(NaturalNews) If you've ever known anyone who's been in the military, no doubt you've heard horror stories about how bad the chow is. In fact, one of a service member's favorite pastimes is joking about the food. But in the new age of military cuts, some in the nation's armed forces are taking a hard look at ways to cut budgetary fat, and one area that is getting serious attention is how to cut the Pentagon's annual healthcare budget.
Led by Lt. Col. Sonya Cable, the Army's leading dietician with the Chief of the Human Dimensions Division within the Initial Military Training Center of Excellence, the Pentagon is looking at remaking boot camp chow halls into facilities that encourage better eating habits.
To accomplish that mission, Cable is touting a "green, amber, red" labeling system. Green-labeled foods contain messages like "premium fuel for the soldier athlete" and "nutrient rich," while red-tagged foods like bacon and apple pie are marked with the warning, "limit intake." Soldiers are advised to eat green-labeled foods frequently.
Cable, who said the same color-coded labeling system should be used in public schools as well, said her eyes were opened to the need for better soldier nutrition some years ago during a visit to Ft. Jackson, S.C.
Healthy soldiers mean health bottom lines at the Pentagon
"My eyes got opened very quickly that it really is a community," she said during a recent seminar focused on military nutrition at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
"We talk about a village that raises a child. Well a community develops a brand new soldier, too. And that's what we found there," she said. "When I got there our dining facilities were typical dining facility type styles, you know, the fried foods, salad bars existed.
"We had soda machines and the pastries were, you know, typical cookies, cake, cakes, pies, all of those types of things," she continued. "Well, then we had the challenge of, okay, now we're taking former civilians, now developing into soldiers and trying to develop them."
Hence was born the Soldier Fueling Initiative and Cable's interest in changing soldier eating habits - with the goal of keeping them healthier, which ultimately helps lower the Pentagon's healthcare expenses.
Today's Army dining facilities, she said, contain far fewer fried foods. "Hydration stations" have replaced soda machines. And, says Cable, the program has expanded from initial training stations to all training facilities.
Cutting the fat from soldiers and the budget
The Soldier Fueling Initiative may not have begun with an eye toward reducing the Pentagon's annual healthcare budget, but it will fit in with the Defense Department's efforts http://www.armytimes.com.
The Pentagon's healthcare budget efforts amounts to about $50 billion annually, or about one-tenth of the entire defense budget and an amount equal to what the U.S. spent in the Iraq theater of the Global War on Terror in 2011.
Ten years ago, its healthcare budget was $19 billion; in five years the costs are expected to rise to $65 billion. So it behooves the Pentagon to encourage its soldiers to eat healthier.
The quest for healthier troops has also been taken up by first lady Michelle Obama. Last month she launched an effort with the Pentagon during a visit to Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas to replace some mess hall food items with more fruits, vegetables and low-fat items.
"When you make healthy eating a priority in your lives, the rest of us are more likely to make it a priority in our lives," Obama told airmen during a visit to the base dining facility.