Printing Nutrition: How 3D Printers May Revolutionize the Mess Hall

In recent years, 3D printing devices have become established fixtures within the scientific community and have been used to print apparel, eyeglasses, architectural models, industrial parts and items used in medical and dental procedures. These advanced systems offer exceptional versatility in the research environment and can be configured to produce almost any type of product. This flexibility has made 3D printing one of the fastest growing industries in the scientific field and has resulted in extensive media coverage of this new technology.

Commercial Food Applications

In the business world, 3D printers are already in use to create custom cake decorations and sculptures from real sugar. These advanced tools can easily deliver intricate filigree designs and dainty flowers to make any cake creation more special. In the civilian world, however, the use of 3D printers in creating food is usually reserved for these types of delicate culinary constructions. For military members serving overseas, however, 3D printers may provide added options to ensure proper nutrition and increased menu variety for those troops stationed far from home.

Food Custom-Designed for Military Members

The U.S. military is currently exploring the use of 3D printers to provide customized nutritional products for soldiers on the battlefield or at the front lines of combat. Combined with advanced physiological monitoring systems, these printers could produce food products that contain the precise mix and proportion of nutrients needed by each soldier. Ensuring that these foods are both edible and nutritious is the primary challenge facing the designers of these new menu items. By producing foods that are dense in nutrients and optimally designed to suit the palates of military members, these 3D printers could potentially ensure better health for soldiers while delivering cost-effective food choices for military members and civilians alike.

Still a Work in Progress

Initial responses to taste tests of 3D printed food have been mixed. While most of these items are described as flavorful, they may be overly spiced or too dense for most palates. Adjustments continue to be made to ensure the most positive response to these new food items and to increase the practicality of 3D printing devices in the field. If these tools become an accepted part of the military experience, they could potentially provide nutritional plans tailor-made to the needs of soldiers and could ensure the most balanced diets for these individuals throughout their military careers.

Supplementing MREs

Meals-ready-to-eat, commonly abbreviated as MREs, are a staple field ration for members of the military. While these food products are designed to keep well in a wide range of temperatures and environments, they may become monotonous for soldiers with only a limited variety of choices. The selection of menu items made possible by 3D printing can often relieve the tedium and provide added incentives to eat and stay healthy in the field.

Along with other technological advances, 3D printers and the nutritional products they produce can help keep members of the military healthier. This can enhance their state of readiness and can ensure faster response times in crisis situations.