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Army cuts down on 'super-sized' chow portions

Traffic light system highlights healthier options

Jun. 15, 2014 - 05:24PM   |  
Staff at garrison dining facilities are being advised to reduce meat portions given to soldiers. The hope is that plates will be two-thirds vegetables, fruits and starches and one-third meat.
Staff at garrison dining facilities are being advised to reduce meat portions given to soldiers. The hope is that plates will be two-thirds vegetables, fruits and starches and one-third meat. (Kari Hawkins / Army)
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If you’ve noticed less meat on your plate as you proceed down the chow line, it’s no accident.

Garrison dining facility staffs are being retrained to shrink meat portions, cut salt in recipes and emphasize larger side dishes of vegetables.

The idea is to eliminate “the super-sized portions, the piece of beef hanging over the plate, or the plate becoming a trough,” explained Priscilla Dolloff-Crane, a food service specialist at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence in Fort Lee, Virginia. “It’s filling, but not excessive.”

A high-protein main course, said Dolloff-Crane, is still the underlying the approach to menus, but the sides — the starches, fruits and veggies — “those will take up two-thirds of the plate.”

This is just one of several measures the Defense Department has launched to bring a healthier balance to cafeteria menus.

The service is also rewriting the DoD recipe book in an effort to make dining facility options lower in salt and fat.

Dolloff-Crane said Defense Department nutrition experts are reviewing thousands of recipes to “spruce them up and get them right.”

“What’s being offered is going to support performance and health, and you’re going to enjoy what’s being offered,” she said. “It’s better than mom’s.”

The effort involves the DoD Nutrition Committee, the Joint Services Recipe Committee and the test kitchens at the Army’s Natick labs in Natick, Massachusetts.

Some of the new menu items include: lentil vegetable soup, Thai beef salad, fresh green beans vinaigrette, butternut squash, sweet potato biscuits, shrimp fried brown rice and even a light cheesecake for dessert.

Initial Military Training installations are already participating in a menu redesign, with more installations across DoD to come. IMT menus will be examined and revised this spring and summer to include some of the newly created or refreshed recipes.

The IMT menu can be found at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Forts Benning and Gordon in Georgia; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Forts Lee and Eustis in Virginia; Fort Jackson, S.C.; and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Another effort is the Army’s Go for Green initiative, which highlights menus like a traffic light: Green items are the healthiest, use caution with yellow and if an item is red it may be best to avoid, or eat only on occasion.

The goal is to get people to eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, along with plant-based protein and lean animal protein sources like fish, lean pork and chicken.

“The hamburger is still there, it’s gone from higher fat to lower fat, but it’s still hamburger,” said Dolloff-Crane.

One of the goals is to change soldiers’ eating habits to boost their long-term health — not only to improve their performance and quality of life but to cut long-term health care costs for the military.

“We’re hoping to take folks from cardiacs at 45 to never having a cardiac,” said Dolloff-Crane.

Dolloff-Crane emphasized “it’s OK” that troops have access to and occasionally enjoy comfort foods, “as long as it’s not the preponderance.”

Vegetarians and “flexitarians” — people whose diets are largely plant-based but occasionally include meat — will enjoy tastier sides, like a new veggie lasagna in the DoD recipe book that is “out of this world,” Dolloff-Crane said. Blends of grains, such as quinoa, may appear more frequently.

The military is also looking to dial back on the prepackaged convenience foods available in the food line, replacing them with more fresh fruit and vegetable options.

Go for Green signage for advising attention to better choices is being used in both IMT and permanent party dining facilities and will become a mandatory component of food service operations upon publication of the updates of the DoD 1338.10-M, Manual for the Department of Defense Food Service Program, and the AR and DA Pam 30-22, The Army Food Program, anticipated by this summer.

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