America’s First Corps’ Nutritional Performance Course serves up Soldier readiness at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Photo By Spc. Karleshia Gater | Spc. Sindy Baron, a participant in the nutrition performance course cook-off shops for healthy food items so her and her team can cook the best healthy meal, April 22, at the Fort Lewis Main Commissary. The teams must explain the nutritional value, cost, and cooking time to a panel of five judges at the Joint Base Lewis McChord Culinary University. The judges grade the dishes on taste, nutrition, creativity, and presentation. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Karleshia Gater)



Story by Sgt. Christina Westover 

I Corps 

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The best way for Soldiers to remain physically fit is to work out and eat healthy. Many Soldiers feel as if they don’t have time to make their own food, or that they don’t have the tools to do so, especially in the barracks. As a result, these Soldiers resort to eating fast food or unhealthy snacks, which can be filled with unnecessary calories and sugars.

The Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) initiative aims to optimize Soldiers’ personal readiness and improve the health and fitness of the force by providing optimal care and support for Soldiers.

At Joint Base Lewis-Mcchord, America’s First Corps’ H2F program recently offered Soldiers enrolled in the Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training (P3T) program an opportunity to enhance their readiness, nutritional knowledge and wellbeing by hosting a nutritional performance course and cooking competition, April 20-21.

“We have many different classes on nutrition, food insecurity, and other ]health related classes throughout the year,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Lawton, the P3T non-commissioned officer in charge. “We chose the pregnancy and post-partum group for this nutritional performance course because they are the future. We want to ensure that they have the knowledge to help start the healthy mindset at an early age, so that their children can be healthy as well.”

The nutritional course for future and new mothers included a tour of the JBLM Main Commissary, where professionals helped the Soldiers identify dietitian-approved and “green thumb” options that are available within the store.

“I didn’t realize how much it had to offer until we did the tour of the entire commissary,” said Sgt. Reign Schuster, a dual-military Soldier with the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade who participated in the course. “To see the time and effort that the commissary puts in to ensure that we get the nutrients that we need, it definitely seems undervalued, unfortunately. I think that all Soldiers should have a tour to fully understand what the commissary can provide.”

The commissary food is labeled with green, yellow, and red codes to signify what food is healthy, moderately healthy, and not healthy based on sugar content, fat content, sodium content, or other nutrients.

“Our mission is to sell below cost, healthy food,” said Leticia Martinez, the commissary officer for the JBLM Main Commissary. “Our job is to serve the military, and we’re going to do that in whatever way we can with the tools we have provided to us.”

After the commissary walkthrough, the Soldiers completed nutritional performance classes, which taught them what to look for in foods, such as protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vitamins. They also discussed a few basic kitchen techniques and how long each food item should be cooked.

“We now have our fueling station, which has all dietitian approved items at a grab-and-go station at the front of the store,” said Martinez. “It makes it easy for Soldiers to come in, grab a healthy option and go so they can get back to work quickly.”

Sgt. 1st Class Francisco Delgado, the head cook for the JBLM Culinary University, alongside a team of dietitians, taught the Soldiers how to prepare a few meals with limited cooking utensils, before challenging the group to a friendly cooking competition.

“They are being judged on taste, nutrition, creativity, and presentation for all three meals,” said Delgado. “I taught them how to cook using the microwave and instapot and then let them have free reign to cook their own recipes.”

A panel of graders were elected from company to corps-level leaders to and included a junior-enlisted Soldier with a relevant barracks-life perspective.

“Time is a commodity that we don’t really have,” said Col. Marcus Hurd, First Corps deputy surgeon. “When you’re a Soldier, and a parent, and a spouse – you have all of these competing efforts, and the one thing we don’t have enough of is time. This allows you to prioritize and make wholesome food in about 20 minutes, and see that what previously seemed impossible, is possible. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge and effort.”

The Soldiers were provided with money vouchers and a budget of $110 to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the judges. They were able to apply the knowledge from the previous commissary tour and classroom portion to help them prepare healthy meals in under an hour and a half.
The winning team will have their recipe published on the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) website for the recipe to be used as an example for healthy food options across the Army.

“My favorite part of this course was the hands-on cooking portion,” said Sgt. Latasha Kho, Shuster’s wife who is also in the 201st E-MIB. “It’s easy to watch someone make something, but to actually cook it yourself shows you how easy it can be, and you’ll be surprised at how good it comes out.”

Many of the participants stated that they gained knowledge from this course that they’ll continue to apply in their everyday lives.

“This will set the milestones for our daughter because we will start to create the habits for her to be healthy from the get-go,” said Schuster. “So, coming to this course as a new parent is a blessing. I hope all parents are able to come to a course like this so they can start setting those trends for their children and the next generation.”

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