A better solution is to just use rations, but allow cooking of different meals for different benefits.
That's actually an interesting idea. Create discoverable cooking recipes (not many, 3-4 would be enough for EA), let them provide a small buff until the next long rest, and spread them all over the game. This way it would be:
- Impossible to stack effects from multiple different recipes, as you can have only one main course per long rest, so the power creep will be minimal;
- Make Gale slightly less insufferable, as he could bring the first cooking recipe with him (that stew that should have stayed in the family, remember?);
- Easier to mitigate challenges of starting from level 1. The aforementioned Gale's stew, for example, can add, say, +4 HP till the next long rest. Virtually worthless at higher levels, but very handy when you first meet with him.
Just don't go the PoE way, with its crazy food buffs that are essentially mandatory for some fights, and which have practically unobtainable precursors.