The Army operates child development programs in over fifty percent of the states and several foreign countries, literally around the globe. Ensuring children receive healthy meals and snacks has always been a challenge. Although eligible programs participate in the USDA food program, there is a wide variety of food choices that qualify for reimbursement, some of which are not as healthy as others. Encouraged by Ms. Obama’s initiative to reduce childhood obesity, a series of nutritionally balanced menus were developed by Mary Ellen Pratt, Chief of Army Child Development programs.
The idea started after visiting several installation Army child development programs and seeing first-hand the types of food children were being served – both in quantity and quality. Ms. Pratt said, “I remember saying to someone after looking at a full food cart of fish sticks, saltine crackers, fried potatoes, corn and milk and saying, “Oh good, I haven’t missed watching the meal service” and her reply, “Oh, yes, you did – those are the leftovers.” The food was not just unhealthy, much of it was undesirable from the child’s perspective. Ms. Pratt goes on to say, “I also began listening to the ideas of the “Let’s Move” campaign and realizing I had the ability to really affect a huge number of children if I just did something to fix the problem.”
Using funding provided by an initiative from the OSD Office of Family Policy, the Army set about developing menus in keeping with accepted government nutritional guidelines. These guidelines served as a perfect blueprint for what became a complete cycle of menus. Although they are 4 – 6 week “cycle menus” they are also numbered 1 – 52 rather than Spring, Summer, etc. This is because fresh menu items which are readily available in Fort Polk, LA in April may not be available at Fort Greely, Alaska until July. An additional feature generates a report stating the approximate nutrient value by meal/snack, day, and week against the national recommendations for preschoolers. So parents can get a copy of the menu and also learn how much Vitamin A their child received on a given day.
The other motivating factor driving the development of these menus was the report “Too Fat to Fight” that was developed by Mission Readiness: Military Leaders for Kids. In this report, they stated that the original impetus for the nutritional guidelines was not just about good nutrition, but a matter of national security. Because of the obesity epidemic, many of today’s youth are unable to pass the military physical fitness standards. Many of the children the military cares for will follow in their parent’s footsteps and join the military. What the military does for children in their programs has the real possibility of affecting their adult lives.
This is part of a three prong approach in the Army Child Development program – the other two which have just begun implement the “I am Moving, I am Learning” Curriculum in their programs as well as purchasing portable gardens for all of their facilities. Additional information regarding children’s health and nutrition can be found at http://healthykidshealthyfuture.org/welcome.html.
Rosye Cloud is Director of Policy for Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Military Families at the White House