Meals created for the military while serving in the field, far away from the nearest mess hall or restaurant, are known for their ability to withstand almost any conditions – but not for their great taste.
Penn Manor Nutrition and Food Science students recently set out to change that.
They participated in an exercise called the MRE Challenge, in which they took a standard military MRE (meal ready to eat) and transformed it into something nutritious and tasty.
Students in Tiffany Zook’s Nutrition and Food Science class at Penn Manor High School participated in the challenge from October 25 to November 1.
As part of the activity, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Dustin Jeardoe visited the classroom, along with 2023 Penn Manor graduate, Private First Class KayLee Godshall, to talk about food and the military.
Students learned about early military rations (called C-rations during World War II) and how MREs provide complete meals inside pouches designed to withstand rough conditions and exposure to the elements. They also learned about food-related careers in the military.
Three dozen MREs were delivered to the classroom, where students were able to taste-test them and consider ways to make them more appealing.
Given a budget of just $10 for supplemental ingredients, five teams of four students planned out their enhancements and had an hour to modify the MREs. Their creations were judged by Sgt. Jeardoe and Penn Manor social studies teacher Matthew Rayha.
The entries included an appetizer, main course, dessert, and drink. Each category was judged on appearance, taste, and creativity.
One team transformed a southwest beef-and-bean chili MRE into a taco using flour tortillas, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno peppers and onions. Another team pureed a beef-and-pasta goulash MRE and added pizza sauce to create a dip for freshly baked rolls. They also made a peanut butter frosting to create a whoopie pie from two MRE cookies.
The winning team included Alexa Maillis, Hunter Nichols, Audrey Boyce, and Charlie Wood.
Their appetizer consisted of mini grilled cheese bites utilizing MRE bacon and jalapeno cheese spreads. The main dish was a mix of ravioli and meatball MREs with homemade garlic breadsticks topped with parmesan cheese.
The students also created a dessert the judges couldn’t resist: an Oreo M&M milkshake using MRE chocolate protein powder.
Zook said the goal of the MRE Challenge is to bolster students’ skills in teamwork, collaboration, planning, and food preparation.
“The students enjoyed the competitive nature of this challenge and also the ability to make decisions based on their ideas and creativity,” she said. “I watched the students serve their dishes with pride, and I hope they carried that feeling throughout the day.”
The activity went so well that Zook plans to do it with students every semester.