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Ration pack revolution

Army rations
New hot weather rations are for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan
Maj Gen Patrick Cordingley has fond memories of Army composite rations - after all, he spent several months on them.

When he deployed along with 12,000 Desert Rats to the Gulf in September 1990, he ate meals from tins for six whole months.

They may have contained 3,500 calories a day (the general UK male population should eat 2,550 calories, according to the Commanders' Guide Nutrition for Health and Performance) but Maj Gen Cordingley says it became pretty monotonous.

Breakfast was tinned sausages or a lurid pink processed meat called bacon grill, with baked beans - and all washed down with Army tea. Lunch was a sandwich with tinned jam or tinned cheese - "labelled 'cheese processed' but known by all as cheese possessed," he explains.

Chicken and beef made up the main course and pudding meant either tinned fruit or a heavy fruit pudding. All washed down with lashings of tea - generally sweetened.

"Despite [the cooks'] best efforts, it became difficult to persuade soldiers to eat the same food day after day. Food parcels from home assumed an enormous importance. Even a Pot Noodle was a gourmet meal," he says.

Biscuits brown gone - replaced with pasta pouches
Custard-based puddings gone - replaced with fruit puree and fruit cocktails
Chocolate bars gone - replaced with sports nutrition bars

In the main camps, most troops eat freshly prepared hot and cold meals, cooked by professional skilled chefs, using a wide range of food including fresh fruit and vegetables. It is when the men are away from those camps that these rations come into play.

So what does Maj Gen Cordingley think of the latest menu?

Designed to solve the problem of menu fatigue in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 20 new, nutritionally balanced menus should also remove the need for supplements.

The new multi-climate ration includes hot-weather menus for troops, including six Halal, Sikh and Hindu variations of Army food.

Pretzel power

Disappointingly, neither restaurant critic Giles Coren nor Maj Gen Cordingley gave a huge thumbs-up to the Today programme food test: a tuna pasta salsa, in this case. But as Maj Gen Cordingley explains, for the MoD menu fatigue is a problem. "This has got to be a good plan," he says.

Also included is a powdered drink, designed to be mixed with water, some pretzels and a sweet bar.

Biscuits brown, biscuits fruit and pate (as they are dubbed by the forces) are replaced with pasta pouches. Cold breakfasts - such as muesli - have been introduced and fruit puree drinks and fruit cocktail desserts replace the heavy, custard based puddings which, while helpful on exercise in a cold British winter, are not palatable in the heat of Iraq.

So what of the tuna offering? Coren says: "It's a tuna pasta salsa. It looks and smells like something cooked by a very drunk student. I would probably join up to fight for my right not to eat food like that."

Patrick Cordingley
Two things that are critical - one is to be able to communicate with those you love at home and to eat. Food is terribly important for morale
Maj Gen Patrick Cordingley

But Maj Gen Cordingley points out that it would have been very welcome if the menu had not changed for some time.

He also says that the powdered drink would be useful to soldiers - anything to take the taste of chlorine away from the limited ration of water is very welcome indeed. And a bar called a Go bar - which doesn't melt in the heat - provides a good alternative to chocolate.

He explains that a lot of variation comes from food parcels sent from home. Despite the logistical problems associated with receiving them, the cakes and even so-called luxuries such as Pot Noodles make a huge difference to a soldier's life.

Above all, food is vital for the smooth running of Army operations. "Two things that are critical - one is to be able to communicate with those you love at home and the other one is to eat. Food is terribly important for morale."

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