WTU Soldiers learn to cook smart
February 28, 2013
By Ben Sherman
FORT SILL, Okla. -- n tough economic times almost everyone is looking to stretch their dollars. Soldiers are no different, especially when they are in a Warrior Transition Unit like the one at Fort Sill. For these Wounded Warriors, the rising costs of everything from gasoline to groceries just add to the stresses they face.
To help Soldiers and their families stretch their food-buying dollars, the Soldier and Family Assistance Center sponsored a "Cook Smarter, Cook Healthier" class Feb. 13 at the center.
"We wanted to help prepare the Soldiers for their transition to civilian life and the cost of living in that new reality," said Mary Ellen Saur, SFAC director. "And managing their food budget while at the same time preparing healthy meals can be a real challenge. So we arranged for this class to give Soldiers and their families some guidelines."
Becky Caha, Comanche County Chapter of the Oklahoma Home & Community Education (OHCE) Program president, led the class.
"This is the second time we have had this class for the Wounded Warriors, and the fifth time we have presented these classes to different units here at Fort Sill. The more we can do for the Soldiers and their families, the happier we are, because that is what we like to do," Caha said.
Caha and her volunteers demonstrated fast, easy and budget-friendly meals to the Soldiers, so they can save money, stretch their monthly budgets and still have good, nutritious meals for their families.
"The meals we are preparing will range from $1.22 to $1.75 per serving. So it's cheaper than going to McDonald's to get a dollar menu item for everybody in a family," Caha said. "It's also nutritious because they make the mixes themselves from hamburger meat and things like that. They can freeze it for up to three months, so they can use it in different dishes each month and their families won't get bored with the meals."
Caha went on to explain that the basic freezer mix starts with cooking hamburger meat along with garlic, onions, salt and pepper. After it is cooked the mixture is put it into plastic freezer bags, three cups per bag for one meal. Then it is put in the freezer and can be kept frozen up to three months.
"We have some 40 recipes that are very versatile. The ones we are doing tonight are the taco salad, chili, a one-dish spaghetti dinner, a goulash and also sloppy Joe's. All of these dishes are created with this one freezer mix," Caha said. "You can also make it into meatballs, and there are several meals that call for the meatballs. And there are a number of recipes you can create with chicken."
Wounded Warrior Sgt. Dion Stewart appreciated what the SFAC has provided for Soldiers like him.
"They brought in experts from out in the community to help Soldiers, particularly single Soldiers and geographic bachelors, to make one-dish meals quick and easy, without spending a lot of money. What we are learning will be very helpful because grocery bills are so high now," Stewart said. "This class is good for me and my family, too. My wife, son and daughter are here with me tonight, and I believe this will help bring us together as a family. And I also think it will give more cohesion between the Soldiers here in the WTU."
Fellow WTU Soldier Sgt. Quarre Jackson worked with Stewart to cook up their meal for the class.
"We're making a one-dish spaghetti meal with the freezer mix. We're just waiting for it to finish cooking," said Jackson. "I think that doing activities like this helps the Soldiers heal faster. It gets them to thinking about what the next step in their life will be."
Stewart added that he loves to cook anyway, and uses coupons whenever he shops.
"I'm all about anything we can do to save money and eat better. This workshop is just a great opportunity to learn to cook on a budget," said Stewart.
"When they leave the Army they lose their basic housing allowance, and so they have to learn to cut costs all around, and the big cost they face is learning how to feed a family. So we wanted to make them aware of resources, such as the OHCE, that can will help them deal with this new situation," said Saur.
"I had four OHCE volunteers come and help the Soldiers learn how to cook these meals. That's what we do; help people stretch their food dollars farther and make healthy choices, so they can feed their families more nutritiously," Caha said.