JOINT EXPEDITIONARY BASE LITTLE CREEK-FORT STORY, Va. — Fried food is out and nutritional nagging is in as part of the big changes coming to your chow hall.
Menus will not see significant changes — not yet, at least. But you can say goodbye to the fried foods you have come to know and love; breaded chicken, French fries, and the like will be baked in state-of-the-art ovens rather than deep fried. Whole milk will be replaced by skim and soy; fruits and vegetables will be on prominent display. The fast line will remain, but its offerings will be cut back.
And this is just the beginning.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced a host of sweeping changes in May that will affect everything from promotions and training to uniforms and fitness. As part of that, he has set his sights on a well-balanced diet, which he calls "the foundation of a healthy lifestyle" that will provide capable warfighters and lower medical costs.
Mabus touted the SEALs' "Fuel to Fight" program as an example. It increases the availability of lean-proteins, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates to fuel, rather than feed, the warfighter. Other galleys here have implemented "Go for Green," a Department of Defense nutrition program that teaches sailors to recognize and select healthier foods.
As leadership looks to boost sailors' nutrition to new levels, the recipe will mix these programs and add new ingredients. Mabus promised to "further develop the concept at one sea-based and one shore-based unit next year, and implement it fleet-wide in 2017."
In the meantime, "Go for Green" (which started as an education program) will become the standard as galleys ashore and afloat prepare for change.
That's fine with Electrician's Mate 1st Class (SW) Roberto Rodriguez. The Little Creek-Fort Story galley here is the first in his 12-year career that has offered the program. Though he admits to hitting the fast line every now and then, he typically sticks with the appropriate portions of greens and yellows. He said he's lost 10 pounds in the past two months and feels "a whole lot better."
'A good start'
The galley here provides a glimpse of the way ahead. Calorie count cards are posted in the chow line. Each food is labeled with green, yellow, or red tags. Utensils used by the servers and on the salad bar ensure exact portion sizes. The salad bar lacks high-calorie options like pepperoni and creamy dressings, but has plenty of sunflower seeds and cranberries. And while a foot-long chili cheese dog could be seen on a couple of tables, baked fish was the unmistakable catch of the day.
The changes — and response to those changes — are not lost on Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffrey Walker, who serves as the base's food service officer.
"If the food is prepared right, sailors will accept the change over time," he said. And he should know. His previous command won the Ney Award for food service excellence before his departure, and this galley got a Ney nod after he arrived here.
The focus was on food cost rather than content when he became a culinary specialist 22 years ago. Everything was made from scratch. Burgers were so fatty that they shrunk to half their size when cooked. Each ship and command had flexibility to create a menu tailored to its crew. And there were plenty of fried foods, breads, and pastas.
Now, Walker pays little mind to the unused deep fat fryers as he shows off his new Rational ovens. These cook everything from scrambled eggs to Beijing duck with the touch of a few buttons — and no cooking oil. Cleaning no longer involves hours of scrubbing in strong fumes. Most bases and many ships have made the switch — but not all sailors are sold.
When Navy Times visited the Gerald R. Ford's pre-commissioning crew earlier this year, it was evident many were not thrilled the new carrier class lacks one old school technology: deep fat fryers. Sailors aboard the carrier Abraham Lincoln were thrilled to keep their fryer during refueling and complex overhaul. Other ships have had to surrender their fryers.
"Certain foods, you can't get the flavor and texture you can get from the fryer, and when you're deployed that's one thing you have to look forward to," said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Adrian Watson. He previously served on the cruiser Leyte Gulf, which had removed its fryers. "When we got on the barge [which had fryers], that was a happy crew."
Others said they are fine with, and even welcome the healthier preparation, but are not satisfied with the variety. Culinary Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Stephanie Ramirez-Abad would like more vegetables for the morning omelet. Seaman Musician Daniel Arute comes to the galley for the healthy choices, but would like to see more from the green category, and something other than chicken and fish.
"The Navy is always changing, and this was a good change for me," Rodriguez said. "This is a good start, but not a good finish. I hope they keep it moving forward."
The "Go for Green" program operates like a stop light.
Green represents "premium fuel," defined as whole foods and beverages that are the least processed, low in calories, nutrient dense, and aid in muscle recovery and development. This includes fresh vegetables and fruit, leafy green salads, brown or wild rice, oats, quinoa, baked sweet potato fries, whole-grain pasta, nuts, fish, and chicken or turkey breast without the skin. Green-labeled items should comprise at least half of each meal, according to program guidelines.
Yellow represents food and drink with some processing as well as healthy and unhealthy nutrients. These are higher in calories, and lower in vitamins and minerals. This includes salads made with iceberg lettuce, fruit with added sugar or syrups, dried fruit, white rice, pasta, baked French fries, pretzels, baked chips, crackers, whole eggs, chicken or turkey breast with the skin, ham, roast beef, processed deli meats, flavored yogurt, reduced-fat cheese, sports drinks and 2-percent milk. Sailors are advised to carefully choose small portions not to exceed one-third of their plates.
Red represents foods and beverages with the most processing and calories, while lowest in vitamins and minerals. They slow muscle recovery and hinder performance. These include deep fried foods, cream sauces and dressings, most breads and pastries, ground beef, fatty cuts of red meat, beef ribs, pork sausage and bacon, hot dogs, salami, bologna, cheese, ice cream, energy drinks, coffee, whole milk, and sweetened beverages to include juices and sodas. Sailors are advised to rarely choose these, and take them in smaller portions.