Procurement of MREs is not exceedingly difficult. Military personnel usually are handed MREs when they are sent on a mission where food services may not be available. They typically will get these whether they want them or not. Civilians can actually buy MREs at a variety of outdoors type businesses, however, I have not had an opportunity to check the pricing for these items so I can't attest to whether these are economical or not. I dare say that most civilians will obtain the MREs after waiting in various lines for various lengths of time. Typically these lines are found at POD sites, POD is an acronym for Point Of Distribution, or as I observed, at least in the early days of the hurricane recovery, Point Of Disorganization.
Okay, okay, after I got turned away from two sites when either the personnel or supplies did not show up at the assigned distribution points and after I waited at a site for nearly four hours for the personnel to show up late, they did get themselves organized. Anyway, the POD is basically a collection of trailers containing ice, water and MREs where, hopefully, either the National Guard or volunteers will place the ice (two bags), water (one case) and MREs (one box of 12 meals ready to eat) in your car. Of course once you are loaded up, it's time to head home and get cooking.
Once you get home with the provisions and safely pack away the water and ice, it is time to start preparing your meals. While the MREs may be packaged differently (we actually have received them in a brown box of twelve meals and in white boxes). The box is most likely strapped with two plastic straps which are easily cut away letting you open the box by hand. I don't recommend cutting the boxes open because you might cut into the contents inside which can create a mess.
Inside the brown box you'll find twelve different menu choices, our box included two vegetarian selections. Have each person in your dinner party make their selection and then spread out as much as you can to keep from getting the numerous packets, boxes, and pouches mixed up. Each person will need to tear open their main pouch, keeping the empty pouch as a trash bag. Inside there will be one or two boxes, each containing a pouch of food for heating, several other pouches containing bread, crackers or other snacks, some type of dessert pouch or packet and finally a packet holding napkins, matches, sweetener, non-dairy creamer, salt and pepper and in some meals you actually get your own cute little bottle of Tabasco Sauce. Additionally, there will be a transparent packet holding a rectangular white thing inside, this is the heating packet.
Yes, you heard me correctly, these MREs actually have a means of heating themselves. There you are, no power, light or gas for miles and you are about to eat a hot meal, and yes I mean hot. All you have to do is tear off the top of the heating packet (the packet is marked where to tear), slide in your food pouch or pouches (the ones you want to heat) making sure both pass over the top of that white rectangular thing in the heating packet.
Once your food pouches are inside the heating packet, you will need to add just a couple of ounces of water (there are two lines at the bottom of the heating packet, fill to between the two lines). Immediately after adding water you will hear a bubbling and feel the heat. Quickly fold over the top of the heating packet, slide it back into one of the boxes you removed the food pouch from and then hold the box horizontally making sure the white rectangular thing faces downward. Hold it here for a minute and then lean it up against something with the folded part of the heating packet facing upward.
While you wait, you can look through your other pouches and packets and you'll find an assortment of bread, crackers, desserts and drink mixes that you can prepare for your dinner. After about ten to fifteen minutes you can slide your food pouches out of the heating packet, tear them open and carefully pour your hot meal onto a plate or into a bowl. You are now ready to eat your delicious meal, but wait, that is part of chapter two.