U.S. Army Europe's (USAREUR's) Fueling the
Team program is aimed at helping Soldiers,
Department of the Army civilians, and family
members across Europe eat healthier to improve their
performance and their lives. The program involves a variety
of agencies that are working together to transform
what is on the menu in the 24 Army dining facilities in
Europe and to teach the USAREUR team how to make
healthy food choices all of the time.
As the agency that oversees Army dining facilities in
Europe, USAREUR's logistics directorate is responsible
for the Fueling the Team program. Although it is
USAREUR's program for now, the hope is that what is
learned in Europe will become the model for the entire
Fueling the Team has its roots in the Army's Soldier
Fueling Initiative, a program started by USAREUR commander
Lieutenant General Mark Hertling when he was
deputy commander of the Army Training and Doctrine
Command. Under the Soldier Fueling Initiative, dining
facilities at a dozen basic training locations across the
United States were reshaped to provide healthier meals
designed to boost Soldier performance.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Donaldson, the USAREUR
food advisor when the program was planned and
launched, said the Army's Soldier Fueling Initiative is
a good model for basic training units, where diners are
trainees who can eat only in their unit dining facilities.
However, it does not quite fit the broader Army, where
Soldiers can easily opt for fast food
over dining facility fare. That is
why USAREUR's fueling program
has taken that basic training model
and modified it for the Army
community beyond basic.
|A medic and eye technician at
the Heidelberg Health Center
in Germany bakes chicken for a
unit event in the center's dining
facility under the direction and
guidance of the dining facility
staff. The meal follows the
guidelines of the USAREUR
Fueling the Team program,
under which baking has replaced
frying in many dining facilities.(Photo by SGT Joel Salgado)
Breaking Out of the Comfort Zone
The Soldier Fueling Initiative
removed deep fat fryers from dining
facilities without consulting dining
facility staff, but Fueling the Team
has left the decision to remove
deep fat fryers to dining facility
"In a garrison environment, we have to make it more
competitive and allow the managers to think about what
they are doing," Chief Donaldson said.
He explained that deep fat fryers have provided a comfort
zone to dining facility managers because they can
quickly prepare french fries or other backup items when
the dining facility runs out of what it planned to serve.
However, the Army and the larger American society are
moving away from fried foods, and food service personnel
have to get used to new processes and workflows.
French fries that took 3 to 4 minutes to cook in a deep
fryer, now take 10 to 15 minutes to bake.
"This process initially takes us out of the comfort
zones of what we are used to, or taught to do," Chief
Donaldson said. He explained that the workforce has to
be reeducated, and changes to the thought processes of
dining facility mangers and personnel are required. Personnel
will now have to spend a little more time planning
menus and costing out plates and meals to ensure that
they still stay within the Army budget.
Fueling the Team challenges food service personnel to
analyze how they can conduct business better and provide
diners with nutritious meals and nutrition information
about those meals. When customers know upfront
what they are getting, they can more easily make solid
Serving lines are being set up in ways that encourage
diners to choose more nutritious dishes, and the Army "Go for Green" labeling system designates foods as red,
yellow, or green based on their nutritional value.
In addition to replacing deep-fat frying with other
longer, cooking methods, some challenges to making
healthy meals have arisen, including the ability of food
service program personnel to get the ingredients and
equipment needed to create new menu items. Chief Donaldson
said it sometimes takes months to get supplies to Germany that can be in stateside dining facilities in a week or two.
|A 2d Stryker Cavalry
Regiment Soldier samples
turkey yakisoba and glazed
green beans during a "Go
for Green" lunch at the
Stryker Inn dining facility
at Rose Barracks in Vilseck,
Germany. The "Go for
Green" program labels
dishes served in dining
facilities by their level of
nutrition and effects on
Soldier performance. It is
linked to the Fueling the
Team program aimed at
helping Soldiers, civilian
employees, and family
members in USAREUR
to eat healthily. (Photo by Jeremy Buddemeier)
Changing a Frame of Mind
Chief Donaldson and other program officials agree
that the biggest hurdle for the program is overcoming the
mindset of diners, who rely on what Chief Donaldson
called a "fast food, drive-through lifestyle," and food
service personnel, who learned their trade before deepfat
fryers were the enemy.
Sergeant First Class Cheavlier Slaughter managed the
dining facility at the Miesau Army Depot in Germany
when Fueling the Team was put in place. He said the
toughest part about bringing healthier meals to his diners
is that it takes extra effort to come up with creative ways
to manage the program and bring to the menu appealing
new dishes that are healthier than past dining facility
"Some of the changes are the changes within our
thought process and creativity, to include our menus,
our production, and management," Sergeant First Class
Slaughter said. "We have to look for ways to buy the
most nutritious products, like brown rice or whole-grain
pastas. With creativity and production, we have to figure
out ways to prepare foods that give Soldiers the best
nutritional value (i.e., taking the skin off chicken or not
adding sugars or fats to some of our other food items)."
Cooking Like a Ninja
Captain Jeremy Brooks, dietitian at Landstuhl Regional
Medical Center, has been closely involved with Fueling
the Team. He said the program does take effort from
those who manage dining facilities and plan, prepare,
and serve meals, but healthier food is often unnoticeable
to diners. Captain Brooks and Chief Donaldson have labeled
the method of giving the diner something healthier without sacrificing taste “stealthy cooking.”
Stealthy cooking provides diners with the same menu
items, such as meatloaf and baked fish, but makes the
items healthier by using leaner meat and different varieties
of fish (higher in omega-3 fatty acids) and by changing
"We're reviewing a lot of the dining facilities' menus
and just making sure that they are using nutrition in
a stealth way," Captain Brooks said. "Maybe adding
whole-wheat pasta or whole-grain rice to dishes (in place
of) regular white pasta."
Sergeant Slaughter said the Miesau dining facility has
been quite successful at providing nutritious meals that
diners swear were prepared the old-fashioned, "deep fry
them all and let the gods sort them out" way.
"Our customer base doesn't really notice all the
changes we've actually done," said the dining facility
manager. "We took the deep-fat fryers out of our dining
facility, and our fried chicken is not fried any more. We
bake it in the oven, and to my surprise our customers
didn't notice it."
Variety and Creativity: Keys to Success
Captain Brooks admitted that there is a tradeoff in
the fueling program because removing all the so-called "bad food" from dining facility menus could drive diners
away. He said the program is about offering healthy
alternatives, not simply deleting less healthy ones.
"We usually try to offer a variety, so that it's not all
green," said Captain Brooks. "We are not trying to get rid
of all the fried food, but we are trying to offer healthier
choices so that the customer has an option if they want to
Dining facility staffs have begun competing to see
which facility can go the longest without using its deepfat
fryers, and other initiatives are prompting patrons to
make healthy choices. Chief Donaldson pointed out that
the Miesau dining facility team has risen to the challenge
of offering novel approaches to getting diners to eat
One creative approach is to offer meals that emulate
the combo meal menus offered at fast food restaurants
but with a healthy twist. The meal is called the "High
Performance Meal of the Day," and it includes the most
nutritious entrees from the meal menu.
Miesau also had a "Biggest Loser" competition that
included nutrition classes taught by dining facility staff.
The winner was a senior officer who lost 17 pounds in 60
days while eating in the dining facility.
Miesau's dining facility also has made its healthy eating
competitions and educational programs available to
all members of the community.
Educating the Public
In addition to dining facilities, Captain Brooks said
partnerships are being forged with agencies ranging
from wellness centers to commissaries to create "public health-type" initiatives to reach the entire USAREUR
team. The concept of performance is key to the program,
and the USAEUR team needs to know how to fuel their
bodies and minds to be at their best.
"We are trying to treat these people as athletes. It's not
just for performance nutrition; you've got to think, too,
of cognitive nutrition," he said. "Just because you sit
behind a desk doesn't mean you still can't eat healthy."
No matter what jobs people hold, their brains need to
function properly. Captain Brooks said this requires fueling
up with the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in
Fueling the Team program leaders are using a variety
of measures to gauge success. Chief Donaldson said the
program is using lessons learned, periodic diner surveys,
and headcount analysis to continually adapt and improve
during its year-plus "phase in" to dining facilities in
Captain Brooks added that other analyses adopted from
the original Soldier Fueling Initiative, such as looking
at Soldiers' eating habits before and after the program's
implementation, might be employed as well.
Of course, the real measure of whether the program
is working is the response of diners. Chief Donaldson
said he chats with diners to get a sense of their likes and
dislikes, and those discussions indicate that for the most
part diners appreciate the program and are showing a
growing interest in it.
Sergeant Slaughter said he has talked to diners, too,
and read the comment cards some fill out after their
meals. He said the consensus is that there is no consensus.
The program has mixed reviews.
The Fueling the Team program is a trailblazing effort
that could revolutionize the way the Army eats and its
overall level of fitness and performance. Chief Donaldson
said the program is a building block, a foundation for
accomplishing the Army's mission one Soldier at a time.
"Of course [the program's] success makes the Soldier
a better Soldier because they can recover faster from PT
[physical training] injuries or they have more energy
to last longer and accomplish their missions," he said. "And a stronger Soldier makes a stronger team, makes a