NATICK, Mass – U.S. military garrison dining facilities now have 20 new COVID-19 inspired bowl recipes to add to their menu options, thanks to innovative food scientists at the Armed Forces Recipe Services.
The AFRS, a joint services project nested within the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center in Natick, Massachusetts, supports recipe needs for all branches of the armed services, primarily for Dining Facility, or DFAC, and shipboard feeding. AFRS recipe work is guided by the Joint Services Recipe Committee along with input from the Department of Defense Nutrition Committee.
While executing the fourth year of a five year update initiative, in which the AFRS staff has been reviewing 1600 of their existing “legacy” recipes and developing hundreds of new ones to support modern menu development, the group was suddenly faced with the unprecedented dilemma of how to fulfill their unique mission during a global pandemic.
Normally, the AFRS project group actively tests and develops the standardized recipes which make up the backbone of military garrison dining facility foodservice menus. However, the COVID-19 pandemic halted normal operations, leaving AFRS’s food technologists, registered dietitians and chefs unable to be in the test kitchen doing hands-on recipe work.
Similarly, dining facility foodservice operations also changed dramatically overnight with the onset of restrictions implemented by DoD installations during the initial phase of COVID operations. Despite these obstacles, troops still needed to be fed and mission-ready.
In response to this problem, Army stakeholders tasked AFRS to develop novel “Grab & Go” recipe concepts for feeding outside of communal dining facilities. These concepts had to be developed while AFRS food technologists were unable to conduct recipe research, development, and testing to support this important endeavor.
“The goal was to quickly put forth a wide variety of highly acceptable concepts to support Warfighter nutrition and performance during the pandemic, while providing comfort through food,” said Jennifer Billington, AFRS project officer with CCDC Soldier Center’s DoD Combat Feeding Directorate. “Utilizing AFRS’ current collection of more than 2,200 recipes, CFD food technologists were able to create more than 20 bowl concepts for breakfast, lunch and dinner to continue to fuel warfighter performance during the pandemic.”
These concepts address the diverse food preferences of the modern warfighter by including old favorites, modern on-trend flavors, and ethnically diverse cuisines.
“By combining different recipes from the collection with individual ingredients and garnishes, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, etc., into a singular meal bowl, we were able to offer options which provided Soldiers with a complete, nutritious and appetizing meal for take-out, to be consumed safely outside of communal dining environments,” said Billington.
These concepts come complete with nutrition data and Go for Green® (G4G) color and sodium codes.
“It can be easy to throw aside good nutrition in the face of extraordinary challenges,” said Matthew Kominsky, a CFD food technologist on the AFRS team. “Yet, through hard work and ingenuity, AFRS has proven that it’s possible to maintain good nutrition practices while working within sometimes rapidly evolving scenarios and providing comfort and on-trend appeal.”
Additionally, AFRS food technologists created a pair of supplemental Bowl Recipe Guideline Cards; one specific to breakfast bowls, the other to lunch and dinner bowls. The cards provide menu tips and planning examples so that DFAC managers can better tailor the concepts to the unique conditions of their facilities. This gives DFACs the option to serve the concepts as pre-portioned bowls for grab-and-go, or take away style, where the diners can customize their bowls as they go down the serving line. The guideline cards provide tips for both types of operations and include additional bowl meal ideas.
Innovating the take-out feeding design was not the only way AFRS was able to help DFACs with troop feeding during the pandemic. Across the country, there were disruptions in the supply chain, ultimately impacting what the prime vendors could deliver. One category impacted was soup bases, which are a fundamental ingredient used in many soup, sauce, stew, and braising recipes. Utilizing their culinary knowledge, AFRS food technologists remotely developed a Guideline Card for scratch-made stocks, enabling DFAC culinary staff to then make their own recipes.
Also in short supply at times were ready-to-use soup mixes.
“It was still winter/early spring when the pandemic hit, and there was a call for comforting foods in such a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, so AFRS was asked to fast-track any new or recently updated soup recipes,” said Kominsky. “Those were sent out immediately along with a resend of many soup recipes that had been developed over the last few years, enabling easy distribution from the food program office at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence.“
Other supply chain disruptions included animal protein items from the land and the sea, egg products, and some fresh fruits and vegetables. Though fresh and frozen vegetables are preferred from both a nutrition and acceptability perspective, canned options are welcomed when chilled storage is limited or in special times like this when supply chains are disrupted.
“AFRS was asked to quickly develop some new and innovative ways to make use of the canned vegetables that DFACs were all of a sudden stocking,” said Billington. “With the right combinations, and seasonings, canned vegetables can be elevated and appealing, thereby delivering important nutrients.”
As the AFRS test kitchen begins to reopen, AFRS food technologists will take the bowl concepts, stock recipes, and canned vegetable recipes into the lab for official testing and standardization.
“For bowl recipes, the balance of components may need to be adjusted to optimize acceptability and/or G4G® coding,” said Kominsky. “All recipes portion sizes need to be confirmed and overall yield for each recipe still needs to be standardized.”
The recipes will undergo consumer acceptability testing in the Combat Feeding Sensory Analysis Lab and confirmatory steps will prepare these new recipes for broader distribution across all U.S. military service branches, according to Billington.
As COVID-19 continues to present challenges and the JSRC continues to identify areas in need of support, the AFRS staff is poised to respond by providing solutions and capabilities for creative and adaptive menu items.
“The AFRS is always proud of their recipe work, to provide warfighters with nutritious food to fuel performance” said Billington. “Now during these tumultuous times, we are proud to provide warfighters some comfort through food.”
About CCDC SC:
CCDC SC is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. CCDC SC supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the CCDC SC’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. CCDC SC is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.
CCDC SC is part of CCDC. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.