JCCoE taking ACTION to improve nutrition

Advanced individual training students at the U.S. Army Quartermaster School’s Joint Culinary Center of Excellence prepare meat loaf as part of their course instruction here Dec. 15.

FORT LEE, Va. – Simply stated, eating better enhances Soldier readiness, and the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence here is working toward that goal as a key player in the ACTION – Army Commitment To Improving Overall Nutrition – program.

ACTION was launched in January 2019 as part of an initiative of the Sergeant Major of the Army. He established a forum for the entire food service enterprise to meet, update policy and prioritize efforts, according to Sgt. Maj. Ken Fauska, Chief Culinary Management SGM at JCCoE, a component of the U.S. Army Quartermaster School.

The program allows logistics leaders at all levels, including Army Service Component Commands, to provide feedback to each other and the school about what’s happening in food service around the world, Fauska said.

“We can’t drive to Joint Base Lewis McCord, Wash., in the middle of this pandemic,” he observed. “So, this creates a virtual platform (where we) can communicate more effectively.”

As changes and upgrades are put in place, units can share what works and what doesn’t through the ACTION VTCs.

Also as part of the ACTION program, Food Network celebrity chef Robert Irvine has been working with the school’s senior leaders to improve feeding across the Army and meet modernization goals, Fauska said. Speaking at a teleconference in August, Irvine indicated DFACs can up there game by offering more consistent menus that are attractive to the younger generation of troops, 18-to-24 years old.

It’s simple enough: “If you give Soldiers what they want, they will eat there,” the chef pointed out. DFACs can accomplish this with great food and service, “and, by the way, it’s not too expensive” for troops, which only helps their satisfaction.

Later this year, Irvine is scheduled to visit a “Warrior Restaurant” at JBLM. Changing the name of the activities where troop food is prepared and served is among the significant steps of the ACTION program. While they have long been known as dining facilities, the new preferred term is Warrior Restaurants, Fauska said. The new focus will emphasize station feeding, with different areas offering different kinds of food – for example, sandwich stations, potato bars or pizza.

The Army Chief of Staff has made a commitment to put people first, and this includes making sure Warrior Restaurants offer healthy and good nutritional choices, emphasized Lt. Col. Steven Camacho, JCCoE director.

Specifically, salad bars are being upgraded to be more like the ones in commercial restaurants and are being emphasized as a better go-to food option for troops on a daily basis, Fauska said. New Warrior Restaurants are making sure salad bars are placed prominently so they are the Soldiers’ first choice.

“We really want service members to have that healthy option up front,” he said. 

Students are now learning about nutrition as they go through their military training courses. In addition, the Army’s dieticians are helping to craft menus, making sure they prioritize fresh foods.

“Fresh is best,” Camacho said. “We’re going away from canned foods.” The hierarchy is fresh foods first, then frozen, and if necessary, canned foods, he clarified.

Even in a field feeding environment, the cooks take what they know from a garrison kitchen to make sure the Soldiers they feed have a healthy diet, Camacho further noted.

Another goal is to improve the way food is prepared, said. 1st Lt. Nicholas Tommas, a dietician at the culinary school.

“We are going away from deep fat frying and offering less processed foods,” he said.

Deep fat fryers are being replaced across the Army with air frying ovens, Camacho said.

The latest diet and nutrition principles come from those developed for Special Forces Soldiers, Tommas said. The Army is using those high-performance nutritional standards for the whole force, not just selected troops.