How Does the U.S. Feed its Navy?

It’s not easy to produce 88 million meals per year

Navy mess halls, like this one aboard the USS Carl Vinson, serve more than 88 million meals annually.

Feeding a hungry global fleet of active duty sailors is no easy feat, but the U.S. Navy is taking on the challenge. The entire fleet consists of navy ships, submarines, aircraft, and tens of thousands of men and women who are deployed all over the world. The navy, which operates on a $411 million dollar food budget per year, operates 290 general messes (food stations), and produces 88.2 million meals annually.

The Daily Meal recently sat down with Commander Danny King, the director of Navy Food Service, Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) and Jennifer Person Whippo, the nutrition program manager of NAVSUP, for an exclusive interview about how the navy feeds their fleet and how nutrition keeps them motivated and on top of their game during active duty. 

All sailors get three square meals per day. “Breakfast will provide the body with fuel after fasting from sleep. Lunch and dinner meals provide a recharge of energy in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats,” Whippo told us. “Hydration throughout the day is also imperative and in the forms of water and milk, for calcium and vitamins D and A. High calorie sugar laden fluids are discouraged.”

Beyond the suggested meals, snacking is also important. Mess decks provide fruits 24 hours a day, and “grab and go bars” offer nuts, granola bars, and pretzels. [related]

Each fleet follows a meal plan developed by Type Commanders (TYCOM), each offering a beverage, soup, entrée, starch, vegetable, dessert, bread bar, and salad bar. Comm. King noted that depending upon the type of vessel, sailors obviously have different options. One of the main carriers’ mess decks might offer a chicken bar and protein bar, but on a submarine, there will be fewer options available due to its size and capacity.

The menus are developed by TYCOM and compliance is required to approve the meal plans. If they so choose, the TYCOMs in charge of individual fleets can add garnishes and showcase the foods on a meal plate for a dash of culinary creativity, said Whippo.

There is a monthly menu advisory board that weighs in on the food choices and makes comments and amendments where they are needed to ensure the sailors are getting the highest quality food to ensure a healthy and active lifestyle while on duty, explained Commander King. "Nutrition overall contributes to readiness since a well-nourished sailor will have less absenteeism at work, be cognitively alert, and physically able to meet challenging demands.”

“Nutrition is a critical part of mental and physical readiness,” Whippo added. “Proper nutrition can be achieved by consuming a variety of foods that are in their most natural state. Processed foods are void of nutrients and filled with trans fats and sodium. Nutrition overall contributes to readiness since a well-nourished sailor will have less absenteeism at work, be cognitively alert, and physically able to meet challenging demands.”

As for catering to those with food allergies and intolerances, the Navy has to work with those on a case-by-case basis, noted Comm. King. “Every sailor needs to be worldwide deployable and go through a rigorous medical screening,” he said. “If they can’t be accommodated regarding food, they might be stationed stateside.” He added that every meal offers vegetarian options, and that they provide special meals on religious holidays.

Within the Navy itself is also an impressive number of talented chefs. Each year, the Navy hosts a Navy Installation Command Culinary Competition where nine Navy culinary teams compete from around the world. Prior to the competition, the teams undergo two days of American Culinary Federation training to prepare.

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The teams presented to a panel of judges including Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Rick West, Master Chief Culinary Specialist William Campbell, Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Chad Harris, and Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Brian Woyak. This year, the team from the Midwest Region took home the ultimate title.