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EDITORIAL COMMENT: The Serving Line


August 2013
DFACS: The Healthy Option

Menu standards are revised regularly throughout the Defense Department to ensure the maximum physical fitness of service members through the availability of healthy options for a nutritious diet.

Supporting that campaign is a nutrition education system guiding service members to make healthy choices. Go for Green has been used in dining facilities across all the service branches since the system was introduced as part of the Soldier Athlete Initiative, which launched in July 2010.

Recent counts put the number of meals served annually in military dining halls and general messes at more than 500 million. Tracking how well service members follow the nutritional guidelines to select healthy meal choices is more problematic.

A clue helping to bring the pieces of that picture together is the Subsistence Prime Vendor sales data collected for Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support, breaking out multiple segments within 35 different food and supply categories.

Categories commonly considered part of a healthy diet show increased sales in the past year, indicating revised military menus and that service members may be following the Go for Green nutrition education color-code labels.

At a time when the military is reevaluating status quo approaches to diet and nutrition, sales grew in such emerging “healthy” categories as fish, pasta, prepared salads, poultry and vegetables for 2012 compared with a year earlier.

Many high-quality fish and seafood items have gained inclusion in menus by the service branches and are being selected by service members.

The Soldier Fueling Initiative Initial Military Training menu has fish, or entrées containing seafood, 24 times across the 35-day menu. That menu has approximately 180 slots for center-of-the-plate options for lunch and dinner.

The CONOPS menu serves a seafood option for a minimum of 13 meals during the month as a center-of-the-plate item. Other seafood options are available on the salad and sandwich bar daily.

A year-to-year gain in the Cereal and Eggs categories of DLA's Subsistence Prime Vendor sales data suggest more service members are choosing to start the day with a healthy breakfast.

Dairy Products is another DLA Troop Support Prime Vendor sales category in which rising segment sales suggest service members are making more healthful choices. Low-fat milk, which garners the largest share of sales in the Dairy Products category at nearly a third, and skim milk each rose slightly from 2011 to 2012. Whole milk, however, slipped to 8.21 percent of sales in the category for 2012 from 17.37 percent a year earlier.

These increases do not come at the expense of other proteins, however; military meat purchases were also significantly higher than the year before. More healthful preparation methods help traditional favorites find a place on nutritious menus.

This sales data suggests menus in military dining facilities and general messes undergo regular revision to ensure wide availability of the nutrient-dense foods desired by service members following Go for Green nutrition labels.

All that remains is to create a welcoming atmosphere that makes the dining hall and general messes health-conscious destinations of choice for hungry service members.