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Keeping Airmen in Shape Means Providing Healthy Choices

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Pounds of lettuce used every day: 1,600. Pounds of steak cooked on Wednesdays: 1,400. Pounds of eggs cracked open every month: 240,000.
Master Sgt. Joe Ennen's role on base: priceless.

As food service flight chief, Ennen is responsible for making sure nobody leaves the base's dining facilities hungry. That means ensuring the 1,600 pounds of lettuce stay crisp throughout the day, the 1,400 pounds of steak are cooked to the proper temperature, the 240,000 pounds of eggs arrive fresh and staying on top of the seemingly endless list of tasks required to serve several thousand people several times a day. It also means providing airmen with healthier food choices--a request that has become more common since the Air Force enacted its Fit to Fight program a few years ago.

"Our troops are requesting healthier food items and we like to provide those choices for them," says Mary Balch, chief dietitian for the Air Force Services Agency.

She credits the trend in healthy eating to nutritional education that begins in primary school and a renewed interest in overall health and fitness among Air Force members. Some of the recent changes include posting calories, fat content and carbohydrates for most of the food selections at the dining facility and offering at least one healthy course on the main food lines. Additionally, the dining facilities regularly offer skinless turkey and chicken cuts opposite selections such as turkey a la king or chicken pot pie.

Sergeant Ennen says another popular feature is the specialty bar that allows people to build their own meals, such as tacos, pitas or Chinese plates.

"Many selections on the specialty bars are good for people who are watching their waist line," he says.

However, temptations are still out there. Staff Sgt. Shameka Gant purposely has been avoiding the cookies. Instead, she dines on veal, potatoes, mix vegetables, a small salad and iced tea. As someone who likes to eat right, Gant says she appreciates the selection of healthy entrees.

"If you want to eat right, you can do it here," says Gant, the information manager for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. "But it's up to the individual to make those choices and have the will power not to eat junk food."

Menu selections are examined and approved by the Headquarters Services Agency in San Antonio, using the Armed Forces Recipe Service (AFRS). The AFRS considers nutritional value, among other things, in determining what can be served.

Ennen hopes to have labels soon displaying calories, fat content and carbohydrates for food at the other main dining facilities, so people can make informed choices about their meals. Good health and quality of life are top priorities, Ennen says.

"I think all of us here that work in the dining facilities collectively are doing a pretty good job at keeping our customers happy," he says.

Photo: Master Sgt. Joe Ennen serves a customer Oct. 3 at the dining facility at a deployed location in Southwest Asia. Sergeant Ennen is chief of the food service flight for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Steve Staedler.

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