As the years went on, I transitioned from my mess kit to a patrol cook kit. Then, I started using a reflector oven and dutch oven. Ultimately however, my favorite patrol cooking was utensiless or caveman cooking.
These methods make up my cooking lifestyle: baking a golden-brown peach cobbler cooked in a Dutch oven, grilling a steak with garlic toast, or loading an omelet with cheese, peppers, and onions. Each has added a level of excellence to good eating at camp.
While camping outdoors, my meals taste better, my appetite’s more hardy, and fellowship of preparing and cooking food bonds me to other Scouts and Scouters.
Food can be fun, especially when it’s food that you have cooked yourself. And, though cooking when camping is important, it’s also necessary back home. We all need food to survive, so you need to learn how to cook.
That is what this roundtable is about. Use it to build a month’s worth of meeting programs, culminating in a big cooking event such as an iron chef cook-off between patrols.
Troop Leader Resources explains: “Cooking is an important skill when you are camping, but it is also an important skill back home. Unless you want to get by on Ramen noodles and fast-food burgers for the rest of your life, you need to learn how to cook. That is what this program feature is all about—as a new backcountry gourmet, you can learn techniques to tickle your palate and amaze your family and friends. You may even go head-to-head with other Scouts in a cook-off where you have the chance to prove your skills. No matter who wins, there will be plenty of delicious food to enjoy afterward.”
Troop Leader Resources lists these ideas for troop meetings:
- Main Event Ideas
- Troop Meeting Ideas, which include
- Monthly Objectives
- Leadership Planning
- Pre-opening Ideas
- Opening Ideas
- Group Instruction Ideas
- Skills Instruction Ideas
- Breakout Group Ideas
- Game and Challenge Ideas
- Closing Ideas
- Cooking information, including
- Related Advancement
- Cooking Safety
- Cooking Methods
- Cooking Competitions
- Cooking Resources and References
The following three sample outing outlines can serve troop leaders as a point of reference or as the framework for the monthly main event relating to the cooking program feature. Click on the small images to bring up a full-size view.
Meeting Plans and Ideas
This month’s activities should achieve these objectives:
Camping, Cooking, and Wilderness Survival merit badges
Cooking requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks
- Focus on the basics of preparing good meals.
- Develop the skills needed to become self-sufficient in cooking for oneself and others.
- Teach a variety of cooking methods (see last section of this post).
- Prepare Scouts to utilize different heat sources when cooking.
- Emphasize the importance of good nutrition by introducing the USDA MyPlate guidelines.
- Highlight potential cooking hazards and how to prevent them.
- Teach Scouts how to plan menus, purchase food, and store perishables properly.
As a leadership team, you may want to discuss the following items when choosing cooking as your program feature during your planning meetings.
- Will the four meetings support a weekend dedicated to cooking or a one-day event to further skills and work on advancement?
- How can this month’s program teach cooking skills required for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks?
- How can this month’s program help Scouts earn the Cooking merit badge?
- Which of our youth leaders have the necessary cooking skills to lead instruction during the next four weeks?
- Who else could provide instruction?
- Where can we obtain stoves and other equipment the unit doesn’t have?
- What changes should we make to the sample meeting plans that would fit our needs better?
- As Scouts arrive, ask them about the worst camp meal they have ever eaten. Ask why they didn’t like it and how it could have been made better. Make a list to use during the opening session.
- Test the Scouts’ handwashing skills as they arrive. Have early arrivals spread a teaspoon of washable paint over their hands (including between the fingers) and then wash their hands with their eyes closed or while blindfolded. This exercise will demonstrate how well or poorly they do at handwashing.
- Develop several recipes with obvious errors, such as missing food group items, mismatched cooking resources, or missing ingredients. Have Scouts review the recipes and see if they can identify the errors.
- As Scouts arrive, have an array of cookbooks available with both camping and home recipes. Preview several cooking websites to make sure the content is appropriate, and have computers or tablets set up to display those websites. Encourage the Scouts to browse and look for new recipes to try during the main event.
GROUP INSTRUCTION IDEAS
Introduction to Cooking
- Review the list from the preopening. Ask Scouts why those meals were so bad. (Were meals cooked improperly? Were the ingredients substandard?) Explain that this month’s meetings will help them learn to be better cooks and to be proud of their meals.
Health and Safety
Planning for Success
- Present the basics of menu planning. Review the principle of balancing food groups, matching the menu to planned activities and cooking resources.
- Explain that Scouts will rotate in 10-minute intervals to observe four different cooking methods at separate stations: 1) camp stoves, 2) foil packs, 3) backpacking stoves, and 4) Dutch ovens.
SKILLS INSTRUCTION IDEAS
- Explain that there are six essentials to cooking a good meal: time, ingredients, recipes, cookware, heat sources, and technique.
- Give each patrol a complete dinner menu. Then give them 25 minutes to plan what they need for the six essentials and who will take each role in the preparation.
- For the balance of the time, have a review board evaluate the groups’ plans and then help in reviewing them.
- Have these Scouts serve as the review board for the Essential activity. They do the same planning as the
Essential group but then serve as the review board
- This group prepares the dessert from the menu described above to be served during the last 10 minutes of the session.
Health and Safety
- Present the importance of safety while cooking.
- Discuss the risk of burns and how to minimize burn incidents. Also discuss other possible cooking injuries, primarily cuts, and how to prevent them.
- Explain proper treatment for burns, cuts, etc.
- Introduce proper food handling procedures to prevent foodborne illnesses.
- Emphasize the need to follow safe handling practices including cleanliness and proper food storage.
- Discuss the need to be aware of allergies and food intolerances among those who will eat the meal you are cooking.
- Present nutritional guidelines based on the USDA’s MyPlate model.
- Explain the balance needed from the food groups and how the proper mix may vary depending on activities and the age and size of those for whom you are cooking.
Planning for Success
- Form multiple groups, each including some Scouts who are more experienced than the others. Have the experienced Scouts teach by example how to develop a full menu plan for a weekend trip. Include two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners. Focus on:
— Planning complete, tasty meals
— Developing a complete food list
— Making plans to prepare and cook the food
— Determining the costs and how the food items will be purchased
- Scouts will move by patrol in a round robin to get basic instruction on the four different styles of cooking, focusing on the benefits of each style and how to use them effectively. (If possible, real cooking demonstrations would be good, but instruction can be given without food.
- Scouts with some cooking experience should run the first two stations, demonstrating how to cook with camp stoves and foil cooking.
- Scouts with the most cooking experience should run the instruction for Dutch ovens and backpacking stoves.
BREAKOUT GROUP IDEAS
Getting Ready for the Main Event
- Plan a menu using camp stoves for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a campout.
- Plan a dinner menu incorporating the MyPlate nutritional basics.
- Plan a camp menu that includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner and can be cooked without utensils. All meals must use a heat source, and at least one must use a technique other than foil cooking.
- Duty Roster Planning
- Equipment check
Preparation for the meeting’s game or challenge
GAME AND CHALLENGE IDEAS
- Flapjack-Flipping Relay
– Materials: For each team, a frying pan and a linoleum “flapjack” with a white X painted on one side
– Method: The teams line up in relay formation. Pans and flapjacks are placed along a line 20 feet in front of the teams. On signal, the first Scout from each team runs to the line and flips his flapjack. Then he runs back, tags the next Scout, and so on until all have run.
– Scoring: Award 2 points for each flapjack thrown into the air, turned over, and caught properly. Deduct 1 point if the flapjack hits the side of the pan, falls on the floor, or does not turn over. Give 5 points to the first team to finish with all flapjacks correctly flipped. The team with the most points wins.
– Variation: For an extra challenge, run a string horizontally about 4 feet above a table. Award bonus points for flipping flapjacks over the string.
- Cooking Kim’s Game
– Materials: 8 to 10 different cooking utensils: spatula, measuring cup, potato peeler, wire whisk, cheese grater, salt shaker, paring knife, slotted spoon, can opener, food tongs, etc.; a large towel; paper and a pencil for each Scout
– Method: Arrange the cooking utensils on a table and cover them with the towel. Have patrols huddle around the table. Give them 3 minutes to identify the cooking utensils, listing them on the paper provided. Patrols then go to their corners, combine their lists, and make notes on how each item is used. After they hand in their lists, uncover and identify the items. Explain the use for each one.
– Scoring: Score 2 points for each item correctly named, and deduct 1 point for each incorrectly named. Give a bonus of 1 point for each proper use identified. The team with the highest score wins.
- What’s Cooking
– Materials: Copies of the MyPlate guidelines (available on the USDA website); paper and pencil for each patrol
– Method: All patrols gather in separate areas. The game leader gives a short talk about using the MyPlate nutrition guidelines and hands out the MyPlate guidelines. Then each team plans a workable menu for an overnighter, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Menus must adhere to the MyPlate balance and include a food list and estimated food costs.
– Scoring: Have youth or adult leaders judge each menu by the following standards: cost of food, ease of preparation, and balanced diet. The team with the best menu wins.
– Note: The meeting continues as the menus are graded. Announce the winners during the closing.
- Potato Peel Relay
– Materials: A potato for each Scout, a potato peeler and bag or bucket for each patrol.
– Method: Place the equipment on a table at one end of the room and have teams line up relay-style at the other end. On command, the first Scout on each team runs to the table and completely removes the skin from a single potato. The player then returns and tags the next in line. The relay continues until all have participated.
– Scoring: Scoring is based on time and completeness (quality) of the peeled potatoes.
– Note: The potatoes should be cooked and eaten after the game.
- ‘Chopped’ Camp Style (Good Idea for a Cooking Main Event)
– Materials: Select a cooking style (e.g., camp stoves or Dutch ovens), including heat source. Provide a set of cooking utensils and a supply of assorted vegetables, spices, dairy items, and other basic ingredients. Choose four secret ingredients for a main dish and four secret ingredients for a dessert. (Ingredients for the main dish might be a can of Spam or a Cornish hen, a jar of orange marmalade or a jar of olives, a sweet potato or a package of ramen noodles, and a few carrots or an ear of corn; for the dessert, ingredients might be crescent rolls or a hamburger bun, bananas or peaches, a cup of yogurt or cream cheese, a chocolate bar or a jar of peanut butter.)
– Method: Patrols compete against each other to prepare a main dish and a dessert using the specified secret ingredients (as well as any staples they choose). Give them an equal but limited amount of time, such as 10 minutes for planning and 30-45 minutes for cooking. Play two rounds, specifying one set of secret ingredients for each round. A panel of two to four judges will evaluate each dish on taste, creativity, presentation, and use of the ingredients.
– Scoring: The first-place team in the first round gets 10 extra minutes for the second round. The prize could be a special kitchen gadget for the winning patrol’s patrol box.
- Bake – This method uses dry heat like your oven back home, nothing beats a Dutch oven. Stews and other one pot meals, pizza, and roasts are typically baked. Desserts are easy as pie, but cookies and cakes are great too.
However you can also bake in foil. Examples include, tin foil dinners, but there are many more ideas to use foil (see Pocket Foil Banquets on this blog).
Broil or Grill –cooking this way uses a direct heat source over or under an open fire to grill meats like steaks or chops. Of course, hot dogs and hamburgers are the most common foods grilled. In any case, vigilance is needed to prevent burned food.
- Boil – cooking things in water or other liquids, most often hot enough to bubble (212º for water at sea level, but much less at higher altitudes which means longer cooking times). Boiling water is the first step in cooking items like rice, spaghetti, or noodles.
Spice up your cooking – Salt and pepper are popular seasonings, but you should also try chili powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and cumin. Other options include bouillon, soy sauce, hot sauce, tamarind, mint, basil, cilantro, and ginger. Go easy with seasonings during the cooking; you can always add more flavor at the table.
- Pan-fry – To cook using a hot skillet and a small spoonful of cooking oil. Meats and vegetables are typically panfried. You can panfry potatoes or fish you have caught over an open fire in the outdoors.
- Stir-fry – Usually done in a wok or a large skillet ore even a Dutch oven with a small amount of cooking oil. Vegetables like celery, carrots, peppers, onions, cabbage, pea pods, and tomatoes are often stir-fried with thinly sliced cuts of pork, chicken, or steak and served with rice. Shrimp is another good ingredient, but check for shellfish allergies. Food can be seasoned to taste while stir-frying.
- Deep-fry – Cooking that requires a deep pan and immersion in very hot oil (more than 300º). Care must be taken to prevent splatter and burns. Common foods for deep-frying are french fries, chicken nuggets, hush puppies, doughnuts, and fish.
- Roast – A method of cooking a larger portion of meat, pork, chicken, or turkey in a Dutch oven over hot coals or in a regular oven (using a roasting bag makes cleanup a snap). The key to success lies in timing the cooking, carefully adjusting the temperature based on the weight of the item.
- Simmer – To cook over reduced heat in liquid just barely at the boiling point. Simmering makes the sauce richer and more flavorful the longer it stays on the heat source.
- Steam – To place food on a rack or special device over boiling or simmering water in a covered pan. A basket or strainer is held over the water, and the resulting steam cooks the items. Steaming is most commonly used to cook vegetables.Stew – To cook slowly over low heat or slow boiling. Beef is one of the most common meats for stewing. microwave. This is the most common indoor cooking method used by Scouts. A microwave oven heats food by radiation. Care must be taken to use microwavable dishes and NO metal objects, including aluminum foil.
- Special Cooking Events – In addition to cooking at every campout, here are some ways to make cooking more fun for your group.
Cooking Competitions – Challenging your peers to a cooking competition is fun at any age. In recent years there have been countless TV shows dedicated to such contests. While the exact rules and procedures may vary, the competitions all provide an opportunity to showcase culinary skills.
To see one troop’s Iron Chef Competition click here
Have patrols invite their families to a full meal cooked by the Scouts.
- Dutch Oven Instruction/Competition – Spend a day learning to cook in Dutch ovens, then put your skills to the test.
- Food Field Trip – Take a tour of a food manufacturing plant, farm, bakery, or cannery. Learn how the facility prepares, processes, and packages food and what safety measures they take.
- Fundraising Cooking Event – Hold a fundraiser that involves serving a breakfast or supper that you have prepared. Typical options include pancakes or a spaghetti and meatball dinner.
- Advancement and Cooking Merit Badge Day – Recruit a merit badge counselor and other instructors to help Scouts complete advancement requirements related to cooking.
Cooking requires attention to several key safety concerns.
- Avoiding burns and fires should be a major focus. Be careful to keep any items that could catch fire (paper towel rolls, dish towels, pot holders) away from the heat source. Be sure to use dry pads or hot-pot tongs to handle heated pans. Hot liquids or grease might also cause burns, so be sure to avoid spills and splatters. Keep a fire extinguisher and first-aid supplies on hand in case they are needed.
- Cuts are always a risk when using knives, so be careful and follow safe practices.
- Proper food storage and handling are of prime importance. Be sure that all foods requiring refrigeration are kept in an ice chest or refrigerator, and do the same with leftovers after a meal. Always cook meats and fish at the proper temperature to avoid making someone sick from food poisoning.
- Clean as you go and wash hands, with soap, prior to preparing foods and after handling raw meat or any foreign substance. Also, clean utensils as you go.
- Be aware of any food-related allergies or intolerances among those who will be eating the meal. See the Cooking merit badge pamphlet for more details.
Planning well-balanced meals requires a bit of effort, but the result is well worth it. Guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at www.choosemyplate.gov will help you balance these five types of foods:
- Fruits (fresh, canned, frozen, or dried; fruit juice)
- Vegetables (fresh, canned, frozen, or dried; vegetable juice)
- Grains (bread, cereal, pasta)
- Proteins (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts)
- Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream) Not included are fats and oils, which should be used sparingly.