Starting early next year, rations for Marines will be overhauled again. Called “Fueled to Fight,” the dietary program will emphasize nutrient-dense foods. The goal is to enhance members’ physical and cognitive performance through nutritional fitness.

When the U.S. Marine Corps was created in 1775, a resolution passed by the Continental Congress decreed that service members should be fed three pints of peas or beans a week, a pint of milk per day, a pound of bread each day and a daily pound of beef, salt fish or three-quarters of a pound of pork.


The ration was hearty and nutritious, but there was a problem. It was difficult to secure those foods for the troops, especially during winter. So corned beef became a staple, lard or butter was added to the food plan and potatoes and turnips were substituted for the beans and peas.


But even with the changes, those foods –– without refrigeration or modern transportation –– were hard to come by. Vegetables, milk, butter and fish disappeared from the diets of service members in the late 1700s and didn’t return for more than a century. The lack of fresh vegetables and fruits exposed the men to scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency that was one of the most dreaded of military diseases.


Dr. Benjamin Rush, a prominent physician and Army surgeon in 1777-1778, wrote, “Fatal experience has taught the people of America that a greater proportion of men have perished with sickness in our armies than have fallen by the sword … The diet of soldiers should consist chiefly of vegetables. The nature of their duty as well as their former habits of life require it.”


Much has changed since then, including knowledge about nutrition. Marine Corps chow halls in 2011 offer all kinds of foods, including fried chicken, corn dogs and apple pie.


Starting early next year, rations for Marines will be overhauled again. Called “Fueled to Fight,” the dietary program will emphasize nutrient-dense foods. Marines will see more fresh vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, such as brown rice and multigrain rolls, grilled and baked meats and omega fatty acid-rich fish, such as salmon.


There will be salad bars packed with colorful veggies, legumes, nuts and low-fat dressings. Among the desserts will be frozen yogurt and fresh fruit.


Food items will be marked with red, yellow or green tags indicating nutritional value. Fried chicken, for example, would get a red tag, while baked chicken would get green tag. This “stoplight” color coding is used by other branches of the military.


Marine Corps mess halls serve 28 million meals annually. According to Marine Corps Times, the goal is to enhance members’ physical and cognitive performance through nutritional fitness.


Although scurvy is no longer a threat, it’s good to know nutrition finally is being recognized as a tool that can aid our service members in their mission.


Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.