BSA tries a whole new (app-enabled) recipe for Jamboree meals, and it’s a success

This is what you call mixing things up.

At the 2017 National Jamboree, the Jamboree Food Team puts the power back in Scouts’ and Venturers’ hands, introducing a completely new approach to meal planning.

Previous Jamborees used a fixed menu with preselected ingredients that troops picked up before each meal. For 2017, the Jamboree moves to a grocery store system where Scouts and Venturers can select a recipe, build a shopping list and check out — all through an innovative new app.

“We wanted to give Scouts more choices than they had at previous Jamborees. It was always a set menu. You would go to your base camp food tent, you’d get a bin full of the ingredients, bring it back and cook,” says Ken Reiter, a volunteer whose efforts were instrumental in making this new plan work. “Part of this was to allow the Scouts to have some choices.”

Shopping with points

Here’s how it works: Instead of money, Jamboree troops use points to buy groceries from a Costco-style store within their subcamps. Inside these large, white tents are shelves of staples like bread, ketchup and breakfast cereal. Each item has a point value: 5 points for a bottle of mustard, 25 points for a big box of Nutri-Grain bars, 20 points for a giant jar of marinara sauce.

Troops get an allotment of 2,017 points per day. (Wonder where they came up with that number …) This must cover all the food they’ll need for dinner, as well as breakfast and lunch the next day.

With a fixed amount of points that cannot be replenished until the next day, Scouts must create and stick to a budget. If they spend all their points on Oreos or Powerade mix, that’s what they’ll eat and drink for the next 24 hours. (Though the snack bars still take old-fashioned cash and credit cards.)

“It is something that helps to give them a real-life experience,” Reiter says. “You have a limited amount of resources — in this case it’s points instead of money. It helps to teach them some real-world life lessons.”

Just a tap away

How do Scouts and Venturers keep track of recipes, shopping lists and their troop’s remaining point balance? Through an app, of course.

Reiter, a volunteer in the Palmetto Council, headquartered in Spartanburg, S.C., spent 18 months developing a custom Jamboree version of an existing app called Swift Shopper.

“All the Scouts have a smartphone,” he says. “If we made this a smartphone app, they would be able to pick up on how to use this very quickly.”

Everything is done through the app. Scouts select a Jamboree-suggested recipe — loaded mac and cheese or Jambo-laya, anyone? — or use available ingredients to create a meal plan from scratch. Their shopping list shows them how many points everything will cost, making budgeting a breeze.

Once at the grocery store, Scouts use their phone’s camera to scan an item’s barcode. This adds it to their virtual cart. Scouts then place their groceries into their physical cart, check out and wheel the haul back to camp to start cooking.

Brendan Short, 14, a First Class Scout from the Circle Ten Council in Dallas, says his troop likes being able to pick its own meals.

“We can ask the troop, ‘do you want burgers or do you want tacos?'” he says. “We can get what we want.”


Thanks to Rick Diles, Jamboree Food Team director, and Greg Winters for their help with this story.

71 Comments

    • It appears someone from the Troop would be assigned to order and get the supplies. Correct me if I am wrong. It would be pandemonium if every kid went shopping for themselves.

      • The unit food coordinator would have worked with the Scouts to plan the menus. I then worked with our contingent Quartermaster so he knew how it all worked. We then adjusted throughout the last 9 days to only buy what we needed since the first few days resulted in lots of leftover food–many of the menus called for way too much food. After the first two days I never had to go down to the grocery store anymore–the Scouts were able to handle it themselves.

    • My son was the APL and only one of the scouts needed the app. We had a bunch of scouts out there that did have smartphones, so it was not a problem for our Troop.

    • Our SM told the parents there would be a few devices that could be borrowed from the store when a scout went ‘shopping ‘.

      • Nope. It was communicated to all unit food coordinators (like myself) that if you didn’t come down with a smartphone and the app expect a minimum 1 hour delay. Out of 36 Scouts in a contingent, I think it’s safe to say the majority have smartphones here. It’s pretty much a necessity with everything being on the app.

  1. So pleased that the Patrol System is still basic at the Jamboree, something that central feeding ruins. At the 1953 Jamboree, our patrol was a bit different because our PL was studying to be a professional chef; Jay would go over the food list and menu with the day’s cooking team, suggesting little tricks that lifted good, average Scout fare to as close to goumet as possible. We were the envy of our other patrols almost eery meal.

    • When I went in ’97 as a patrol we brought additional dry goods to add flavor to our food. We carried them in our personal gear until we got to jamboree. Needless to say the scoutmaster tended to dine with us.

    • We do the patrol method here in camp, but food purchasing and cooking is done by troop not patrol. We have each patrol do two days’ worth of food purchasing and cooking

  2. Our boys like it, but the SM’s say and show thru pictures that they over buy and they have cases of fruit left among other items. All the leftover food is going to a local food pantry.

    • Only leftover non-perishable food is going to the food bank. There was a tremendous amount of waste of cooked and perishable food ( milk, cheese, fruit, lettuce) due to the portion sizes provided. We had a full crew of 40 people. Examples – Not everyone drinks milk but the youth shoppers were pushed to get two gallons of milk for breakfast. We had half of a huge pot of leftover cooked mac ‘n cheese after a bunch of hungry Venturers ate dinner. It went in the garbage. Even if they tried to reduce the suggested amounts of a menu, the case sizes of those ingredients made it impossible and very wasteful. I know it is cheaper overall to buy in bulk, but I think it sends a bad message to scouts that just “throw it away” is a good idea.

  3. What a fantastic idea and it sounds like it’s working well. I wish they would develope this app for scoutung use back home using national supply stores e.g. Costco, Sams, and grocery stores.

    • The Defense Commissary System and Walmart will do if for you with their new system. Unfortunately you need to be in the military to use them. Walmart’ Grocery Supervisor can help you find what wow need. I have worked for the Defense Commissary System for 11 Years, Walmart as a Grocery Supervisor for 3 years and Army and Air Force Exchange Service for 4 years and the Scout Shop at Transatlantic Council in the 1980’s.

  4. This is very similar to how the food was done at the 2011World Jamboree in Sweden. My son and his Troop really liked the system. It was also a great way for them to have “dinner parties” with other units at the Jamboree.

  5. Sounds great, unfortunately you have contingents who ignore allergies listed on health forms and some scouts are left with the choice of getting sick or being hungry. Some leaders decide to write parents off as idiots and take their feelings on the youth they are supposed to be serving. And yes, I’ve volunteered heavily in scouting for eleven years. I greatly appreciate all the volunteers who make an incredible experience like this possible. I’d be there now volunteering if I could.

    • That seems like an opportunity for feedback to the app developers for future improvements. If a patrol has a known allergy, then maybe it could be inputted into the setting for that patrol so when they go to do their food order items that members of the patrol are allergic to would be flagged and unable to be ordered.

    • You need to bring this to the attention of your council leadership. That is unacceptable behavior from your contingent’s leadership. The council selected those leaders; they should be held accountable for that.

    • Spreadables, aka cat food, were used at the 1985 Jamboree almost certainly because they were standard Philmont issue at the time. We also had the Northern Tier gorp bags and maybe something from Sea Base as well in Jambo 1985.

  6. If you’re going to do this for 2019 WSJ, make sure any compatability issues between North American and foreign phones are addressed.

    • Kids are 500+ miles from home & technology is everywhere…wouldn’t you want to be able to talk to your child if they were that far from home without you? And no, generally speaking they are allowed to to have their phones, however they are to use them responsibly at all times.

      • There is a difference between “wanting” and “needing” to talk to one’s children. Part of being a parent is teaching your children to be independent so they can live on their own as an adult.

        There are times to begin cutting the apron strings and a Boy Scout National Jamboree is a good place to start with adult supervision and a bunch of other people his age that share their same values. My 15 1/2 son was gone 19 days with his contingent and I probably didn’t receive 19 texts from him AND only one 30-second phone call: to let me know that he had arrived at the Summit and his connection was spotty because he didn’t have AT&T.

        My 19-year old daughter got back at the end of June after spending almost a year studying in Austria. I never talked to her once on the phone during that time and only received about a text a month from her, usually related to something to do with a scholarship application or other issue at her stateside university. My wife received a few more texts from her and would relay to me what she said or showed me the text. She also went over for a couple of weeks at Christmas to visit her.

        My wife and I know that our children will be able to attend college without us having to resolve every one of their problems and they can go on to becoming a young adult without having to check in with them every day. Isn’t that why we have our children in Scouting?

    • This Jamboree leveraged smartphones very heavily. In addition to Swift Shopper there was a Jamboree app that had schedules, maps and a bunch of other resources for scouts and leaders. And the entire summit was setup with WiFi by AT&T so that everyone would have connectivity. Electronics can have a positive use for scouts.

      • The app had a lot of great information, however I wish we had been given real maps too. The little one that was in the Passport was not very helpful. I like to see the “big picture” and a map on a phone is not that.

    • New requirements added like cyber chip and GPS, electronics is inevitable, you just have to develop rule when to use them appropriately and responsibly. it is good tool to take photo, notes, as well as detail map without printing.

    • The decision to allow electronics (or not) is made by the unit. Unfortunately there are some leaders who like to blame the man upstairs instead of owning their decisions. And unfortunately, there are some who fail to realize this and repeat things.

      I am a Scoutmaster and we allow scouts to take their electronics on trips (at their own risk). The exception is that for summer camp, the electronics get checked in at camp and they can have them back at the end of the week. This policy is one that I personally made and sold the committee on. For summer camp, I believe not having the devices serves them as a chance to unplug, and reduces homesickness.

    • Our contingent has been holding meetings for almost two years to prepare for Jambo. We knew from the beginning that in contrast to home troop events, a smart phone would be necessary. (We waited a year to get one so our scout was a little older. He has handled it well.)

      ~it may be a bit of a transition to go back to no-phone campouts now. 😉

    • Each troop decides on its electronics/cell phone policy. There is no national mandate or suggestion. For the Jamboree, smart phones were highly encouraged.

      The issue with phones on troop campouts is to teach the Scouts to use them as a tool not as something to do to avoid communicating with other Scouts by hiding in their tent and playing games. There are some great apps out there such as the stargazing one where you point the phone at the sky & a picture of the constellation shows on your phone’s screen. Another app tells a Scout how many pieces of charcoal need to go on the top & bottom of a Dutch Oven for a specific temperature. The number is different depending on the size of the Dutch Oven. If there is a connection, a Scout could use it to review something he is going to teach by looking at a YouTube video.

      The issue is making the Scouts, especially the younger ones, know when to use their electronics and when not to do so.

  7. They actually encourage the scouts to bring their own phones to the Summit, to help keep them informed and updated on weather conditions and special events going on.

  8. much different then previous jamboree where the Commissary Staff in each Subcamp received a tractor trailer load of next day’s portions, unloaded, sorted, then placed items for the Breakfast and then Dinner meal pick-up each day; both perishable and non-perishable items Including a nice bag of ICE. So, I take it there are no, pre-planned menus for the duration of the event; Patrols shop for items and meals they want to eat for nearly ten people. Sounds interesting. Be interesting in hearing about the meals prepared and what items are available for shopping, Variety, the spice of Life.

    Commissary Staff 1997, 2001, 2005 National Boy Scout Jamborees, Northeast Region

  9. Our council contingent held a shakedown camp out earlier this spring and tried out the new system (or at least the same concept but without the app). The youth liked it and learned some lessons about how much of certain things they had too much of one item and not enough of another. Lots of trading between patrols that weekend!

  10. Sounds great and would most likely meet some of the cooking merit badge requirements and certainly help to teach real life lessons.

  11. I’d like to thank Bryan for writing this article.

    While there are many opinions on the overall grocery store concept the feedback I received from scouts and leaders was generally very positive. One leader even told Michael Surbaugh that in my presence. It did not come without its share of challenges such as connectivity issues (WiFi) and specific food item shortages each of which were addressed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    I personally think the freedom of choice and the life lessons learned from the experience far outweigh the minor challenges. I can promise you no scouts went hungry and as you can see by many comments, in most cases they had too much food. But all the shelf stable unopened food left over will go to the local food bank.

  12. I worked for the Defense Commissary Agency. We ran a system like that at every military base and did case lot sales off base for Reserves and National Guard. They saved money and got a good choice of product. We also used smart cards that could accumulate points and were easy to cash out.

  13. Great idea! With previous jamborees there were a lot of wasted food,great for scouts to be thrifty and not waste full.

  14. Would be revealing to see a study on the actual “food” purchused and what was not purchased. Not purchased is better than not used or wasted.
    Can good nutritional purchasing by individual ”patrols” be related back to strong patrol organization {or more apparent adult involvement/control}? The adult’s BMI, age, eduction, level of physical fitness? Merit badges earned and program involvement? Geographic origin of the unit?
    And the same for poor nutrition units?
    Was there a measurable movement with poor nutrition units learning better nutrition purchasing habits?
    BONUS QUESTION: was there a noticeable trend to _fun_foods_ for the final day or two?

    • OS, this general-store approach definitely goes a long way of making the revised cooking MB able to be learned, and therefore earned, in camp.

  15. Great example for council camps who offer patrol cooking. The app might not work at ours (spotty cell service at best), but the boys could pencil and paper it the night before.

    Allergy’s are the big challenge. That involves reviewing the med-check, training patrols on menu-selection and safety precautions (obvious if the patrol has been operating properly as such months before summer camp), and assigning staff oversight. That said, a patrol who learns to jump through hoops like that for one of their mates is gaining unique and valuable life skills.

    • Actually that would be better. The Troop and patrol could bring their card and order sheet before taps and pick them up at revival. They would get a copy of items picked and a chance to replace what was missing and get their ice and bread.

    • We had one youth with a milk allergy. The parents reviewed the actual ingredients labels that were provided by the Jamboree food team on their website prior to the Jamboree. They told us which foods were okay and not okay so the youth could plan their meals. For a few items, the mother provided substitutes for the youth and even sent home-prepared Taco seasoning to use instead of the Jamboree provided type. Believe it or not, taco seasoning has milk products. So with the info provided by the food team and a little effort, all was well.

  16. “Troops get an allotment of 2,017 points per day.” No matter how many people are in that troop? Or is per Jamboree “group”?

  17. Feedback from our Scouts was that even though they submitted their requests well in advance that nearly every night there was a single key ingredient missing from the “store” that precluded any of the other ingredients from being helpful anymore (thus causing a snowball effect on others if you changed your entire menu and chose something that another Unit needed).

    In THEORY this should have worked. In REALITY if you do not stock the items (at minimum) that the Units told you are NEEDED for their PRE-PLANNED recipes then the whole thing comes apart.

    Need to improve the ordering for the store itself for 2019.

    • Agree completely – we had to change our “cooked meals” every time. Leaders also need to teach the scouts to look at what is already in camp so things are not over bought – if you already have 50 tortillas don’t buy another 100. Chocolate cake with fudge icing may sound delicious but it doesn’t work in the heat. The sweet and sour chicken sandwich in the bag needs to be dropped it is not good. The BBQ sandwich should be changed out also. Beef Jerky was LOVED by all.

  18. I was at the 1953 Irvine Ranch Jamboree as a patrol leader where we were camped next to the big canyon. When the helicopters flew IN the canyon sometimes 4-5 x daily, we had to cover any food we were prepping or eating at the time otherwise we got a plateful of sand. Yes, the Jambo area was a WWII lima bean & pea growing field (for the war effort). and was almost entirely on sand. The patrol method was great. Food issued was “per meal” as there were NO patrol boxes.

    I visited the 1973 Jambo almost daily & 77 Jambo at Moraine State park, North of Pittsburgh. In ’73 my troop sent 2 -10 boy patrols & they were camped as a troop.. The menu was for the patrol method was too exotic.for the average scout. I remember taking a cooler in to take home the rainbow trout the boys did not want.to eat & other perishables plus a pack to bring everything else home. The food brought back went into patrol boxes at home, The perishables I paid the troop the fair market value & used it at home.The troop unit drew food for 20 scouts plus the SPL & SM & ASM.. I remember that each patrol was issued a large glass jar of dill pickle chips. WOW..Too much. Food was issued “per meal” as
    there were NO patrol boxes..The ’77 Jambo was called, The MORE-RAIN state park due to the
    inability of us to turn off the spigot from above.

    I was a member of a sub-camp commissary team on staff at the 1981 Ft. A.P.Hill Jambo & after the 1st day,the team drew a 12 hours shift every 24. The food was issued about the same as the ’73 jambo., per meal. in order to have fresh milk,ice cream, meat & other perishables. distributed, It took a team of 7 working in shifts to receive a 1/2 semi trailer each night at 2am, stock the breakfast patrol.boxes & be
    available when the patrols arrived to get their breakfast food at 6 am.. The menu was planned by
    a dietary team which gave each boy/adult enough calories & nutrition to survive the rigorous activities
    of a national Jamboree. I hope each person attending this Jambo at SBR .can survive for 10 days with
    a boy planned menu !! =============================================================
    ===================

  19. Our food coordinator was an ASM in consultation with youth and adult leaders. We reevaluated nightly and made new shopping lists. The key to getting close to what we wanted was getting to the store as early as possible. Naturally this boxed some other troops out.

    The Costco sized cases were awkward quantities : 6 bagels to a bag, a 2 liter bottle of blue cheese dressing, 12 or 24 packets of tuna spread or fruit bars. We had substantial overages and I don’t want to see another bagel for a while. (LOL).

    None of the boys had ever shopped for 40 people so that required training and math. No matter how we planned, the real challenge was substituting on the fly. Once the patrols were on their second rotation they got far better at shopping. We improvised with delicious results.

    One tweak I would recommend is to make it possible for stores to restock items based on the menu plans coming in on the app. We never got English Muffins we wanted.

    The food quality was excellent!

  20. Actually, this really did not work in our subcamp. Store constantly had bare shelves. Menu planning got tossed out as our troop bought whatever it could and cobbled a meal together each time. Store needs much more replenishment for this model to work, otherwise the planning we are trying to teach scouts becomes a lesson in being thrifty and creative with what they can find.

    • I don’t know if was my son’s troop, but he told me the food wasn’t that good. Especially, the sack lunches to eat while out & about during their day.

  21. I preferred the 2013 system. Go pick up your pre-packaged boxes. This is not to say that the new system did not function, but I think it is a step backwards. It would be nice to have a hybrid system where you could simply go pick up a pre-packaged meal, or use the shopping system. If they could pre-package our pre-selected menus, that would be great. No lines or technology required at the time of pickup.

    One problem was that people who didn’t create menus in advance were taking the items needed for the troops who pre-ordered leaving critical ingredients missing. We know we weren’t guaranteed our menu, but it made things annoying.

  22. I’m not sure what problem this system was trying to fix. My guess is that it was trying to fix a staffing issue. It’s my understanding that the units provided advanced input as to their menu plan, but not as to what day they intended to prepare each meal, and thus this was purely for a “big picture” order, and in no way guaranteed a given meal was available, in full or in part.

    There was a lot of perishable food waste. Part of that is clearly the unit’s fault for not doing a better job of managing the food they had on-hand, with their cooler, and the next patrol going shopping.

    While I wasn’t at the 2013 jamboree, I’d be fine with commissary stocking the same meal for everyone each day, and the troops going to get it like they did this jamboree. I’m not sure what the big payoff was in doing this.

    • And I do need to add this – there was plenty of food, and I heard no complaints about the quality of breakfast or dinner. But after several days of the shelf-stable epoch-stable lunch foods my guys pretty much lost their appetite for lunch.

    • It wasn’t fixing a problem–this is the method used at the World Jamborees, so The Summit needs to prepare how to use it in two years. This was their initial foray into that.

  23. I have to disagree it was a success, it was a failure for many units in Camp A. A Camp commissary was consistently out of food after day #1, breakfast, lunch and dinner. It didn’t matter how early you arrived to get in line to shop. On day #2, there were hot dogs but no hot dog buns. There were hamburgers but only bread to put them on. Our Troop only had protein at 3 breakfast meals. By mid-Jambo, protein items were in such short supply, Scouts and Scouters had to buy food to supplement their diet. It didn’t matter how early we showed up a the commissary or that we loaded our menu per the requested Jamboree dates, the A Camp commissary did not support its units. We have photos of 12 empty pallets in the commissary at 6 AM mid-Jamboree. It’s great that over a ton of excess food was donated to the community. It is very sad that Scouts went hungry. This new method will need significant improvement before the World Jamboree.

    • My son said that his troop had plenty of food . . . it just didn’t taste that well. They had so many points available at the end (were contingents able to bank them?) that they “bought” cases of food to put on their bus. Don’t know who was going to get them when they got back, but my son ended up with a whole container of Powerade Mix (think Kool-Aid size) in his luggage.

    • Echo ZScout’s comments. It may have just been Camp A, but the shortages were so bad that each trip to the “store” was a game of improvisation. The Commissary staff tried to help, but they informed us they got whatever food showed up each morning regardless of what shortages they reported. One day, after dinner, I calculated that I had only eaten 1000 calories that day due to the choices we had. I could have carb loaded on cookies and crackers, but I can only eat so much of that. We didn’t have protein with our breakfast ANY day. There were a couple days that our lunch protein was only cheese crackers. Many of our scouts eat at the snack bar every day for lunch.

      The advantage of pre-designed meals is that they are nutritionally balanced and designed for highly active youths. The ad-hoc meals our unit was forced to eat (after entering all of our meals into the app ahead of the Jamboree), were far from nutritionally balanced. This was aggravating to the boys, but a health risk to me.

      • glad to see more “A” camp folks weighing in here. it is unreal watching all the praise of this system while we clearly did not have the proper/enough food in A. many folks including myself started bying lunch inside the Jambo. There’s only so much chicken salad in a box one can eat! We did inform our commissioner who said he hadn’t been aware of the problem previously (this was many days into the jambo).

        • I heard similar things from my council troop in A on Monday evening. Every meal they were out of at least one ingredient that was a main part of their pre-planned menus. Our troop’s scoutmaster is the head of the kitchen crew for the council OA events, so it’s not from lack of experience.

    • I’ll echo what ZScout said about Alpha Grocery Store. The technology failed the first day when the WiFi could not support the number of users. We were told by staff to use our cellular data rather than WiFi. We went through 4 different cell phones before we found one that would scan the UPC codes using the app. At one point we were told that we could not shop in the grocery store if we did not have the menu on our phones. All of our menus were deleted after the 2nd day. Despite me having a notebook with every days meals and ingredients printed out, the staff was going to refuse me entry into the store unless I went back to my camp and re-entered all of the menus again. Let’s just say that didn’t happen, and I really resent having to get indignant with volunteer staff that paid to be there too, but come on common sense had to prevail at some point. Then there were the food shortages. So any meals that were planned went out the window because the ingredients were not available. As hard as I tried it was difficult to develop a menu on the fly when Italian Dressing, Ketchup and Nutri Grain bars were the only things available. On the bright side, between the 13-15 miles of daily walking and the lack of food, I lost 6 lbs!

  24. I’d hardly call it a success! The system worked much better in 2013. I’ll echo the reports of sold out supplies and inconsistent stock. There would be plenty of pasta and meatballs, but no marinara. There were plenty of tomatoes and salad dressing, but no lettuce! Planning meals in advance after the first 3-4 days was pointless. Every meal had to be decided “on the fly” in the commissary, depending on what was in stock. Our cook team routinely had to go the commissary at 4:30am to stand any hope of getting a balanced meal.
    The use of smartphones was good on paper, but with few charging options it became a daily search to see who had enough charge. We also noticed that those who didn’t have AT&T phones had a much more difficult time scanning and buying food, even when using WiFi. Having pre-selected menus and shopping lists was a great idea, but at our subcamp commissary there were none posted to use. This meant that if you planned your meal back at camp, but discovered that they were out of hamburger crumble (our guys called it “dogfood”) you had to get creative and “wing it”.
    I understand the reasoning behind the system, with the wide variety of culturally appropriate menus necessary for the upcoming World Jamboree, but this system did not work well enough to call it a “success”.

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