“The kids just loved it,” Milano said with a laugh, describing her cooking demonstration for roasting cauliflower.
The 53-year-old pediatric dietitian has spent two years at this military installation in South Carolina helping military families learn to cook and eat healthy food.
“I tell people that if they eat better, they will feel better, and they will be able to handle stress better,” she said.
Milano has taken her passion around the globe while raising two boys and managing 17 moves during her husband’s 33-year military career. Repeat moves, last-minute deployments and life on military bases often far from large cities means many military spouses find it difficult to maintain any kind of full- or part-time job, let alone a career.
Milano said she has been able to work or volunteer at various military schools and local hospitals, so she has kept abreast of research and trends in her field and maintained her accreditation.
Her message of proper nutrition and eating is timely, given the military’s health issues and budget concerns. The Department of Defense reports that nearly a quarter of entry-level candidates for military service are too overweight to serve or make it through their first enlistment. And medical care related to excess weight and obesity is costing the Defense Department $1.1 billion a year.
Fort Jackson, located outside Columbia, is the largest of the Army’s basic training bases, with more than 60,000 soldiers annually attending its schools and courses. More than half the Army’s female soldiers are trained there.
On the post, Milano holds cooking classes for spouses and helped develop the school course that introduces new fruits or vegetables to students over several months.
The children took a survey to find out which foods they didn’t like or knew little about, so unfamiliar foods like cauliflower, beets, spinach, apricots and blueberries were chosen. Milano said she talks about how each food is grown, why it has the name it does, and shows them how to cook or prepare various dishes. Recipes including the ingredient go home to parents, the commissary puts the ingredient on sale when it’s being studied and it’s served in the school cafeteria.
The dishes can be cooked within 30 minutes and focus on using fruits and vegetables instead of meats, whole-grain breads and pastas and other healthier alternatives.