The Military’s Nutrition Conundrum

Our Armed Forces are going to have a difficult time improving the diet habits of Americans in uniform

There was an interesting story recently in the North County Times, a daily newspaper serving North San Diego. Entitled, “Food Choices Explode At Camp Pendleton,” the article talked about all of the food outlets available at this U.S. Marine Corps base. The article caught my eye because we’re always on the lookout for articles about military foodservice, and because I had just read last month about First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to expand her Let’s Move campaign to military bases. I wanted to see how the efforts at Camp Pendleton mesh with Mrs. Obama’s nutrition push. The short answer is, they don’t.

According to the article in the Times, there are more than two dozen retail restaurants on the base, many of them fast food establishments such as McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts and Sonic. These units are, of course, exempt from the Pentagon’s recent initiative, led by the first lady, to improve the nutritional value of meals served in military dining halls.

The article went on to quote several base personnel about how much they crave fast food and little they enjoy the food in the dining halls.

“I only go to the chow hall when I’m low on money,” said one Marine. “I’m just not a chow hall fan,” said another.

To be fair to the foodservice personnel at Camp Pendleton, a reporter can choose which comments and quotes he or she includes in a story, so we don’t know whether positive comments about the base’s own foodservice program were made—or even solicited, for that matter. But there is no denying this fact: the Department of Defenses estimates that it spends more than $1 billion a year on medical costs related to the weight-related problems of military personnel.

This is going to be a tough nut for the military to crack. Military bases are really a hybrid: part college campus, part corporate office. A college campus does have the luxury of controlling what foodservice comes onto campus, and students have the ability to go off campus when they crave something that isn’t offered within the university boundaries.

Many soldiers, sailors and airmen, while of college age, are actually holding down a job, and they seldom have the luxury of going off base for a meal when they are on duty. So, the base brings often the food to them, so to speak.

“We have 50,000 to 60,000 people here a day,” a representative of the Marine Corps’ Community Services office was quoted as saying in the Times. “They need food choices.”

Let’s Move is gaining a foothold in school districts, where federal, state and local governments can work together to mandate the type of food made available to elementary and secondary school students. The government’s power over the dining choices of its own military personnel, however, is much more tenuous.

I’m not suggesting the government ban unhealthy food from military bases. But I do believe Michelle Obama is going to have a much harder time improving the nutritional health of our men and women in uniform.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
usa map regions

From global flavors to clean labels, it’s clear that some buzzworthy noncommercial menu trends are universal. But FoodService Director ’s 2016 surveys have revealed some noteworthy differences within segments in the Northeast, South, Midwest and West regions. We combed through data from our College and University Census, Hospital Census and Long-Term Care/Senior Living Census for the most surprising variations in menu trends and expectations.

1. Plant-based dishes are on the rise at Midwestern colleges and universities

Seventy-seven percent of C&U operators in this region say...

Industry News & Opinion

Ithaca College is turning to new solutions to address overcrowding at a dining hall that is already understaffed, The Ithacan reports .

The Ithaca, N.Y., school's Terrace Dining Hall has seen a large influx of students this year after being renovated, causing lines to wrap around the dining hall.

To ease congestion, Sodexo Area General Manager Jeffrey Scott told The Ithacan that the eatery has added a separate entree line, as well as signage displaying menu items at less-crowded food stations in an effort to draw students to the other side of the dining hall.

The...

Menu Development
mac cheese pizza

Anybody think the popularity of mac and cheese has played out? Anyone?

More likely, foodservice directors are trying to bake new life into the comfort staple by tweaking the presentation and components. Here’s a snapshot of how that rejuvenation effort looks in streetside restaurants.

Industry News & Opinion

Noncommercial foodservice operations and other employers would be spared from costly new overtime pay regulations if 21 states succeed in the legal challenge they jointly filed yesterday.

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to set aside the rules, which are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1.

If the court rejects the request, restaurants and other businesses will be required after that date to pay overtime to any salaried employee who works more than 40 hours in a week and earns less than $47,476 on an annual basis.

The...

FSD Resources