‘Health Matters’ in the Army, too

Soldiers in basic combat training with 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment eat breakfast in a dining facility at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri on Sept. 26, 2012. Red, yellow, and green labels indicating a food's nutritional value are posted over menu items in the dining facility serving lines at Army installations where new soldiers are trained. Photo by Crystal Chatham

Healthy eating and good food choices were the orders of the day at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters 2013 conference today in La Quinta.

While food prepared for service members was not on the conference agenda, it is worth taking a look at since dining hall chow has gotten a makeover in the last two years.

In February 2011, the U.S. Army launched the Soldier Fueling Initiative with dining facility (DFAC) menu makeovers and visual cues targeted at new recruits.

As the Army’s newest soldiers methodically and quickly move through the serving lines they have several meal options to put on their plates.

Now, those options are color coded.

Yellow and red labels show which breakfast choices are somewhat nutritious or performance limiting along an Army breakfast chow line at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri on Sept. 26, 2012. Photo by Crystal Chatham

Called the “Go for Green” program, small rectangular labels in red, yellow, and green are positioned on the glass over entrees, side dishes, and vegetables. Each color indicates how beneficial the food is for the body.

Coded just like a stop light, yellow labels mean caution: somewhat healthy foods ahead and red ones warn a soldier of an impending unhealthy choice. Green labels are reserved for healthy foods only and tagged as high performance foods.

After a test run at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the program launched at the Army’s four other posts which host Basic Combat Training for brand new soldiers. Those posts include Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and Fort Knox in Kentucky.

During three days eating side-by-side with new soldiers in various dining facilities at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri last fall, I found my own habits evolve meal after meal. The first meal or two I reached for comfort food taking no notice of the labels. After asking what the colored labels were all about, I saw myself looking for more “green” foods – and, truth be told, I’m generally a fast food journalist and red-label junkie. The red-yellow-green system was user friendly, easy to understand, and required no culinary expertise to master.

Color-coding food choices in the dining facilities is just one aspect of a multi-pronged approach the Army is taking to build healthier soldiers. A new Sports Performance Nutrition block of training is now included in soldiers’ basic combat training curriculum.

The program is reaching more of the Army now, too. In a December 27, 2012 story by the Army News Service, Lt. Col. Sonya J. Cable, chief, Human Dimensions Division, Military Training Center of Excellence, cited that the Soldier Fueling Initiative is now implemented across 60% of Army posts, including many overseas.