From A-rations to T-rations and MREs, desert dining for U.S. soldiers is an alphabet soup of menu options that too often spells yechh!

That's why even at breakfast, when the troops open their eyes to a choice between strawberry oatmeal and meatballs with barbeque sauce held over from the night before, spicy, tastebud-numbing Tabasco sauce is always present at the table."It's not great, but it's usually edible," said Lt. Col. Dennis Hardy, 41, of Spokane, Wash., picking through a plate of cheesy lasagna on a break from reconnaissance duty not far from the Kuwaiti border.

The lasagna, piping hot and known to soldiers taking part in Operation Desert Shield as a MORE, or Meal Ordered Ready to Eat, is the Army's latest innovation in mess-tent cuisine. It is essentially the same as the packaged meals hyped in ads lately as more convenient and superior to frozen TV dinners.

Whether they are tastier than Swanson's is debatable, but for soldiers used to the standard service grub, the new meals are a godsend. At Sunday dinner, the lasagna was accompanied by Campbell's beef noodle soup, Del Monte's vanilla custard, fresh fruit and Milk Duds.

But from there the dining options go decidedly downhill. As always, the Army tries to give its soldiers at least one hot meal a day when they are at a camp with proper kitchen facilities. These are known as A-rations. But soldiers say the veal patties and meat loaf supreme slopped on their plate by men on KP duty do not compare favorably with home.

When the ovens and spatulas are not at hand, military cooks prepare the next best thing - or worst, depending on one's palate - known as T-rations. These are dishes packed similarly to the MOREs but containing 20 to 30 portions each.

In classic style, soldiers pass through the mess tent where the food, warmed in a vat of boiling water, is poured onto their trays.

The most familiar and despised eating option available is the MRE, which was introduced experimentally three years ago to substitute for the notorious C- ration and stands for Meal Ready to Eat.

Troops argue over which of the vacuum-packed dishes in mud-brown plastic is the worst but warn newcomers to avoid the chicken a la king. "It tastes like dead rats in glue sauce," said one critic.