JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington - In preparation for National Nutrition Month in March, food specialists from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade were the first on Joint Base Lewis-McChord to take the Seductive Nutrition class taught by chefs from Unilever Food Solutions.

Unilever is the world's third largest consumer goods company and has worked with the military for over a decade to help implement improved methods of food sustainability, packaging and nutrition. During the Seductive Nutrition Class, representatives from the organization demonstrated to 16th CAB culinary specialists that by combining slightly smaller food portions, wholesome cooking methods and more nutritious ingredients, diners can benefit from lower calorie counts while continuing to enjoy healthier menu items.

In the 1940s, a major challenge the Army faced was soldier malnourishment. Today, much like the rest of the U.S., soldiers must work harder to combat obesity. In 2010, 50 percent of new recruits failed the military entry-level fitness test, and approximately 27 percent of the U.S.'s population of 17 to 24-year-old men and women were too overweight to serve.

"One of our biggest problems (in the U.S.) is obesity", said Unilever military global corporate chef, Nydia Ekstrom. "As the chefs, we are responsible for what and how we cook meals."

Ekstrom, who has more than 40 years of experience in the food service industry, educated cooks on Unilever's approach to establishing healthier eating habits by resizing plate portions. By going from a huge steak, fries and vegetables to steak that is proportional to the rest of the meal, customers still get to indulge in the foods they take pleasure in eating, but in moderation.

"We have a lot of soldiers from all ranks that come into the dining facility in search of healthier food options. Since National Nutrition Month is coming up in March, we wanted to teach our soldiers a fun way to enhance meals," said Chief Warrant officer 2 William Floyd, 16th CAB food service technician.

Both Ekstrom and the 16th CAB cooks agreed that many foods advertised as being healthier often leave much to be desired when it comes to taste. Unilever chefs emphasized that eating healthy is not synonymous with bland tasting or less enticing foods.

The program claims that people first eat with their eyes, so in order to entice patrons to make healthier choices, cooks must first appeal to the customers' taste palette through thoughtful presentation of the meals. Food specialists can captivate their customers' senses with brighter, more colorful options and more creative food labeling.

"Not only is the customer bored with the food, but so is the person preparing it," Ekstrom said. "We are here to inspire you to get new ideas for your menus that are healthy and nutritious."

Seductive Nutrition teaches cooks that using various salsas and sauces can make an ordinary dish already found in military dining facilities and change it into an exotic dish from around the world. For example, the dining facility prepares baked chicken, but by adding a hearty tomato, onion and chile salsa that meal can be transformed into Chicken Veracruz.

The class also taught 16th CAB culinary specialists how to remove unnecessary calories from a meal without compromising its taste. Ekstrom demonstrated how to remove 200 calories from a bacon cheeseburger by using a slightly smaller bun, a bolder cheese like pepper jack instead of American and serving the condiments on the side.

In addition, by removing the three or so strips of bacon typically found on a bacon burger and using only one piece of bacon, chopping it up and adding it into a ranch type sauce, even more calories can be saved. The basis of the program is not to deprive consumers of the food they enjoy eating, but to revamp meals into a healthier version of itself.

"The program is well-rounded and educational when teaching soldiers how to prepare in-house products," Floyd said. "It's not far-fetched requiring soldiers to go out and order different ingredients. Even if they are at home, cooking for their friends and family, they can make a healthy meal out of the ingredients they already use."

Throughout the month of March, the 16th CAB food service soldiers will incorporate the lessons learned about Seductive Nutrition into the meal options that will be provided at the dining facility.

"We plan to enhance the nutrition value and take away from the amount of calories in our meals by removing a lot of the sodium from our products and using more lite ingredients, such as vegetables," Floyd said. "Seductive Nutrition is a way to market a product as being not only healthier but also more flavorful."