Caverna is a great sandbox game where players can choose many different paths to victory, however the game is dragged down by the need to constantly feed the dwarves. Here is a variant that redefines feeding, to remove the stress of being forced to manage food and to increase player freedom.
1. Dwarves no longer need to be fed during the feeding phase.
2. During the Feeding phase, a player may spend 3 food up to two times for each adventurer to raise their level by one (remember to build a weapon first!).
3. When an adventurer completes a quest, it no longer levels up automatically.
Food still needs to be dealt with, but it is used as an incremental addition rather than as a forced payment.
The balance is that the usual food requirement for feeding is now supplanted by a similar amount of food to level up adventurers. There is variation around this balance depending on the number of adventurers a player creates and there may be room for improvement, but so far the variant plays fine.
Also, the power of adventurers is decreased as they require extra work to level up. By allowing them to level up faster, each adventurer gets more opportunities to use the higher level powers and this balances with the new need for food.