Skip to main content
Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters
Main Content

“To Serve Cadets” - Civil Air Patrol Food Services

In order to provide great experiences for our cadets, we must find locations to support our activities.  And, that means that sometimes, we have to take over the preparation of food for a large group over a number of days.  It is daunting for some individuals who have never cooked for more than 10 people.  This website is provided to help our volunteers prepare and serve food safely for large groups.  




   Health & Safety

   Appliances in the Kitchen


   Purchasing Food Supplies


   Cooking Utensils

   Best Practices

   Closing Down

   Food Services Consultants            

   Special Dietary Needs


   Care & Feeding of Senior Members




In order to handle food service on a larger scale than home cooking, it is important to assess the location and features of the kitchen being used and your ability to get sufficient supplies for service.  The following are some ideas to review and consider as you make your dining plan. 

  • Appliances in the Kitchen:

    • Is there a dishwasher and do you know how to use it?

    • Is there a working stove?  How many burners?

    • Is there a working oven?  How many racks can be put in an oven?  It will help determine what you can cook and how much.  Traditional military stoves usually can hold 4 hotel pans at the same time.  Although the ovens usually have two racks, full size sheet pans can rest on the rack levels and extra pans can be placed in the oven at the same time.

    • Is there a gas tilt pan (a large cooking vessel)?  It can be used to cook lots of foods as well as be used to boil water for pasta and as a cooking griddle for pancakes and French toast.

    • Is there a griddle?  Is it clean and ready to use?  Be sure to have griddle cleaning supplies and prepare to spend some time to make it ready for use.  A well-maintained grill is great for pancakes, French toast, Texas toast, grilled sandwiches, scrambled eggs and so much more.

    • Are you using the same circuit to plug in multiple appliances?  (Many older building cannot handle the usage of multiple appliances and will trip the circuit breaker (i.e. a microwave and a large coffee maker).  Be sure to test before depending on them at mealtimes. 

    • Do you have a way to keep food hot while serving?

      • A steam table is great.  Be sure to understand how to turn it on and the time to get it up to temperature.

      • Cambros (heavily insulated food boxes which can hold hotel pans with hot water below them) are a great way to keep foods hot and to serve food in other locations.

      • A temporary hot box can be made by pouring hot water into one deep hotel pan and placing another one on top to keep the food warm.  Replacing the water periodically will help maintain serving temperatures.

      • Renting a “hot box” from a rental supply company may help keep food hot when you need to continue using the oven to heat more food.

    • Do you have a way to keep food cold during service?

      • A refrigerated salad bar is nice but may not always be available.

      • You can keep milk in a pot surrounded by ice cube sheets

      • Put ice and cold water into a deep bin with another bin on top to keep items cool during a long serving time.

    • Do you have enough storage space, particularly in refrigerators and freezer.  Some restaurant supply stores (Sysco and US Foods) may provide a refrigerator truck to be on site for the activity.  The cost may be free if sufficient items are purchased or available for a modest charge.


  • Purchasing Food Supplies:

    • Can you order food from a restaurant supply company?  If an organization like Sysco or US Foods is located in the activity area, you may be able to make arrangements for service.    You with National to get a signed contract and a Purchase Order.  The process is reasonable simple but should be started early enough to get documents back and forth.  The experience of most folks who go this route have found it clearly less expensive than a supermarket, perhaps a bit more expensive than a “Walmart” but the quality of the food is much better.  Having the food delivered is very useful.  Additionally, there are items available from these institutions that are not readily available in stores.  Some items include:

      • Paper and plastic goods in quantity

      • Cases of #10 cans of products like corned beef hash, chili, sausage gravy, marinara sauce, etc.

      • Cases of individually wrapped flavorful cookies

      • Cases of sliced luncheon meats

      • Cases of cooked meats like sausage crumbles, cooked chopped chicken, and chopped ham, etc.

      • Complete mixes (usually needing water only) for cakes, brownies, pancakes, corn bread, biscuits, etc.

      • Instant mashed potatoes that only require boiling water to be immediately ready

      • If a restaurant supply company is not available or you do not meet the minimum purchase limits, what are the other options?

        • Walmart, or a similar type store, can be a good alternative.  While the selection may be a bit limited, the prices can be better than supermarkets and they usually have larger size packages in many items.  Produce can be very good.  However, you may need to be flexible.  They can run out of some items at any time.

        • Consider if the local big box warehouse store (Sam’s, Costo, Walmart, etc.) will work with you to pull and deliver the supplies.  It might be useful for the initial purchase.

  • Cooking Utensils:

    • Do you have sufficient cooking utensils?  Household pots and pans cannot scale up to when cooking for 50 or more.  Consider checking with  local Guard or Reserve units to see if they have such equipment and can lend them to you.  A church may be able to lend larger pots and sheet pans. 

    • Do you sufficient serving cooking and serving utensils?  Bringing a few knives and a supply of serving tongs and serving spoons can make the activity run more smoothly.

    • Are there available plates, glasses and silverware?  Will you use them or will you use disposable?  Disposable may be the best option if dishwashing and/or personnel are limited.

    • What is the schedule for trash pick up?  Do you have to set up special trash pick-up in your location?

  • Closing Down:

    • It is a big effort to set up a kitchen starting with almost nothing.  However, that also means you need to close it down as the end of the activity.  Planning for that, from a menu standpoint and a workload standpoint are important.

      No one wants to throw away food.  However, it is never certain exactly how much we need and how much people will eat.  Ordering a bit less and planning to make runs to a warehouse store near the end of the activity may be practical.  Having a charity in the local area to take excess food is kind and helps the environment.  Find out if you can provide some excess supplies to go to other activities at the end of your activity like an NCO School on some future weekend.

      Best of all is to use as much as possible, particularly the perishable stuff.  Arranging meals at the end of encampment, using up small quantities is helpful for the budget and makes closing down easer.  Remember that the same meal does not have to be served to everyone.  Several dishes can be prepared and as one dish is emptied another different dish can replace it.

      Suggestions for using up some perishable items:

      • Leftover hot dog buns are great as French toast.  Just split in half and dip in the batter like regular bread.

      • Leftover hamburger buns can be opened and buttered and warmed in an oven, with garlic powder and parmesan cheese as garlic bread to accompany a meal.

      • Remember, these plans only work if the original food is quickly stored safely at the right temperature.  And, once the item is reheated it cannot be reheated and used again.

      • The remains of a burrito or taco bar (hamburger meat, cheese, refried beans, tortilla chips or flour tortillas) can be combined with enchilada sauce to make a casserole (A special favorite of cadets).

      • Leftover mashed potatoes can be the topping for a cottage pie (meat and vegetables and gravy) or a thickener for soup or stew.

      • Hot dogs can be chopped into smaller pieces and heated with teriyaki sauce or barbecue sauce.

      • Leftover chicken can be warmed with barbecue sauce and served on Hamburger buns.

      • Chicken teriyaki and vegetables can be heated with leftover rice and a bit more broth for a new casserole.

      • Leftover pasta can go in many directions.  Adding marinara sauce to one pan of pasta and cheese sauce to another can work.

      • Leftover tortillas can be served, warmed at breakfast to make breakfast burritos.  Small quantities of tater tots or scalloped potatoes can be added to the burrito as one of the fillings, along with any breakfast meats, leftover breakfast casseroles or scrambled eggs (and, of course, CHEESE).

      • Leftover luncheon meat like ham can be heated on the griddle or in the oven and served at breakfast.

      • Leftover bread like the heels of the loaves or dryer bread can be made into a bread pudding, or as a filler for meatloaf or meatballs, or into a breakfast casserole.

  • Special Dietary Needs:

    All activities should have an application form for cadets and seniors which asks specifically for any special dietary needs or allergies to avoid.  This information should be shared with the Dining Hall Staff and they should plan accordingly.

    There are usually some members with nut or dairy allergies.  There are members who eat gluten free.  There may also be vegetarians and vegans.  The terminology can be confusing.  If there is any doubt about dietary needs, please discuss the details with the member to be sure they can be accommodated.

    It is usually helpful to have one kitchen staff member responsible for heating and serving these special needs.  Providing a typed menu at the beginning of the dining hall line with information about what has nuts or dairy or pork, is also helpful.  Is it usually reasonably easy to pull out some sauce before adding meat or cooking some gluten free pasta, etc.

    When the allergies or restrictions are severe, it is helpful to contact the family and work through how to solve it.  At some activities, the cadet has brought his/her own food.  A separate microwave can be supplied for only that cadet if necessary.

    Some programs have banned peanut butter entirely from the menu.  If there is someone with a peanut allergy, checking to find out how severe is important.  Usually, peanut butter can be an option during the activity unless the allergy is severe.

  • Care and Feeding of Senior Members:

    Our biggest concern is to feed our cadets healthy food in sufficient quantities.  However, some senior members also have special needs.  The foods served to cadets are filling and comforting, but may be higher in calories than some senior members want.  A few simple additions can be made to menus to support our senior members.  Consider serving hard boiled eggs and yogurt at breakfast.  Add hard boiled eggs, hummus and cottage cheese at lunch.  At both lunch and dinner, have a green salad with the dressings served separately.  These ideas also work well to give multiple options to vegetarians.  Keep a few portions of meat like cooked chicken, available without a sauce (helpful for members on a diabetic diet).

    Serving an unsweetened iced tea (sun tea) at lunch and dinner can also offer an alternative to the sugared drinks or Gatorade served at most meals. 

    Consider having whole grain bread as one of the bread options offered at meals. 

    While cadets are not allowed caffeine drinks at activities, be sure to understand if you are responsible for making coffee and/or tea in the morning for senior members. 

RECIPES (Tested and Served at CAP Activities):

Open the link and look for the following:

  • View Recipe Service

  • Download Recipe Service

To use this service you must download “Download Recipe Service”.  It is quite large.  To use the Recipe Service you will need to open “View Recipe Service” and find the title of the recipe you want to view.  When you find the title, look for the index number.  Then, when you open the Recipe Service and find the recipe by using that index number.


  • Serving larger quantities than are normally served at home makes cooking a bit more challenging. 

  • Best Practices

BEST PRACTICES (Suggestions from the Field):

FOOD SERVICE CONSULTANTS: the following list are a few of the volunteers who have previously planned and/or cooked at our CAP multiple day activities like encampments and cadet competitions, etc.  If you need help in planning one of these activities or are looking for someone who might participate in your event, please check this list.

o    Col Christine Lee,; PCR (CAWG) c.408-607-6179

Help Us Improve Our Webpage! If you have information that you would like to see as a category, please send it to us at for future consideration to this page.

© 2024 Civil Air Patrol. All rights reserved.