WUR students develop food concept for Dutch armed forces

Published on
February 16, 2021

Soldiers deployed to combat areas are currently served meals from obsolescent mobile field kitchens. So the Dutch Ministry of Defence has asked students how they can serve military personnel quality, nutritious and delicious meals. “We say: Help us develop a new concept. Come up with some surprising new ideas”, commanded Brigadier General Frits van Dooren. A total of 68 students accepted the challenge. 40 of them come from WUR, the rest are from TU Eindhoven, Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht.

On Friday, 12 January, the Food for Health and Safety Challenge (F4HS) kicked off with a meeting between the students and experts from the Ministry of Defence. In interdisciplinary teams, the students will look for answers to questions such as: How can you ensure that soldiers eat nutritious meals with enough calories? How can you transport rations to the base where the personnel are deployed? How can you present the meals? At the moment, the military uses field kitchens to heat and distribute the food, but this concept is desperately in need of replacement or improvement.

Auke Westerterp, WUR lecturer and consultant for the Ministry: “The servicepeople don’t have much variation in their meals; sometimes they’ll have to eat nothing but beans for a whole week. Often, soldiers on joint missions with forces from different countries will trade their rations to eat something different for a change. They would really appreciate rations that are both nutritious and varied.”

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Interdisciplinary, inter-university and international

The students in the project are not only diverse in terms of the universities they are enrolled at; they also represent 14 different nationalities and 38 different degree programmes, both at the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. This gives the students experience with working in diverse, multi-disciplinary teams. Over the next few weeks, the students will begin work on the challenge together with the experts from the Ministry of Defence and their coaches, who will mentor them in developing professional and personal skills. The students will present their proposals for a new rations concept before the summer holidays.dEncouragement in trying times

Minister Van Engelshoven joined the kick-off event for the challenge on Friday, to offer the students encouragement as they conduct their studies remotely. The students told the Minister about their experiences with studying during the pandemic, and the effect it has had on their mental well-being. They also spoke about the introduction period for new first-year students, and they role that student associations play in maintaining contact among the students.


F4HS is part of the curriculum offered by the strategic alliance between Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and the University Medical Centre Utrecht. These four institutions work together in the fields of education and research to arrive at solutions to global issues. Challenge-based education is an important priority for the institutions’ shared curriculum.

The students work in teams to address real-world problems. The issue they study is complex, and a solution requires contributions from a variety of specific disciplines. The assignment is open, with plenty of room for creativity and the exploration and discovery of new concepts. And in the process, the students also acquire many professional skills that they will need later on in their careers.