When I was twelve I thought the coolest thing I’d ever seen was “C-Rations”. My uncle had some from when he was in the service and they were still good. Then MREs came along and I thought they were the neatest thing since sliced cheese. When I was in the National Guard we sometimes got “boxed meals” instead of MREs and they tasted better but weren’t as easy to pack. Now there’s a new option and I’ve learned to appreciate it. This has been an on-going (about five years now) evaluation and I’m confident enough in the value to pass this along: Heater Meals.
I was first exposed to Heater Meals while working a security contract in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through. When I first arrived down there most of my meals were MREs or some other prepackaged food that was distributed each morning and eaten through the day. As things progressed and stabilized (and my assignment changed) I found myself issued Heater Meals on some of the sites I worked.
For lack of a better way to describe it, the Heater Meal is a frozen dinner that isn’t frozen and that you don’t have to microwave. It’s a prepackaged meal that comes with salt and pepper, a wet-nap, a utensil for eating and the necessary components to heat up the meal. I assume the heating technology is essentially the same as what’s available for MREs now: a bagged heating element that gets hot when water is poured in. Both the element in its bag and the water to pour in are provided in the Heater Meal box as well.
Preparation is easy: you open the box, remove the contents, pour the water into the heater element bag, fold that shut, put it and the meal back in the box, close the box and let it sit for about ten minutes. There are seven different varieties of Heater Meals to include:
- Chicken Pasta Italiana
- Green Pepper Steak with Rice
- Homestyle Chicken & Noodles in Gravy
- Mushroom Gravy, Mashed Potatoes & Beef
- Vegetarian 3 Cheese Lasagna
- Zest BBQ Sauce & Potatoes with Beef
- Pancakes, Real Blueberry topping & Bacon Slices (Breakfast option)
The regular Heater Meals have up to a two year shelf life. There are other Heater Meals that have a longer or shorter shelf life and different items inside the packaging.
- Heater Meals Plus: Up to a one year shelf life. Each of these contains an entree, snack, seasonings and beverage. In addition to the meal options listed above, in the Heater Meals Plus you can also get Vegetarian Pasta Fagioli or Southwest Style Chicken with Rice and Beans. The breakfast entree in the Plus category is Hearty Scrambled Eggs & Bacon Slices.
- Heater Meals EX: Up to a five year shelf life. With the EX variety there is no breakfast option and the entrees are (currently) limited to: Chicken Pasta Italiana, Green Pepper Steak with Rice, Homestyle Chicken & Noodles in Gravy, Vegetarian Pasta Fagioli, SW Style Chicken w/ Rice & Beans, and Zesty BBQ Sauce & Potatoes w/ Beef.
- Heater Meals 3: up to a three year shelf life and each containing an entree, snack and beverage mix (just add water). The same entree options are available as in the EX variety.
Pricing is pretty good on these meals too. Compared to what you pay for MREs these days, you can get Heater Meals very cost effectively. They can only be ordered by the case but the per meal price breaks down pretty well. The cost of shipping isn’t included in these prices.
Heater Meals (the original): per case = $46.08 / per meal = $3.84
Heater Meals EX: per case = $47.52 / per meal = $3.96
Heater Meals 3: per case = $55.56 / per meal = $4.63
Heater Meals Plus: per case = $76.80 / per meal = $6.40
Now, I’ve provided all that information on what’s in them and what they cost. Do they taste any good? The answer is yes. As with all prepackaged, long-term storage type food the taste isn’t what you’d get if the food was cooked fresh and served hot out of the pan or oven. Then again, what’s an MRE taste like? or any canned food? My favorite heater meal is the Green Pepper Steak w/ rice. I ate a lot of them in New Orleans. Most recently, at home, we’ve enjoyed the Homestyle Chicken & Noodles w/ gravy as well as they Mushroom Gravy, Mashed Potatoes & Beef. The flavor is excellent given the convenience of packaging, storage and preparation. To get this kind of food and flavor at a campsite you’d normally have to haul a cooler and spend an hour over the fire – and you’d still be lucky if you got it all right. Heater Meals make it a lot easier and are tasty to boot!
Check them out on line for more information: http://www.heatermeals.com.
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