On the SAF menu: Meals with fewer calories

Above: Cookhouse food from a commercial vendor at Kranji Camp III. Above, left: A lower-calorie meal with less rice and one less meat serving.
Above: Cookhouse food from a commercial vendor at Kranji Camp III. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Above: Cookhouse food from a commercial vendor at Kranji Camp III. Above, left: A lower-calorie meal with less rice and one less meat serving.
Above: A lower-calorie meal with less rice and one less meat serving.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Ongoing trial for servicemen in non-combat roles part of drive to serve healthier food

SINGAPORE - Two cookhouses have been trialling lower-calorie meals for servicemen in non-combat roles since June, as part of efforts by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to serve healthier food.

Such meals contain about a quarter less in calories - between 750 and 800 kilocalories (kcal) - compared with about 1,000 kcal for a typical lunch, so as to help reduce the risk of obesity and chronic diseases. These servicemen might receive less rice and one less serving of meat.

"The SAF feeds our soldiers well so that they are energised to meet a wide spectrum of operations and training requirements," said Colonel Terry Tan, the chief supply officer.

"While we recognise that healthy eating is a personal choice, the SAF strives to inculcate in our soldiers lifelong healthy eating habits. These habits will improve their health and consequently benefit the nation."

There are four categories of activity that serve as guidelines for calorie intake for servicemen in different units and roles.

The required calories range from 2,500 to 4,000 kcal a day, with more than 500 menu selections to meet these needs.

Soldiers doing strenuous physical activities, such as a 24km route march, require the most amount of calories, and are given an additional four snacks on top of three daily meals.

In the 1960s and 1970s, cookhouse food was prepared by in-house military chefs, and food quality and consistency might have been less of a priority, Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Melvin Ang, head of the supply resource branch at Headquarters Supply, said at a media briefing yesterday.

The focus on lower-calorie food is part of the SAF's latest effort to provide healthier meals since it adopted menu planning guidelines in the early 2000s.

Preparation of cookhouse food has been outsourced to vendors since then.

Since last month, a mix of 20 per cent brown rice with 80 per cent white rice has been served at all SAF cookhouses. This follows a trial that started in August last year.

Some of the guidelines adopted also include avoiding a repeat of the same dishes within three days, not having more than one processed item such as nuggets and fish cakes in a meal, and limiting deep-fried food to once a month.

There is also no added MSG in any of the food served at cookhouses.

Later this month, there will be two panels set up - one with the Health Promotion Board, and one with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority - to advise the SAF on diet and food safety matters.

Senior nutritionist Regina Lim, head of the ration section at Headquarters Supply, said every meal is designed to be well balanced, which includes having all the major food groups, such as meat, vegetables, staples and fruit.

However, units may request changes to the menu to boost the morale of soldiers from time to time, she added.

A 20-year-old full-time national serviceman serving in a combat role, who declined to be named, said it is important for servicemen to know the caloric content of the food they consume.

"They need to be convinced that this change is good for them if it is to have long-term effects," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'On the SAF menu: Meals with fewer calories'. Print Edition | Subscribe