FORT MEADE, Md. -- "I live, breath and eat it."

That's how Spc. Zachary McDavid describes his passion for cooking.

McDavid and his fellow Army Reserve cooks assigned to the 200th Military Police Command take their passion from the menu to the awaiting hungry mouths and empty of more than 100 Soldiers working during the weekend battle assembly here.

The sweet aroma of homemade lemon bars drifted from the small kitchen tucked in the corner of one of three buildings through the compound that is home to Maj. Gen. Sanford Holman and Command Sgt. Maj. Kurtis Timmer and a large staff who command and control more than 14,000 Soldiers in 42 states.

As old school Army can go, Holman and Timmer waited until the line was vacated and all the troops were fed before grabbing an empty tray and plastic utensils.

With their plates filled with food and a quick stop at the salad bar the senior leadership grabbed an empty spot at a nearby table with the Soldiers.

"They definitely help build the morale of our troops," Holman said. "We may be a military police command, but our formations are filled with Soldiers of all skill sets and cooks are an important member of the Champion team."

The small team of seven Soldiers began their day after an early morning formation and went right to work.

Led by Sgt. Toni Hurlston, from Suitland, Md., Soldiers ensured the kitchen was sanitized before any work began.

Hurlston said nutrition is important for the health and welfare of the formations.

"I think people are happier when they have good, nutritional food," she said.

Using the United States Army Reserve Command's 21-meal plan, the cooks select from an assortment of meal options and are kept within certain nutritional standards to allow for a healthier option than fast food restaurants.

Keeping dozens of extremely busy senior officers and NCOs fed between meetings and conference calls is no easy task, but it's a welcome challenge to the small team.

The gatekeeper to the weekend's meal was Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Kinderknecht, a Human Resources NCO for the 200th MPCOM.

While checking identification and collecting a small payment for the meal, Kinderknecht said serving good, hot meals builds morale, saves money and allows Soldiers to sit down and catch up without the distractions of work.

As the one Soldier straggled in at the last minute, cooks were busy cleaning the tables, washing dishes and returning the make-shift restaurant to an Army training facility.

Unknown to most, when the cooks have down time, they participate in a bit of friendly competition. Each cook prepared a dish which was judged by their peers. It's a way of having fun, and it also exercised their cooking skills, said Hurlston.

"The competitions are fun. I like them," said McDavid. "It's a little bit of something different for us to do."

McDavid recently competed in the Marine Barracks food service competition and won a first place medal.

With the kitchen closed for the weekend, the cooks talked about the busiest day of the year -- the command's holiday party.

The December feast is the highlight for many Reserve units across the formations.

"It means a lot for Soldiers and their families," Hurlston said about the holiday event.

"We are a small community during battle assembly weekend," said Timmer, the senior enlisted Soldier of the 200th MPCOM. "The cooks here do a phenomenal job. They provide a great service, and I look forward each month to visiting with our cooks wherever my travels take me."

Timmer said cooks are the backbone of a unit.

"Sometimes, they may think their efforts go unnoticed, but they don't," he said. "I would much rather have a meal cooked by Army cooks than something catered. Call me old school, but there is nothing like grabbing a tray and seeing an Army cook smiling back at you with pride in what they accomplished that day. I know it's always going to be good."