warming to see the men and women who keep us safe and free eating well and participating in an American ritual even when far from home and on foreign soil.

But when our men and women are on the job, in the field, or in combat the food they eat is far different. It has to be.

I am sure we are all familiar with the scenes from movies of soldiers eating from cans in foxholes during WWI and II. And who can forget Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H and all his complaints about the food?

Beyond these examples I never really thought about it. I really did not know.

So that is why I found a photo essay by Ashley Gilbertson particularly interesting.  

Gilbertson is an award winning photojournalist with the VII Network photo agency. After seeing his photos I did some research.

Today’s combat soldier eats Meal, Ready-to-Eat or MRE. Each meal provides about 1,200 calories and is more nutritious than previous combat field foods.

From Wikipedia:

MREs must be able to withstand parachute drops from 380 metres (1,250 ft), and non-parachute drops of 30 metres (98 ft). The packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of three and a half years at 27 °C , nine months at 38 °C, and short durations from −51 °C to 49 °C must be sustainable.


Each MRE weighs 18 to 26 ounces (510 to 740 g), depending on the menu. Since MREs contain water, they weigh more than freeze-dried meals providing equivalent calories.

You can get more information on the history of American combat food from the Revolutionary War to today, and about MRE by clicking the Wiki link above or right here.

Far more interesting  is Mr. Gilbertson’s photographs which include MRE from many different nations including Italy, South Korea, France, and Sweden. Here I include an American meal, Pork Rib, and a British MRE.

American Pork Rib MRE (Copyright Ashley Gilbertson/VII Network)

British MRE (Copyright Ashley Gilbertson/VII Network)

The full essay includes 43 photos. You can see all of them at VII Network. It is fascinating.

On a separate page at VII Network Gilbertson wrote:

“In combat, eating is often the only good thing about a day. When a soldier or Marine sits down to warm up his M.R.E., he’s not being shot at, he’s not losing friends. It’s almost a ritual, and the very act of opening one of these packages suggests safety, however brief it may be.

To a lot of the troops from many nations that I’ve met, mealtimes are the only thing to look forward to – other, perhaps, than going home.”


 Featured Recipe      Meat Loaf

After all of the fancy food of Thanksgiving, today I was looking for something common place, ordinary and just comforting to eat. I immediately thought meat loaf. It sounds boring and dull; an easy, every day, back to basics meal. It is a nice counterpoint to all of the richness, even excess, of the Thanksgiving feast.

Plus it has turned cold here. And on a cold day I love nothing better than to fire up the oven for an hour or so. I love the feel of heat radiating from the kitchen stove warming the air and rooms all round it. There is something primal in that feeling, I think. A residual left over of humans sitting round a roaring fire in our earliest caves.

I also wanted to fix meat loaf today because I love the left overs. Thanksgiving left overs are not exciting.  They are boring. But not so cold meat loaf. A cold meat loaf sandwich has a certain flair.

Cold weather gives me a strong hankering for a little butter smeared on some bread with some some pickles and cold meat loaf. These three items make the best gourmet sandwich ever invented – the Cold Meat Loaf Sandwich. I love to eat one of those curled up under a warm throw while reading a decadent murder mystery.

The Secret to a Great Meat Loaf Revealed

The secret to good meat loaf is to use a meat loaf mix. That is two-thirds ground beef or chuck and one-third ground pork. The ground pork makes the meat loaf sing. It makes it light, airy, and just plain yummy. It also makes for a moister meat loaf. You can also jazz up the meat loaf by using flavored sausage like sage or hot peppers.

That is also the secret to great Hungarian cabbage rolls too. Most people make them with just ground beef. Traditional Hungarian food did not feature much beef. Pork was their meat. My mother made cabbage rolls with ground pork. In fact, she actually ground her own ham.  This makes the cabbage rolls tastier, sweeter, and the filling much lighter.

The meat loaf recipe I share with you today is basically my mother’s recipe hand written by her on a 3×5 index card. She used real bread. I use store bought bread crumbs. Sometimes I use the bread, but after all the stuffing last week I do not need more bread on my hips. Bread targets my hips. Bread loves my hips. I might as well not even eat it. Just glue a slice or two to each hip. Know what I mean?

My mother also used sage and celery salt in her meat loaf. I was not in the mood for those tastes so soon after Thanksgiving. So I omitted them today. She also used both salt and garlic salt. I omit the plain  salt, using just the garlic salt.

This is what you will need for 6-8 people

1 pound ground beef or ground chuck

½ pound ground pork

NOTE: You can often find these two ingredients in one package in the meat counter called Meat Loaf Mix. Meat loaf mix is what I used today.

1 egg

½ cup milk

1/3 cup bread crumbs

¼ cup minced onions

¼ teaspoon dry mustard

¼ teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt & pepper to taste (not pictured)

Topping of your choice: Gravy or bacon, or catsup are some common toppings.

Here is what you do:

This is another reason I like meat loaf. It is so easy.

Dice your onions.

Then just dump everything (except the gravy) into a big bowl.

Then mix it all together. The best way to do that is to do it by hand. I generally start by mixing it with a fork to get things going. Then I just get in there and mix it all together with my hands.

But do be careful here. Like with making a good juicy hamburger, you do not want to over mix the beef. That will make for a dry meat loaf. So just get the job done and stop.

Then you just form the meat into a loaf and put in a baking pan and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

I made 2 smaller loaves and baked for only 45 minutes. See VARIATIONS below.  That is what you see pictured here going into the oven.

If you like you can also score the loaf or loaves by using a knife to put some diagonal lines in the loaf. My mother always did this. Why? I don’t know. It is one of those mysteries of cooking. You don’t even ask why. You just do it. That’s cooking!!!!

When the hour or 45 minutes is up remove the  loaf or loaves and put your topping on the meat loaf. If you are making two loaves remove one of them to a plate to cool.

See all those nice browned and burned goody deliciousness sticking on the bottom of the pan? Don’t forget them. Remember they are there. I will get back to them shortly.

Now, if you are adding gravy, pour it over the meat loaf. Now using a spoon scrape up all those little brown bits I told you not to forget on the bottom of the pan and mix them into the gravy. They will make the gravy taste even better.

When that is done put the meat loaf back in the oven for about 3 minutes to warm the gravy. I had some left over mushrooms in the fridge I had to use up. So I sliced them and put them in the gravy too.

Makes it look like I made the gravy from scratch. No one needs to know that but  you and me.

Remove the loaf from the oven and let the loaf sit for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Serve with a baked potato, a vegetable and a salad.


#1      Make 2 loaves

Since I am single my mom’s family size recipe is too much for me. So I divide the meat mixture in half and form two loaves. I bake these smaller loaves for  only 45 minutes.

I eat one as a main meal, and have plenty left  for a Cold Meatloaf Sandwich another day. In fact, I usally get three emals from one loaf:  two as a main meal and a third as a sandwich.

I totally and completely cool the second loaf, wrap it in foil and place in a freezer bag and put in the freezer. Then some day when things are hectic or time is of the essence, [or I am just too lazy to cook] I can just defrost it and instant meal ready to reheat in the oven.

#2     For children ~ Make Meat Loaf Mice

Make 6 or 8 small loaves. Bake about 25-35 minutes.

After the laves are cooked cut some carrot rounds. Cut each round in half. Use 2 on the sides of each mini loaf to make ears. Slice some green olives with pimento to make eyes on each loaf. Then add some dried spaghetti in varying lengths to make whiskers; three on each side. Instant mice.

Oh!! I didn’t forget  the Cold Meat Loaf Sandwich.

Bon Appetit!!!!!


Meatloaf mix                         $4.80                                                 

1 egg                                   $0.08

½ cup milk                           $0.30

1/3 cup bread crumbs            $0.18

¼ cup minced onions             $0.37             

¼ tspn dry mustard               $0.07 

¼ teaspoon garlic salt            $0.01

1 tspn Worcestershire            $0.03

Salt & pepper to taste

Total Cost = $5.84
Cost per person (6) = $0.97

Topping of your choice:

Gravy                                      $1.00

Cost per person with gravy = $1.14

Quote of the Day

Worry often gives a small thing a great shadow.

Swedish Proverb

Print Friendly

2 comments to What Soldiers Eat

  • Carol Sternberg

    I use oatmeal in place of breadcrumbs plus tomatoes sauced or diced. I’ve also made it with turkey and have added salsa. So many variations. Yummy

    • Roberta

      This is why I like meat loaf so much. Endless variations. I like your idea of using oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs. Very healthy.