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Can You Buy Mres With Ebt? A Detailed Guide

MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, are portable, shelf-stable meals commonly used by the military. Civilians may want MREs for camping trips, emergencies, or convenience. If you receive SNAP benefits, you may wonder if you can purchase MREs using your EBT card.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Generally, no, MREs cannot be bought with SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase prepared meals and hot foods sold at grocery stores and other retailers that are ready for immediate consumption.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about purchasing MREs with EBT. You’ll learn what exactly falls under the SNAP-approved food category, why prepackaged meals like MREs are usually restricted, and what types of emergency food you can buy with EBT.

We’ll also provide tips for building an emergency food supply within your SNAP budget.

SNAP Program Overview

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamps Program, is a federal assistance program in the United States that provides eligible low-income individuals and families with funds to purchase food.

The program is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and aims to alleviate hunger and improve nutrition among vulnerable populations.

What is SNAP?

SNAP provides electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards to recipients, which function like a debit card. These cards are loaded with funds each month that can be used to purchase eligible food items at authorized retailers, including grocery stores, supermarkets, and farmer’s markets.

The program is designed to supplement the food budget of eligible individuals and families, ensuring they have access to nutritious meals.

How EBT Cards Work

EBT cards, also known as SNAP cards, work like any other debit card. Recipients can use their EBT cards to make purchases at authorized retailers by swiping the card and entering their personal identification number (PIN).

The funds available on the card can only be used to buy eligible food items, as specified by the SNAP program.

It is important to note that EBT cards cannot be used to withdraw cash or make purchases of non-food items such as household supplies, alcohol, tobacco, hot foods, or prepared meals that are ready to eat. The restrictions are in place to ensure that SNAP benefits are used solely for their intended purpose of purchasing nutritious food.


Eligible Foods vs. Restricted Items

The SNAP program has guidelines on which foods can be purchased using EBT cards.

Generally, eligible foods include fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, bread, grains, and non-alcoholic beverages. However, there are restrictions on certain items, such as energy drinks and dietary supplements, which are not considered eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.

To determine if a specific item is eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits, recipients can refer to the USDA’s website or consult the list of eligible and restricted items provided by their state’s SNAP program. It is important for recipients to be aware of these guidelines to make informed choices when using their EBT cards.

For more information on the SNAP program and its guidelines, you can visit the official USDA website

Why MREs Are Not SNAP-Approved

MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, are not eligible for purchase using EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards, which are used for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The reason behind this restriction lies in the classification of MREs as prepared meals.

MREs are Classified as Prepared Meals

MREs are considered prepared meals because they are pre-packaged and require little to no preparation before consumption. These meals are typically used by the military, outdoor enthusiasts, and emergency responders.

The fact that MREs do not require cooking or extensive preparation makes them ineligible for SNAP benefits.

Other Examples of Restricted Prepared Foods

SNAP guidelines also restrict the purchase of other prepared foods, such as hot deli items, fast food, and restaurant meals. This limitation aims to ensure that SNAP benefits are used for essential food items that can be prepared at home.

While MREs provide sustenance, their classification as a prepared meal places them in the same category as other restricted food items.

fast food meal

Rationale for Excluding Prepared Meals

The rationale behind excluding prepared meals from SNAP eligibility is to promote self-sufficiency and encourage individuals and families to cook their meals using fresh ingredients.

By limiting the use of SNAP benefits to unprepared, staple food items, the program seeks to support healthier eating habits and promote the development of culinary skills.

It is important to note that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase a wide range of food items, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, meat, and poultry. These purchases can be made at authorized retailers, including grocery stores, supermarkets, and farmer’s markets.

If you are a SNAP recipient and would like more information about eligible purchases and authorized retailers, you can visit the official website of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Exceptions and Special Cases

While the use of EBT cards is generally limited to purchasing food items that can be prepared at home, there are a few exceptions and special cases when it comes to buying MREs with EBT.

If you are unable to find MREs that can be purchased with EBT, there are alternative options available.

Fresh MRE Alternatives

Many grocery stores offer fresh, pre-packaged meals that are similar to MREs. These meals are typically found in the deli section and can be heated up or eaten cold.

While they may not have the same long shelf life as traditional MREs, they can still provide a convenient and nutritious meal option.

MREs for SNAP Participants in the Military

For individuals who are receiving SNAP benefits and are currently serving in the military, there are specific guidelines in place regarding the use of EBT to purchase MREs. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) operates on military bases and allows SNAP participants to use their EBT cards to purchase MREs from their commissaries.

This exception is made due to the unique circumstances of military service.

Buying Some MRE Components Separately

While purchasing complete MREs with EBT may not be possible in all cases, it is worth noting that some individual components of MREs may be eligible for purchase with EBT. For example, items such as canned meats, vegetables, and fruits can often be purchased with EBT cards.

This allows SNAP participants to create their own MRE-like meals by combining various food items.

It is important to note that the availability of MREs for purchase with EBT may vary depending on the state and specific store policies. Therefore, it is advisable to contact your local SNAP office or the store directly to inquire about their policies regarding the use of EBT for purchasing MREs.

Building an Emergency Food Supply with SNAP

Let us now explore the options available for purchasing and storing emergency food supplies using SNAP benefits.

Shelf-Stable SNAP-Eligible Foods

SNAP benefits can be used to purchase a variety of shelf-stable foods that can be used for emergency preparedness. These include canned goods, dried fruits and vegetables, boxed meals, and more.

It is important to note that while MREs are not specifically mentioned as eligible items, many of the components found in MREs can be purchased separately with SNAP benefits.

For example, you can use your EBT card to purchase canned meats, such as tuna or chicken, as well as canned beans and vegetables. These items can be combined to create nutritious, easy-to-store meals that can be used in emergency situations.

canned goods

Bulk Buying and Long-Term Storage

Another option for building an emergency food supply with SNAP benefits is to take advantage of bulk buying and long-term storage options. Many grocery stores and online retailers offer discounts for purchasing items in bulk.

By using your SNAP benefits to buy larger quantities of non-perishable items, you can stretch your food budget and build up your emergency food supply.

It is important to keep in mind the shelf life of the items you are purchasing. Look for foods with a long shelf life, such as dried beans, rice, pasta, and canned goods. 

These items can be stored for an extended period, ensuring that you have a supply of food in case of an emergency.

Packaging Your Own MRE-Like Meals

If you are interested in having MRE-like meals as part of your emergency food supply, you can consider packaging your own. While you may not be able to purchase pre-packaged MREs with SNAP benefits, you can create your own meals using SNAP-eligible ingredients.

For example, you can purchase individual packets of instant rice, dehydrated meats, and freeze-dried vegetables using your SNAP benefits. These items can then be portioned and packaged in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags to create your own MRE-like meals.

This allows you to have a customized emergency food supply that meets your dietary needs and preferences.

Remember to label and date your homemade MREs for easy rotation and to ensure that you are consuming the oldest items first. It is also recommended to include a variety of snacks, condiments, and other non-perishable items to supplement your meals.

Building an emergency food supply with SNAP benefits is possible by purchasing shelf-stable foods, taking advantage of bulk buying and long-term storage options, and packaging your own MRE-like meals.

By planning ahead and utilizing your SNAP benefits wisely, you can ensure that you have a reliable source of food during times of emergency.

Other Resources for Emergency Food

Food Banks and Food Pantries

If you find yourself in need of emergency food assistance, one of the first places to turn to is your local food bank or food pantry. These organizations are dedicated to providing food to individuals and families in need.

They often rely on donations from the community, supermarkets, and other sources to stock their shelves with a variety of food items. Many food banks and pantries also partner with local farmers and gardens to provide fresh produce.

Food banks and pantries are a great resource because they offer a wide range of food options. Whether you’re looking for canned goods, dry goods, or fresh produce, you can find it at these organizations.

Additionally, they may also provide other essential items such as toiletries, diapers, and pet food.

To find a food bank or pantry near you, you can visit Feeding America’s website. They have a search tool that allows you to locate nearby food assistance programs based on your zip code.

Food Banks and Food Pantries

FEMA Aid and Government Programs

In times of emergencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides assistance to individuals and communities affected by disasters. This assistance can include emergency food resources.

If you’re in a federally declared disaster area, you may be eligible for FEMA’s Individual Assistance program, which can provide financial support for essential needs like food, water, and shelter.

To determine your eligibility for FEMA aid or other government programs, it’s best to check with your local or state government’s website or contact their respective offices for more information.

Community Organizations

Aside from food banks and government programs, there are also various community organizations that offer assistance with emergency food.

These organizations may include churches, non-profit organizations, and community centers. They often have food pantries or meal programs that provide meals or food packages to those in need.

Community organizations are valuable resources because they are often deeply rooted in the local community and have a strong network of volunteers and donors. They may also offer additional services such as job training, financial counseling, and educational programs.

If you’re unsure about where to find community organizations that offer emergency food assistance, consider reaching out to local religious institutions, community centers, or social service agencies. They can provide you with information about the resources available in your area.

Remember, during times of crisis or financial hardship, it’s important to seek help and utilize the resources available to you. Whether it’s through food banks, government programs, or community organizations, there are options out there to ensure you have access to the food you need.

Advocating for Changes to SNAP Policies

Advocating for changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) policies is crucial in ensuring that the program meets the needs of those relying on it. By advocating for improvements, individuals can help create a more efficient and effective system that better supports the most vulnerable in our society.

Here are some strategies to consider when advocating for changes to SNAP policies:

Contacting Lawmakers and Government

One way to advocate for changes to SNAP policies is by contacting lawmakers and government officials. Writing letters, making phone calls, or sending emails to your representatives can help draw their attention to the issues you believe need addressing.

Be sure to clearly explain your concerns and provide any supporting evidence or personal experiences that highlight the need for change.

By expressing your concerns and sharing your perspective, you are providing valuable input that can influence their decision-making process.

When contacting lawmakers, it’s important to remember that they are there to represent their constituents. Your voice matters, so don’t hesitate to reach out and make a difference.

Joining Advocacy and Outreach Groups

Another effective way to advocate for changes to SNAP policies is by joining advocacy and outreach groups that focus on food security and poverty-related issues. These groups provide a platform for individuals to come together, share ideas, and collectively work towards creating positive change.

Advocacy and outreach groups often organize events, campaigns, and initiatives aimed at raising awareness about the challenges faced by those relying on SNAP benefits.

By actively participating in these activities, you can help amplify the voices of individuals who may otherwise go unheard.

Outreach Groups

Voting in Elections

One of the most impactful ways to advocate for changes to SNAP policies is by exercising your right to vote in elections.

Research the positions and track records of candidates regarding food assistance programs and choose those who align with your beliefs.

By voting for candidates who prioritize the needs of low-income individuals and support policies that address food insecurity, you can help shape the future of SNAP.

Remember, your vote has the power to influence policy decisions and bring about meaningful change.


MREs provide a convenient, ready-to-eat food option that can be helpful for certain situations. However, under normal circumstances, these prepackaged meals cannot be purchased using SNAP EBT benefits.

We hope this guide provided you with all the details on buying MREs through SNAP, whether alternatives exist, and how you can build an emergency food supply within your benefits budget. Please reach out with any other questions!

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