Army Dietitian Touts Warning Labels for Desserts and Fried Foods at Mess Halls
By Elizabeth Harrington
February 27, 2012
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First Lady Michelle Obama eats with recruits at a U.S. Army mess hall during a visit to Fort Jackson near Columbia, South Carolina in January. (AP Photo)
(CNSNews.com) – The healthy eating campaign has the U.S. military in its sights.
During a panel discussion Thursday on how government can promote healthy eating habits, the U.S. Army touted its mess hall labeling system that places warning on desserts and fried foods.
The event, held at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, saw Lt. Col. Sonya Cable highlight the “Go for Green” program, which labels healthy foods green, moderate foods amber, and high calorie foods red.
The nutrition education program alerts soldiers that “red” foods like bacon and apple pie should only be eaten rarely, with a warning: “limit intake.” Foods labeled green, however, such as mustard greens, are deemed “premium fuel for the soldier athlete,” “fresh and flavorful” and “nutrient dense.” Soldiers are advised to eat these frequently.
Cable represents the U.S. Army Soldier Fueling Initiative, which is remaking dining facilities at Initial Military Training sites across the country. She currently serves as a dietitian and the Chief of the Human Dimensions Division within the Initial Military Training Center of Excellence.
During the panel discussion she advised using the “red, amber, green” system in public schools too.
“My eyes got opened very quickly that it really is a community,” she said, about her visit to Fort Jackson, S.C. seven years ago to observe its dining facilities. “We talk about a village that raises a child. Well a community develops a brand new soldier, too. And that’s what we found there.”
“When I got there our dining facilities were typical dining facility type styles, you know, the fried foods, salad bars existed,” Cable continued.
“We had soda machines and the pastries were, you know, typical cookies, cake, cakes, pies, all of those types of things. Well, then we had the challenge of, okay, now we’re taking former civilians, now developing into soldiers and trying to develop them,” she said. This was the beginning of the Soldier Fueling Initiative and Cable’s efforts to influence the behavior of new recruits.
If you walk into a basic training cafeteria today you will find far fewer fried foods and soda machines have been replaced with “hydration stations,” she explained.
“In the military we all kind of know red means, ‘uh oh, there’s problems,’” Cable said. “Amber, middle of the road, we’re doing okay. And green is good to go, all is right. We took that same concept and we applied it to our menus.”
For instance, the program’s Recipe Nutrition Analysis lists pies, cookies, cakes, éclairs, and banana splits as “red” foods – highest in calories and lowest in vitamins and minerals.
Posters and placards encourage soldiers to opt instead for such “green” desserts as baked bananas and fruit cups.
“All the foods are labeled throughout the serving line so that our soldiers would be informed as to making choices related to their performance goals,” Cable said.
“I had some folks say to me, ‘Well, why on earth did you even include the red ones to begin with?’ Two reasons – one, we’ve got soldiers who have racehorse metabolisms that they needed every calorie I could get into them. And by taking off the ‘red’ we just found that we couldn’t get enough calories in them.”
The second reason for including “red” foods, Cable said, was “so they could learn what contributed positively and maybe what contributed negatively. Not to say that every food is bad, it’s just how they fit into your performance goals.”
On the breakfast menu oven-fried bacon, sausage gravy, butter, sugary cereal and egg, sausage and cheese sandwiches earn a red label. Assorted low-fat yogurt, oven-fried Canadian bacon, broccoli quiche and cholesterol-free scrambled eggs are deemed “high performance” foods.
For lunch and dinner, soldiers are coaxed into choosing hamburger yakisoba over grilled cheeseburgers.
Salisbury steak, BBQ spareribs, grilled pork chops, Yankee pot roast and turkey gravy are discouraged, while baked tuna and noodles, Brussels sprouts, spinach, turkey meatloaf, peas and carrots are “premium fuel for the soldier athlete” that should be chosen frequently.
Cable, who gave a tour of the dining facilities at Ft. Jackson to First Lady Michelle Obama in January, said the program started with basic combat training sites and now is used in all training facilities.
Overs involved in the panel included Ned Holland, Assistant Secretary for Administration at Health and Human Services; Dr. Joel Kimmons of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Centers for Disease Control; and Jeff Mills, Food Services Director for D.C. public schools. Panelists discussed their efforts to curb unhealthy eating habits in various branches of government.