A balanced diet is an essential part of preserving our mission readiness and ability to thrive in our personal lives and careers. Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, the OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. He has nearly 10 years of experience in counseling thousands of service members and their families on nutrition and health-related issues, having delivered close to 600 nutrition-related lectures to more than 20 commands and institutions across the DoD. With a passion for promoting nutritional awareness to enhance health and quality of life for individuals and populations, Lt. Cmdr. Sood hopes to offer simple and practical ways to maintain healthy eating practices 365 days a year. He is a firm believer in the phrase “food is medicine,” and that every individual should embrace this idea to help them think about food as a therapeutic agent, thus leading to food choices that are beneficial rather than detrimental to overall health.
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For those who live in the barracks, dining options may seem limited to a repetitive menu of sandwiches, TV dinners and ramen noodles. It doesn’t have to be that way! These days many foods can be prepared without a stovetop or traditional oven, taking the stress out of creating tasty meals in the barracks while keeping your weight in check.
March is Navy Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Enjoy the taste of eating right.” Whether you’re seeking the comfort of a home-cooked meal or just trying to make the best of affordable microwave-cooking, the following simple tips incorporating the 5 Principles of Resilience can help you eat healthy, “barracks style.”
- Plan Ahead. Make good use of the available space in your room, shelves, locker, refrigerator, and/or freezer, and always have them stocked with healthy meal and snack options. This will encourage you to eat what you have on hand and prevent you from eating out too often.
- Build a Sense of Community. Make meal plans with your friends, neighbors, and roommates. Eating together creates a community support system to enhance and maintain healthy eating habits. If you enjoy dining out with others, just work it into your weekly routine. Reserving eating out for social occasions helps to maintain a healthy body and budget. Opt for healthier menu items like steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted choices, and limit the fried stuff. Request gravy, sauces, and dressings on the side. A good practice is to share a meal or take half home.
- Don’t Just Rely on Premade Meals! With a little planning, you can still enjoy whole foods, even with limited refrigerator or storage space. Before your next grocery trip, make sure your list includes a variety of shelf-stable foods from each food group:
- Grains: Look for cereals or granola bars with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and few ingredients—read the labels! For a hot breakfast or snack with minimal prep, opt for instant oatmeal, cream of wheat or brown rice. Whole wheat or whole grain bread, tortillas, pita bread, and crackers are nutritious snack or sandwich options.
- Vegetables: Fresh, canned, or frozen, you can still get your veggies in with minimal prep!
- Fruits: Choose fruit cups or fruit canned in its own juice or water (vice “heavy syrup”) to avoid added sugar, or opt for dried fruit.
- Dairy: Choose low fat cheese or yogurt with minimal ingredients on the label. Try plain yogurt topped with your own fresh or dried fruit for added flavor.
- Protein: Explore quick options like tuna packets, fat free chicken breast canned in water, nuts, nut butters, canned beans, or Greek yogurt
- Choose low sodium canned and packaged foods with less than 480mg per serving on label
- Healthy Oils: Top off your salad or sandwich with olive oil, oil-based salad dressings, low fat mayonnaise, hummus, or spreadable butter alternatives made with plant oils. Look for a greater amount of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats and limit saturated and trans fats.
- Get Creative with Your Equipment. Microwaving doesn’t have to mean under or unevenly cooked meals. Use ceramic, heat-resistant glass or BPA-free microwaveable plastics, and incorporate tools like a microwavable plastic folding omelet pan or vegetable steamer. Be sure to rotate food often for optimal taste and even cooking. If you’re looking for more variety, try using a toaster, electric grill, rice cooker, or toaster oven (with the option to toast, bake, or broil).
- Watching your weight? Use an online tool like https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/ to calculate how many calories you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight and divide your calories into three meals per day. For example, if you need 1800-2000 calories daily, then strive for 600-700 calories per meal. Focus on heart-healthy, nutrient-dense foods from each food group.
Visit the “Eaters” link on the Navy Nutrition website for more resources on grocery shopping, meal planning, and healthy stress-free eating, barracks style!