New ration packs curry favour with troops

IT WAS Napoleon who observed that an army marches on its stomach.

Now, the Ministry of Defence has seen fit to issue British troops with a new menu of ration packs based on modern tastes and takeaway dishes such as Thai green curry and chicken tikka masala.

Gone are the biscuits and tins of bully beef of yesteryear: the new "rat packs" unveiled yesterday include sweet salmon pasta and mixed bean salad and are being trialled by armed forces in Afghanistan.

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Lieutenant Commander Neil Horwood, the project manager who oversaw the selection process, watched troops whittle down the choices from 220 items to 20 new menus that cater for all tastes and dietary requirements, including vegetarian, halal, Hindu and Sikh.

Lt Cdr Horwood told The Scotsman: "We were aware that the soldier aged 18 to 25 is brought up with global food tastes. Our food is no longer 'British', it has a multi-cultural profile.

"It is an acknowledgement of the increasing physical demands made on a modern soldier, that more calories are recommended for soldiers serving in places like Afghanistan, where soldiers are carrying heavy loads and operating for long periods in arduous conditions.

"An army marches on its stomach – in that sense, things have not changed since Napoleon's times, and our view is that a well-fed and happy soldier is one who is going to be more effective and have better morale."

The menus, which come in boxes of three and weigh approximately 6kg, can be used by soldiers serving in every climate except the Arctic.

Individual items are taken out and stored about each soldier's person, according to their tastes. Each ration pack has an 18-month shelf life and includes a mixture of dry foods and boil-in-the-bag pouches, as well as sachets of seasoning and tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce.

Other foodstuffs include sausage and beans, strawberry porridge and Oreo cookies – all nutritionally endorsed by the Surgeon-General.

The new packs were sent to Afghanistan last week to be tried out by personnel in all armed forces across the next three months. If approved, they could be part of hot climate operations from summer 2010.

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The overhaul of the old packs began 18 months ago after soldiers complained there was not enough variation.

Lt Cdr Horwood said: "In a hot environment that will naturally suppress your appetite, we need to tempt troops to eat more."

Major John Gilbert, 46, who is based at the MoD Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) headquarters at Bristol, has been in the army for 27 years and said the new rations were a huge improvement.

"When I first started, food was largely tinned, which was extremely heavy to carry and there were only four different menus," he said.

"We used to have steak and kidney pudding which we called a baby's head because it was a thick suet crust with tiny bits of meat inside.

"The new ration packs are light to carry – you can fold them over even when they are full and fit them into your pocket.

"It is so important to have variety because your appetite is suppressed by the climate, fatigue and stress, and it is easy not to want to eat and then find yourself in a big calorie deficit.

"The food can provide a huge morale boost too, because the simple act of getting the cooker on and getting hot food inside you makes life that little bit easier."

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