With the rise of locally sourced markets, more affordable organic food, diet-centric fitness regimes, and the growing foodie craze, there’s a lot of incentives to eat better and healthier food.
But let’s be real, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a farmer’s market near a military base where you can buy your kale, quinoa, and tofu salad, or a good cut of grass-fed steak. So what’s a hungry and health-conscious service member going to make in his barracks room with just a microwave?
Fortunately, we’re not the only ones who have wondered about this, so we asked Warrant Officer Edmund Perez, an Army chef and a former host of the Pentagon Channel’s cooking program “Grill Sergeants,” to help us answer this question.
Well, to start, Perez told us, go to the freezer section of your grocery store and look for meals you can steam in a bag.
Perez recommends “steam bag” pasta, chicken, or vegetables, as a good starting point. Next, you want to make sure it’s healthy, or at least semi-healthy.
“Read the back of the label to make sure there’s no preservatives in it and make sure it’s flash frozen,” explains Perez. “What that means is they basically cooked it real quick and instantly froze it, so it’s got no preservatives, no additives in it. You’re basically cooking it by steaming it in a bag.”
Then you can put the finishing touches on your meal by making, or buying a sauce, or simply adding some olive oil and salt and pepper before tossing it together. And there you have it, you’ve got a good low calorie meal that you’ve made in the microwave.
Skeptical? That’s fair, which is why we asked Perez, who’s been cooking for the Army for the last 15 years, to lay out a three-course meal you can make in your barracks room.
The first course.
Let’s start with a salad and we’ll keep it simple. Get some lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, maybe even some fruit if you like to add apples or dried cranberries to your first course. Put that together on the counter space you have and then set it aside.
Next you’ll want a dressing.
“Let’s say you want to make a really healthy vinaigrette,” says Perez, who explains that your ratio of oil to acid is three to one.
For example, you can use three ounces of grapeseed oil and one ounce of apple cider vinegar, with some french thyme, salt, pepper and a little bit of dijon mustard to bind it.
Perez also recommends tossing your dressing into the shaker bottle most service members have for their pre or post-workout.
“Shake it to death until it’s all combined,” says Perez, noting you should use kosher salt, because it dissolves better and has less sodium than your average table salt. Though it’s still salt, so use it in moderation.
So your first course is done.
Now the main dish.
In this case, let’s go with a pre-cooked chicken breast and vegetables with couscous, all of which you can find in steam bags.
“All I need to do is basically reheat,” explains Perez, adding that you should stay away from the meals with the sauces already mixed in since they have a lot of preservatives.
Once your chicken, veggies and couscous are steamed, melt some unsalted butter in the microwave, toss it with the chicken real quick, adding seasoning to taste, and then lay it on top of your veggies and couscous.
“That’s a good tasty meal right there,” adds Perez.
So you’ve got a salad and a good entree. How about desert?
“Most guys have access to a fridge, so buy cake mix, make the cake mix, put it in a bowl, a microwavable individual single service bowl, and you microwave it for five or six minutes, now you have cake,” says Perez.
Next, you take a scoop of peanut butter and heat it for 30 seconds, but you need to make sure you watch it, don’t just walk away, because peanut butter has a lot of sugar and burns very quickly. Once it becomes loose, you take it out, and frost the top of your cake.
If you want to get really fancy you can add a fruit topping, Perez said.
Next, you’ll take some fruit preserves, apricot, strawberry, or raspberry is good, but really anything with chunks will do, and heat that up the same way you did with the peanut butter. When that’s done you can add it to the top of the cake.
If you really want to get into your barracks chef routine, substitute the preserves with some fresh fruit that you cut up and mix into a sauce with a granulated sweetener, like sugar.
Then add the fruit sauce, putting the final touches on your peanut butter frosted cake, and now you’ve got a three-course meal that you made in the barracks. With a microwave. Not bad.