'Fueling' programs aim to encourage good nutrition across Army in Europe

By Spc. Joshua LeonardAugust 31, 2012

'Fueling' programs aim to encourage good nutrition across Army in Europe
Sgt. Albert Penarejo bakes chicken during lunch preparations in the dining
facility at the Heidelberg (Germany) Health Center. As part of the USAREUR
Fueling The Team program designed to improve nutrition and performance, dining facilities are offe... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

HEIDELBERG, Germany (Aug. 30, 2012) -- Last year, U.S. Army Europe began a program designed to help Soldiers incorporate good nutrition into their lifestyles. A year later that initiative is flourishing and reaching out beyond dining facilities.

The program, called "Fueling the Team," aims to educate patrons of USAREUR's 21 dining facilities and encourage and help them to eat "performance-enhancing" foods to "fuel" themselves. It does that in a variety of ways, but the front line of the program is the dining facility serving line, where patrons can now find a wider range of healthy foods and use a variety of educational tools to help them make informed choices about good nutrition.

While some less-healthy options are disappearing from dining facilities program officials have stressed that their goal is not to take away "bad foods," but to encourage people to make healthier choices and eat better foods, said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jack Vanzanten, the USAREUR food adviser. For instance, he said, baked chicken is now offered as an alternative to fried chicken.

The program was put into place by USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who had initiated a similar effort for Army basic training units while serving as deputy commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Customers who use the dining facilities enjoy the new menu choices because they want to eat healthier and the program is helping them reach that goal, said Sgt. 1st Class Jose Pineda, manager of the dining facility at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Under the guidelines of the fueling program, Pineda and his crew have implemented fresh ideas such as replacing short order lines offering burgers and fries with sandwiches and salad bars; baking certain foods instead of frying them; and offering vegetarian meals and new menu items that make vegetables more appealing. And then they've gone a step further, he added, to help customers understand how the new direction is a healthy -- and tasty -- direction.

"One of the biggest changes was educating the customers, and making vegetables and salads more appealing," said Pineda. "I've had some great comments about our new sandwich and chicken ranch salad bar, and some Soldiers mention how this is really helping them stay within the Army height and weight standards."

In fact, dining facility customers across USAREUR appear to have embraced the changes. Vanzanten said the steady stream of customers eating in the command's dining facilities has not decreased since the fueling program began phasing in just over a year ago.

And while it might seem that making major changes to dining facilities' operations, equipment and menus would be a costly proposition, Vanzanten said it costs no more to prepare and serve healthier food.

While Fueling the Team is a strictly USAREUR effort at the moment, program officials and dining facility managers hope it will catch on across the Army.

"I think it would be great to see this go Armywide, because it will help many Soldiers who struggle with their weight throughout their Army careers," Pineda said. "It's a new program and people have to get used to it, but I think it has been a success and people are adapting to it nicely."

The program was never intended to be confined to dining facilities alone. From the start program officials looked at ways to use other venues to educate the entire Army in Europe community, including civilian employees and family members as well as Soldiers, about the value of incorporating good nutrition into their catalog of healthy lifestyle choices.

As a result, a new initiative, called "Fueling the Future," is preparing to kick off to encourage everyone in the Army in Europe community to include good nutrition and regular physical activity in their way of life.

That effort will begin in schools in USAREUR's footprint, but is designed to spread further.

"This is a community-wide focus on nutrition and wellness that will help to make our military families stronger," said Nicole Leth, a public health volunteer here who is among those leading the effort.

Leth is working alongside a variety of agencies whose goal is to emphasize the importance of good nutrition and physical activity to students, and to involve the whole community in efforts to help children eat better and get more exercise.

The payoff, she said, is twofold. First, students who eat better and participate in more physical activity do better in school and maintain a healthier body weight. Second, students involved in the program will bring its message home to their families and help foster a healthier home environment.

Because Soldiers are getting this message through the Fueling the Team initiative and other military venues, Leth said, the combined efforts of the fueling programs and related projects should help create stronger military families.

One example of those related efforts comes from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, or AAFES, Europe Region, which operates the school lunch programs at Department of Defense Dependent Schools across the theater. An Aug. 14 AAFES Europe release announced changes to school lunch menus to make them more nutritious.

"The Exchange will be serving healthy meals for DOD schools that meet new federal nutrition standards, ensuring that the meals are well balanced and provide students all the nutrition they need to succeed at school," said Al Tagab, AAFES Europe Senior Restaurant program specialist, in that release.

The changes will give students more options for choosing healthy foods items, AAFES officials said, and offer menu items, including milk, fruits, vegetables, meat, meat alternatives and grains, that follow strict limits for calories and saturated fat.

The Fueling the Future program was launched during a campaign kickoff event at Patrick Henry Elementary School here, Aug. 28. At that event participants joined in a walk with the USAREUR commanding general, shared healthy snacks, heard presentations about good nutrition, and got a free nutrition parent resource guide that includes information on children's nutrition needs, as well as recipes and activity suggestions.

"We hope to generate excitement and momentum about eating well and being physically active," said Leth. "I think the members of the community are receptive to this message, but they just need the information and the tools to help them be their very best."

"My hope is that all of our military communities will focus not just on properly fueling Soldiers and educating them about the importance of healthy living, but also focus on properly fueling and educating the entire military family," she said.

Related Links:

U.S. Army Europe

'Fueling the Future' kickoff image set in USAREUR Flickr gallery

"Fueling the Team" for Better Health and Performance

U.S. Army Europe kicks off campaign to enlist community in 'Fueling the Future'

Army.mil: Europe News

Army.mil: Health News

STAND-TO!: Soldier Athlete Initiative

STAND-TO!: Fueling the Future