If you’ve noticed any subtle changes in your chow hall or the plated offerings of the mess buffet getting a little greener, you have a team of scientists and soldiers at a branch of Army research in New England to thank for it.
The Combat Feeding Directorate at the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command looks at all things food, from ovens on submarines to freeze-dried rations for astronauts. But in the wide middle they deal with Meals Ready to Eat and what’s being served at food centers across all of the services.
Efforts underway at Army and Marine Corps dining facilities aim to shrink the piece of pie troops shovel down at chow time and increase the nutritious food that’s going to help them recover and perform better on the battlefield.
Those programs, Green For Green in the Army and Fuel to Fight in the Marines, have already nudged troops’ eating nearly 5 percent in the right direction over the past two years. researchers say.
They’ve separated food choices within the 2,800-recipe catalog of the Department of Defense into red, yellow and green categories.
Red, “Check Fire,” foods are likely delicious but should be limited, likely are high in fat and can decrease performance. Think cakes, deserts and other classic “junk” foods.
Yellow, “Well Aimed Shots,” category foods are good for you and can make up a little less than half the plate, but often have higher total fat and saturated fats.
Green “engage at will,” foods are the best, most nutritious and should make up nearly half of your plate, more if possible. Green foods are low in sugar, high in fiber, have healthy fats and include plant-based protein and leaner cuts of meat.
Yellow foods have 31 to 49 percent of calories from total fats and 11 to 15 percent of calories from saturated fats. They do include white or refined flour or other refined grains.
Red foods have more than half their calories coming from total fats and they are low in fiber, containing less than 2g of fiber per serving.
When the effort started in 2017, the plates were not as balanced, most troops were wolfing down about 40 percent red, 40 percent yellow but only 20 percent green.
That’s moved over to about 21 percent red, 42 percent yellow and 32 percent green with 5 percent left over in the data for classification.
Where’d they put the dessert?
Part of how the command is working in better options for soldiers and Marines is through design. They’re shifting the setup of some chow halls to place green options at the front of the line, helping troops fill their plates with the good stuff.
Desserts are still there, but not up front.
The goal, right now set for 2021, is to more evenly divide the plate to 20 percent red, 40 percent yellow and 40 percent green.
Beyond design, CFD director Stephen Moody told Army Times, they’ve also created, revised or archived nearly 2,000 of the 2,800 recipes in their archives, most of which had not been updated substantially since 1999.
Other efforts in both the Army and Marine programs give soldiers tips on weight loss, healthy eating and food choice options.
One such tip is to use the 80/20 rule, picking healthy foods at least 80 percent of the time.
And beyond what food they eat, researchers are focused on when troops feed.
Ideally, a short time after exercise, an individual would consume a combination of both carbohydrates and protein. But also, within a half hour or hour before working out, soldiers and Marines should consume a high carbohydrate snack of 200 to 300 calories, according to the Fuel to Fight program literature.
That snack would have 25 to 50g carbohydrates and 20 to 25g protein.
During exercise, researchers advise drinking 3 to 8 ounces of water or sports beverage every 15 to 20 minutes.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.