FT. WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- Spc. Norman Serrano, a mechanic with 1-5 Infantry, G. Company, wants his fellow soldiers to know there is culinary life beyond fast food, ramen noodles and the dining facility. With the help of the Ft. Wainwright Army Wellness Center and USO, Serrano led a cooking class June 14 at bldg. 1001 geared towards soldiers living in the barracks where he demonstrated how to make vegetable fried rice in a microwave.

While soldiers in the barracks can eat at the dining facility, Serrano says there are definitely benefits to cooking your own meals.

"First, I just think it's important for everyone to know the fundamentals of how to cook," said Serrano. "The Army isn't going to cook your food forever and knowing exactly what you are eating, how it was prepared and what's in it makes a difference too," said Serrano. "When you're cooking your own food you can make alterations to the taste as you go or the next time you make it so that it's even better the next time."

Serrano also believes there is a social element in the barracks that comes with cooking meals.

"When others smell food being made they will come and see what's cooking," said Serrano.

Additionally, cooking together in shared kitchens also lends itself to a family environment and gets soldiers out of their rooms and talking.

Serrano is quick to let others know he is not a professional cook; that he is self-taught and anyone can do what he does without a lot of equipment or supplies. According to Serrano he primarily uses a microwave and a coffee pot to do most of his cooking in his room in addition to the stove in the communal kitchen, and the list of essentials for the pantry is relatively small.

"Salt, pepper, oil, pasta, rice and chicken are the basics I use and generally have on hand," said Serrano.

While purchasing ingredients is not cheap, Serrano believes it is less expensive in the long run.
"For those who don't want to, or cannot eat at the DFAC because of work schedules or transportation, eating out three meals a day adds up when you are spending $10 to $15 a meal."
Serrano acknowledged during the demonstration that not all barracks have a central kitchen and that microwave cooking may be the only option. Luckily, says Serrano there are many websites and cookbooks that are geared solely to cooking in the microwave that can be found just by using a search engine to search "microwave meals."

In addition to cooking in their barracks, Serrano encouraged soldiers to take advantage of the summer weather and use a grill for cooking their proteins. "Grills are pretty inexpensive and the USO has a grill outside their building you can use too and it's a great place to hang out."
Ultimately, Serrano wants soldiers to know living in the barracks is not an excuse to eat fast food or from a vending machine.

"Dinner doesn't have to be a meal of instant ramen. There are so many other choices."