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Dinning Hall vs Patrol Cooking

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Having your troop eat at a dinning hall vs having the patrols practice the patrol method and cook their food in their campsites and eat it.


What are your thoughts?


I remember doing the patrol method during the times when I went to summer camp. It really brought us together as a patrol and helped those that needed to fulfill the cooking requirments (I went to the old Broad Creek, when you could actually swim in the lake). We went to a camp in PA one year that had the dinning hall, and at first we enjoyed it, but it got old after awhile, we missed being able to cook and create our own meals.


Having eat by the patrol method didn't seem to affect the merit badges we were going after, the dinning / cooking time was built into the schedule, so no one had to leave their class early to get the food.

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Each year our troop does 30 to 35 nites of camping. Each camp trip has it's own flavor. Most of them are patrol cooking, one is eaten as a toop but is "bring a dish" by the patrols, one is make your own all day long (at the race track - we set up the grill and the boys can eat what ever / when ever they want).

Point is, we have enough time for each style so we don't miss it when we eat in the dining hall (C. S Read Scout Reservation offers two camps, one by patrols one by dining hall)

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Our troop has done both. Put me in the patrol cooking camp (pun intended). The benefits we found are:


Pulls the patrol together. Most time at summer camp is spent on merit badges chosen individually by scouts. Scouts spend most open program time in subgroups according to interest rather than as patrols. You can require the patrols plan some patrol activities (patrol swim, or hike or ...) but most likely there will be only a few of these scheduled, compared with 15 meals that need to be prepared.

Preparing meals has an objective that each individual scout wants to achieve (they are hungry and want to eat). A patrol swim is fun, but doesn't take much effort to work together, nor provide the same level of group achievement.

We found that certain scouts managed to "skate" on weekend campouts, avoiding a fair share of cooking tasks. I believe this is because weekend campouts never get the same members of the patrol on the outings each month, and no one remembers who did what the previous month. Such behaviour is more evident on a weeklong camp, and other patrol members put peer pressure on those that tend to shirk.

Cooking skills improve and carries over to weekend campouts. It makes sense -the scouts build good skills when preparing multiple meals in a short span of time - practice makes perfect. When we spent a few years at dining hall camps, scouts tended towards foil packs on weekend campouts. When we consistently attended patrol cooking camps, they attempted more elaborate meals.

We didn't find anything else at summer camp that built the same level of patrol esprit de corps, nor found that cooking at weekend campouts a good substitute because on any typical weekend campout, only half of each patrol attended.

I realize I am in the minority - most summer camps are dining hall based because that is what most customers (troops) want.

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Most of the Troops that attend Camp Conestoga (Somerset PA.)opt to eat in the dining hall.

Summer camp seems to be more about advancement than anything else.

Hardly anything is done by the camp to help units use or improve the Patrol method.

The main role of the SPL seems to be having everyone lined up to go into the dining hall.

I was shocked when we took the Scouts to the Jamboree, where the menus were by design "Heat and Serve" just how bad most of the Scouts were when it came to cooking.

I am by nature a lazy toad, so the idea of just loading my gear in the car, not having to worry about menus, equipment, and all that is nice.

Not having to listen to Scouts bicker about who's turn it is to do what is nice. Eating in the dining hall and walking away leaving the dishes to someone else is nice.

But nice as it is, I can't help thinking that this isn't teaching anyone very much.

The camp does have one meal which is supposed to cooked in the Troop site. Note I said Troop site, there isn't fire rings or room for patrol kitchens, so most times the Scouts end up cooking a foil pack.

I was watching the Scouts from OJ's troop come into camp the other week.

They seemed to do just about everything they could to make their tents like rooms at the holiday Inn: Carpets, chairs, night-stands, DVD players. So if they see the camp as a Holiday Inn, they are not going to want to do the cooking.


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Our council has 2 summer camps.


One is patrol cooking and the other is dinning hall style.


The one that does patrol cooking is in the heart of the Aderondack Mountains and has been in our council a long time.

It was there when I was a Scout in the 60's and 70's.


The dining hall camp was in the council that we merged with about 5 years ago.


The patrol cooking camp has seen a downslide in numbers in the last few years but is still pretty strong and draws units from all over.


The dining hall camp drew less than 400 campers for the whole summer last year and I have heard rumours that it maybe on the market.

400 campers is the break-even number and they didn't think they we going to get that many again this year.

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Put me firmly in the Patrol Cooking camp also! Our Scout Reservation has 3 (of 6) camps that are for regular Boy Scouts. One of these is Dining Hall and the other two are not. The Council Exec comes down each year for a bull session and he mentioned adding a dining hall at one of those two. General opinion was firmly against doing that. Unfortunately, those two camps are booked to a lesser percentage than the dining hall camp and they want to attribute that to the dining hall. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

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At summer camp we have "block" times for merit badge classes. What I've found for first year scouts is that after breakfast prep, cooking, eating and cleaning it is almost time for lunch prep. With time slotted for merit badge classes, SPL meetings, PLC meetings, time spent making patrol gateways, troop gateways, etc. that eating in a dining hall saves time.


Again, look at the way the BSA held the National Jamboree. After a food draw for breakfast the lunch was "dining hall" and then a food draw for dinner.


The bigger question at our summer camps is should the troops eat meals simultaneously (pros - nice place for announcements, camaraderie, etc.) or staggered (pros - less crowded, not all entering and exiting at same time, etc.). It really depends on the number of campers and the size of the dining hall and staff. If they can easily accommodate all at one time, go for it.

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NEWS FLASH, Hiawatha Seaway Council in NY deceided last night to close and sell its smaller dining hall camp(Portaferry). With the money they intend to build a new dining hall at the camp that does patrol cooking(Sabbattus. Go figure.


The mutiny in NNY already started today. The camp that is closeing is down about 100 youth over the last 2 yrs. The other camp is down close to 300 from last year, lost 80K this year from breaking even, failed it accedidation inspection so miserably that NE Region threatened to close it. But the Urban crowd from Syracuse just deceided to close the smaller one cause its not "thier" camp.


They just effectivly killed scouting in NNY for years.


Patrol cooking camps in NY are a dying breed because the state Health Department doesn't like them.

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Two years ago, our troop took on a trip to Oahu, Hawaii. The camp provided food from the commissary to be cooked at the troop campsite. The first few days they had us down for an incorrect amount of scouts and adults (we totaled 14 and received food for 8). I kept sending the quatermaster back for more food and finally had to complain to a higher up official that we weren't complainig but there was just not enough food for 14 people. When they finally checked and discovered the error, things got a little better. However, cooking 3 meals a day in camp and getting boys in their class A's for openig flag and closing ceremonies and off to merit badge classes was a frantic stressful camping experience. (And there are only so many ways you can cook white rice in Hawaii and not get totally burned out on it.) Eating in a mess hall environment would be the ticket at this particular camp.


Our latest experience was attending a camp that was a 4-5 hour drive. Two trained women of our troop (myself included) volunteered to take the boys to camp as others had to work. (I had to work also, but found the time to volunteer.) This particular camp provided all the meals in a dining hall and the scouts took turns being the "waiters" for each meal. They set up our troop table, got the food from the kitchen staff, got seconds if needed, cleared the plates, etc. then brought the dirty dishes to the kitchen, cleaned the table and swept the floor. (good learning experience I think) The boys were able to concentrate more on their merit badge homework in their free time and enjoy other events that were open during free time. We didn't have to lug alot of troop kitchen items as this camp was built into a mountain and the main entrance was called "cardiac hill." To get to anything in this camp, you had to climb one of many "cardiac hills."


Leaders had to be at meetings each day and also know where their scouts were, and this can be a toll on any adult especially when you have some new younger boys in the troop. It was a pleasant experience at this camp to have the meals prepared in the dining hall. We did have one day where the leaders cooked lunch, a BBQ. And then dinner one night was cooked by camp staff, BBQ. That's so the kitchen staff has a day off in the middle of the week.


I've also been on campouts/hikes where we carried everything in and cooked it ourselves. It's ok for a short weekend type event, but to do it for a week, I don't think so.....


The boys have plenty of team building in the nighttime events, like we had a Gladiators night (our troop won the tug of war by the way)and we did troop campfires/skits a few nights, so missing out on cooking a meal together didn't seem to impact on anyone's ego.


Given a choice or "letting the boys decide as it's supposed to be a boy lead troop," we let our boys vote on what camp and amenities they would like and they make the decision and live it. We try a different camp each year to give them an experience of how camps can be different or similar and what they offer that's unique. For instance, this year's camp specializes in horseback riding, not found in many camps. They really loved it and earned the horsemanship merit badge which wasn't available to them at home or at our council camp.


Also speaking as a 4-H volunteer who teaches the Food & Nutrition Project, I would like to help any camp plan their meals for a week at camp. I have a few suggestions that would help make the kids and adults both happy with the meal choices.


Yours in scouting


Angels Camp, CA



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Mr. Mal,


I was refering to Sabattis (see nldsout's post). This is in the same area as Cederlands.




I had heard from my DE about possibly selling Portaferry.

He did say that it was losing money but said Sabattis was still breaking even. I had heard rumours about Sabattis getting a Dining Hall be my DE said that wasn't going to happen


I have to admit I have never been to Camp Portaferry. I have tried to get my son's Troop to go camping there but they were not interested. Everyone I talked with has said that it was a great location but small.


I really hate to hear any BSA property being sold.

All the leaders I talked with seem to think that Sabattis is great but outside its location I was never impressed with its overall program.

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This is one of those dilemmas that I struggle with. I like patrol cooking for all the reasons touted here. But I also like the camp-wide view of the dining hall experience. For example, this year we sat with a troop who had come from Illinois. We would likely have never have gotten to know their leaders if we weren't sitting by them all week in the mess hall. Also, the ability to get all of camp together for announcements and such is a plus. But the food pretty much stinks, so I know I'd eat better patrol-style.


Interesting, this year one of our patrols wanted to cook a meal in the campsite. (Actually, they wanted to bring a few meals, but we only allowed them to do one). So, on one night they stayed back in the campsite and ate a much better meal than we did. I was bragging about the patrol spirit they showed to the camp commissioner and he had this agast look in his eyes. It seems it's against policy for scouts to stay in the campsite during prescribed meal hours. So, to that point about camp not doing anything to encourage the patrol method... there's another example.

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I have done both over the years. I lean toward the patrol cooking. There are the standard problems with patrol cooking. The boys must learn to run a clean area, cook correctly and use proper storage. This can only be done when boys have been trained and then checked after each meal. This takes longer and there will be less advancement. The payoff is better food.


The dining hall adds in camp songs and the rush to the MB classes.


I suppose cooking breakfast in camp and then making quick lunches and having a prepared supper in the Dining Hall is a type of in-between answer but provides little more than a rush to activities.


Cooking is fundamental and a lifelong skill. Dining Halls are compatible with lifestyles that focus on TV dinners. Learning to add a little onion to soup can make life so much more flavorful. The price is learning to cook.



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I side with dining hall style. Others have mentioned the potential time issues. I'll add that dining hall dining, while not conducive to the patrol method, certainly eliminates a good amount of stress on both the boys and the leaders. There should already be a lot going on at summer camp, adding daily cooking/cleaning up chores takes away from downtime/decompress time, and the boys (and leaders) need to have some time to relax a bit. The number one goal of summer camp shouldn't be advancement, or even strengthening the patrol method (if patrol members are missing, do you really end up strengthening the patrol in the long rum?) - it should be to have fun. For leaders, most adults are taking vacation time from work (and other family members) - why add the stress of making sure cooking/cleanup is done correctly?


A good staff uses the time mingling with the units in the dining hall to get a pulse of the state of camp. In camps I attended/staffed, units invited a staff member to sit with them during a meal - and never the same staff member twice. The better staffers use the time with the unit to ask scouts how things are going, what they are experiencing, what they like and don't like. It was't unusual to hear that a scout working on a merit badge was having problems with something but wasn't sure how to tell their counselor, or to hear about a problem with a camp supplied tent, lantern, tent platform, etc. that would be an easy fix if they knew who to talk to.


If its miserably hot, humid, buggy, or you're having nasty rainstorms come through - and all of these are possible in any given week of camp - isn't it nice to know you don't have to muster the energy to cook/clean while fighting the elements? Patrol cooking sounds like a great idea until it's 95 degrees out and the menu includes baking potatoes in an open fire.


Another thing many don't think of is animal attraction - no matter how well you cleanup, cooking in camp will eventually attract animals that will start to associate a specific campsite with food - not too bad for the first unit in the site, but what about the last unit in 6 to 8 weeks later?


As for the quality of the food in the dining hall - that is something that you and your fellow leaders need to take up with the council camping committee - I rarely had poor camp food at the camps I was at (other than corndog night - ughhh). If you're having bad food, its because the camp director isn't paying attention to hiring for the kitchen and just trying to fill up the spots with whoever will say yes. A good camp cook can make or break the experience - and a good camp cook is one that already has the skills to cook for 200+ people at a time. The camping committee should be making a committment to finding a culinary school student or experienced school cook (not a heat and serve school cook either). Good sources of camp cooks can be one of the cooks from a college or university off for the summer, a culinary school student (who already has experience), a cook from the local high school, an ex-military cook or a cook that can prove s/he has the capability to cook large quantities of food without sacrificing the taste. Your chief cook should not be an 18 year old scout with the cooking merit badge. And the only foods served from a powder form should be pancakes and biscuits. Not even Bobbie Flay could make powdered eggs or milk taste good.



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The camp we went to a few weeks ago did mainly Patrol Cooking. We had lunch in the "bullpen" which was an open-air facility. Breakfast and dinner were both cooked in the campsite most of the time. Parents' Night was Porksteak under the bullpen.

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