FORT LEE, Va. (April 28, 2011) -- Hungry troops found a new item on post dining facility menus Friday morning.

The Installation Food Program Management Division introduced cage-free eggs, a product that's touted to offer better quality and taste. Fort Lee is the first installation in the Army Food Program to bring cage-free eggs to its breakfast menu, according to Johnnie Durant, the food program manager.

"This all started at a Joint Culinary Center of Excellence meeting in January that featured Josh Balk, outreach director for the Humane Society of the United States," Durant explained while enjoying breakfast at the Ordnance Campus Dining Facility Friday. "He provided a powerful presentation on animal welfare and its effect on food safety. It inspired us to bring cage-free egg products to DFAC menus as soon as possible."

The concerns of "battery hen" products include limitations in movement, possible contact between healthy and sick animals and the ingestion of non-organic materials, Durant noted. Furthermore, the popularity of organic and "better for you" foods is evident in most supermarkets across the country. Consumers (58 percent of them) are even willing to pay a slightly higher cost for products that are natural and not enhanced by chemicals or mass-production methods, according to market research conducted by major food companies.

"Our job is to make sure our troops have the very best; that's really the bottom line here," Durant said. "In this case, it costs a little more (about a 30 percent price increase), but the Defense Supply Center also agreed that it's worth the additional expense, and I wouldn't be surprised if cage-free eggs become a standard throughout the Army."

The introduction of cage-free eggs also complies with the new Training and Doctrine Command Soldier Fueling Initiative, Initial Military Training menu standards that took effect on Feb. 1. To encourage healthy meal choices, DFACs that serve the Army's newest troops at 12 training installations limit hot dogs, hamburgers and other fast foods to Sunday meals only, Durant explained. Omelets and fried-egg options are reduced as well; only scrambled or hard-boiled eggs are served during the work week. Same story for pastries and indulgent desserts, and soda fountains have been replaced with "hydration stations" that include sports drinks, juices and water.

Durant said the new menu is not always popular with young troops who grew up with those indulgent food options, and several troops didn't know or didn't seem to care about the difference between regular and cage-free eggs when shuffling down the Ordnance-DFAC chow line on Friday. But the importance of the healthier menu to the Army's new "Soldier Athlete" initiative can't be disputed (read more about it at The best way to build and maintain healthy Soldiers is to encourage food choices that won't decrease physical readiness.

"When you think about it in that context and consider the similar initiatives of (other major food companies in the U.S.), you realize it's the right thing to do," said John Padula, director of military sales for Michael Foods, the company that now supplies cage-free eggs to Fort Lee DFACs. "It just makes you feel good knowing that you're providing a high quality product for the troops."

Durant agreed and added, "Warfighters deserve the best, and that's what we're giving them."