USO Jacksonville Focuses on Wellness and Nutrition Education for Military Families through Healthy Military Families Initiative

1/4 Photos

Graphic Courtesy - USO Jacksonville

2/4 Photos

Photo Courtesy - USO Jacksonville

3/4 Photos

Photo Courtesy - USO Jacksonville

4/4 Photos

Photo Courtesy - USO Jacksonville

For decades, the USO in Jacksonville, Fla. has been providing meals and smiles to our service members and their families through free dinners the day before payday known as ‘No Dough’ dinners.

These dinners gave our military communities the opportunity to take a night off from kitchen duty and make new friends, all while enjoying a warm meal provided by our donors, volunteers and staff.

Because of the popularity of this program, USO Jacksonville recognized an opportunity to expand this idea and work with local military leadership, and community foundations to inform, educate and assist our military families by focusing on health, wellness and nutrition education through a Healthy Military Families Initiative.

In 2019 USO Jacksonville began partnering with local organizations Feeding Northeast Florida, and Humana Military to provide young military families with the critical resources and education they need to sustain healthy eating habits.

Since its inception, the program has grown in size and scope. The Healthy Military Families Initiative provides fun and educational events that encourage better holistic health and wellness for active duty military families E-5 or below.

“The Healthy Military Families Initiative has been a personal endeavor of ours for the past three and half years,” said Mike O’Brien, Executive Director, USO Jacksonville. “We are honored to support our military and their families with nutrition education.”

USO Jacksonville offers Nutrition in the Kitchen, a live, local, and interactive healthy cooking show held bi-weekly on the USO Jacksonville’s Facebook page and streamed on Zoom. The beauty of this program is it provides military families an opportunity to learn how to prepare healthy meals utilizing the same fresh ingredients they recently received from USO Jacksonville’s community partners, Feeding Northeast Florida and Humana Military during food distributions.

Another key component of the Healthy Military Families Initiative is Healthy Food Preparation. Most recently, Chef Art Smith, Oprah’s Former Executive Chef, and owner of several restaurants in the U.S., including one in Disney Springs, ‘Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming,’ lent his expert advice. Chef Art visited USO Jacksonville’s Mayport location and spoke to USO and kitchen staff working in Naval Station Mayport’s Galley (cafeteria) on how to properly menu plan and prepare healthy dishes throughout the week. Chef Amadeus, winner of the Food Networks Extreme Chef, and founding Member of American Culinary Federation Mid Florida East Coast Chapter, also shared his culinary expertise, hosting a live cooking show and preparing a healthy meal on USO Jacksonville’s Instagram channel.

As USO Jacksonville’s Healthy Military Families Initiative continues to grow, they will soon expand their Nutrition Education programming, working together with partner organizations such as the American Heart Association and the University of Florida who will provide registered dieticians to assist young enlisted families in better understanding and implementing proper nutrition and exercise routines.

In addition to enhancing nutrition education for our young enlisted families, USO Jacksonville will be offering Healthy Living Alternatives in partnership with the YMCA focusing on physical fitness and exercise. USO Jacksonville is working with other partners to develop Financial Literacy Programs, ensuring the financial wellness needs of our military families are being met through budget classes, enabling them to make informed decisions when heading to the grocery store with a budget in mind.

Since its inception, USO Jacksonville’s Healthy Military Families Initiative has served, informed and educated over 7,040 service members and their families, supporting over 1,760 households with 3,520 children under the age of 16.

“Our intention at USO Jacksonville is to support our service members and their families, working with local military leadership and our partners to ensure our young enlisted families’ needs are met,” O’Brien said. “One of the ways we do this is through our Healthy Military Families Initiative, which allows us to deliver our mission of keeping our service members connected to family, home and country, while serving, informing and educating them and their families on healthy eating habits.”

  • USO Staff: Megan DeGance and Sarah Kemp contributed to this article

More from USO