Choosing the Right Foods

LAST UPDATED: May 25, 2023

Whether you are eating at home or eating out, you can maintain a performance diet with proper planning and tools to help you make the best nutrition choices.

Food is fuel for one of the most sophisticated machines in the world—your body! Properly fueling your body means eating plenty of fresh fruits/vegetables, whole grains, beans, and moderate amounts of lean protein and healthy fats.

Many Soldiers are busy and rely on food that comes from a restaurant (fast-food, take-out, or sit-down). You may also be eating more convenience foods or pre-packaged/highly processed foods because they require very little preparation and cooking time.

Use the My Plate or recommended daily servings guides

Use My Plate to guide your food choices when shopping: Make ½ of your plate fruits and vegetables.


  • Make half your plate full of fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat a variety of colorful fruits. Choose mostly fresh or frozen.
  • Eat vegetables raw, steamed, roasted or grilled. Flavor with herbs and low-sodium spices.
  • Eat low-fat dairy options like low-fat milk, soy milk, and yogurt. Limit cheese.
  • Eat whole grains (look for 100% whole wheat). Choose quality carbohydrates; make half your grain choices whole grains. Limit refined (white) bread, pasta and rice.
  • Select lean proteins. Choose mostly protein like fish, lean poultry, beans. Limit red meat, bacon, cold-cuts, and other processed meats.
  • Choose heart-healthy fats (olive oil, canola oil) nuts, seeds, and avocados. Avoid trans-fats (fried foods, many pre-packaged foods).
For more help, visit Choose MyPlate.GovExternal Link
Remember to:
  • Choose quality carbohydrates like whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, rice, beans, lentils, fruit, milk, and yogurt.
  • Get vitamins and minerals through food first—don’t rely on supplements.
  • Make water your first choice for hydration.
Recommended daily servings by food group
** Recommended daily servings based on calorie needs.
* For additional examples of portion sizes by food group, visit Choose MyPlate  External Link.

** Recommended daily servings based on calorie needs.
* For additional examples of portion sizes by food group, visit Choose My Plate.
Recommended Daily Servings by Food Group** Unit of Measure What Counts as a Serving?*
8 cups of fruit and vegetables** What counts as 1 cup of fruit?* 1 medium-sized fresh fruit
1 cup of fresh or canned fruit
½ cup dried fruit
What counts as 1 cup of vegetables?* 2 cups of leafy greens
1 cup of cooked or raw veggies
1 small baked potato
3–8 oz. grains ** What counts as 1 oz of grain?* 1 cup dry cereal
½ cup cooked cereal, pasta, rice
1 slice of bread
½ bun or ½ English muffin
5–10 oz. proteins** What counts as 1 oz of protein?* 1 oz. cooked meat, fish, poultry
¼ cup cooked beans
1 egg
¼ cup tofu
1 tbsp. nut butter
½ oz. nuts (11-12 whole almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves)
3–4 cups of dairy** What counts as 1 cup of dairy?* 1 cup (8 oz.) of milk, yogurt
1 ½ oz. hard cheese
2 slices of processed cheese
1/3 cup shredded cheese
Added oils: Use sparingly (5–8 tsp. /day)** What counts as added oils?* Vegetable oil, margarine, butter, salad dressing, mayonnaise, coffee creamer, etc.
1 tsp. = approx. 5 g total fat (3 tsp. = 1 tbsp.)

Tips for eating healthier when dining out

Cut calories and/or reduce fat by choosing the following options.

  • Choose water, light-lemonade, unsweetened iced tea, or diet soda instead of regular soda.
  • Choose low-fat milk instead of a milkshake.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol; alcoholic beverages contain empty calories and can stimulate your appetite which can lead to over-eating.
  • Choose sandwiches with < 300 calories
  • Ask for mayonnaise on the side or skip it all together. 1 Tbsp. of mayonnaise has 100 calories! Substitute mustard for the mayonnaise.
  • Skip the special sauce.
  • Skip the cheese.
  • Order sandwiches with low-fat meat (turkey, lean roast beef, grilled chicken).
  • Ask for extra veggies on sandwiches.
  • Instead of fries, order a side-salad with low-fat dressing or a baked potato without butter (or, butter on the side).
  • Choose baked chips or pretzels over regular chips.
  • Bring your own side from home (raw carrot sticks, fresh fruit) and save money!
  • Choose entrees with < 500 calories
  • Look for menu items designated as healthier
  • Look for the “Go fo Green Apple” logo on menu items in MWR facilities
  • Avoid super-sizing; order a kids meal instead.
  • Order ½ portions or split an entrée with a friend or co-worker.
  • Choose baked, broiled, or grilled meats over fried meats.
  • Watch out for fat-laden sauces (Alfredo, cheese, or cream). Instead, choose marinara, vinaigrette, salsa, or mustard-based sauces and/or ask for the sauce to be put on the side so you can control the calories.
  • Stop when you are satisfied; take leftovers with you if you have access to refrigeration.
  • Order low-fat or vinaigrette dressing on the side.
  • Skip the cheese, croutons, or fried noodles (or, order them on the side so you can control the portions).
  • Substitute a side-salad with low-fat dressing, fresh fruit, or baked potato in place of a not-so-healthy side (French fries, onion rings)
  • Top salads with grilled chicken instead of fried chicken, pepperoni, or ham.

Go for Green® when eating in the Dining Facility (DFAC)

Go for Green® is a Department of Defense (DoD) nutrition program designed to help you identify healthy food and beverage choices in the DFAC. Food and beverage choices are color-coded either green, yellow, or red based on nutrition quality (fiber, sugar, degree of processing, type and amount of fat and overall wholesomeness). Look for the green, yellow, and red labels at the DFAC and pick foods/beverages identified as “Green” as often as possible.

Go for Green labeling guide
High Performance Foods Moderate Performance Foods Performance Limiting Foods
Premium fuel for the Soldier Athlete
Fresh and flavorful
Nutrient dense
Higher in calories
Lower in vitamins and minerals
Highest in calories
Lowest in vitamins and minerals
Go for Green®: Eat often Use Caution: Eat occasionally Warning: Eat rarely

Make healthy food substitutions throughout the day

Frequent consumption of typical fast-food and/or take-out food (burgers, fries, regular sodas, fried chicken, pizza, etc.) makes it easier for you to ingest more fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories than what your body actually needs. This can make you feel more sluggish and tired during the day. It can also make it more difficult for you to control your weight, and could increase your risk for chronic diseases like high-blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.

Meal time food substitutions
Instead of This Choose This
Greasy burger and French fries Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread and an orange
Glazed donut Cheerios with banana slices and 1% milk
Energy drink Water or sports drink
Beer and chicken wings Banana and chocolate milk
Bag of Chips Fruit smoothie
Pancakes with butter and syrup with a side of bacon Oatmeal with fruit and nuts, hard-boiled egg and low-fat milk

Snack time food substitutions
Instead of This Choose This
Chocolate chip cookies Granola bar
Potato chips Cup of fresh vegetables
Candy bar Banana
Cheese-flavored crackers ½ Peanut butter jelly (low sugar jelly) sandwich
Buttered popcorn Yogurt parfait
Soda Natural flavored sparkling water

Food substitutions to make at Anthony's Pizza
Instead of This Choose This
2 large slices of pepperoni pizza 2 large slices of cheese pizza
1 large regular soda Water, 12 baby carrots
Total: 1170 calories and 42g fat Total: 873 calories and 32g fat
Food substitutions to make at Burger King
Instead of This Choose This
BK Whopper Value Meal with mayo and cheese BK Whopper Jr. without mayo and cheese
Large Coke Fresh apple slices
Large fries Fat-free white milk
Total: 1520 calories and 66g fat Total: 360 calories and 10g fat
Food substitutions to make at Popeyes
Instead of This Choose This
Popeyes Chicken Tenders (3) Popeyes Blackened Tenders (3)
Large Cajun fries Green beans (reg. size)
1 biscuit Baguette
22 oz. Coke Water
Total: 1600 calories and 70 g fat Total: 300 calories and 6g fat

Get more food for your money

You can save money and stop relying so much on convenience foods by planning and preparing more nutritious meals. Shoppers save thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to commercial prices when shopping regularly at a Commissary External LinkOn average, Americans spend $1,200.00 per year on fast food!

*Total cost reflects approximate Commissary pricing and varies by location.

You could buy the following convenience foods (prices are examples only)
Convenience Foods Total Price
1 case (24 cans) of Coke® $7.99*
1 box of taquitos $6.87*

Or you could buy the following nutritious foods
Nutritious Foods Total Price
1 cucumber ($ 0.68) $6.30*
1 box of frozen Veggie Steamers ($ 1.50)
1 can of beans ($1.00)
1 pound of bananas ($0.69)
1 pound bag of brown rice ($ 1.24)
1 box of whole wheat spaghetti ($1.19) 
1 loaf of 100% whole wheat bread ($2.50) $8.68*
1 pound of chicken breasts ($2.49)
1 pound of baby carrots ($1.69)
1 pound of ambrosia apples ($ 2.00)

Look for ways to add more fruits and vegetables

  • Top your cereal or yogurt with fresh, frozen, or dried fruit. Drink < 8 oz. of 100% juice per day with breakfast (choose mostly whole fruits).
  • Pack or choose a fresh fruit at lunch or for your snack. Substitute it for your usual afternoon candy-bar! The money-saving option: Buy, wash, and prepare fresh fruit in-season and/or frozen fruit ahead of time. The easy option: Purchase pre-peeled and/or pre-cut fresh fruit.
  • For dessert, have a fruit salad, a piece of fresh fruit, or a serving of canned fruit (packed in its own juice or water).
  • Prepare your own fruit smoothie at home using frozen or fresh fruit. Store extras in the freezer for up to 2 weeks or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Make your own trail mix. Combine 1⁄4 cup of dried fruit with 1 oz. of nuts or seeds. Take it with you for a healthy, mid-afternoon snack.
  • Plan or choose at least one main meal centered around vegetables (plain baked potato, veggie soup, veggie stir-fry, or a bean dish). Then, add other healthy foods to round out your nutrition intake.
  • Order or pack a main dish veggie salad for lunch topped with lean protein (hard-boiled egg, lean chicken, low-fat cottage cheese, turkey, or ham). Go easy on the dressing.
  • Include a cup of green salad and a cup of cooked vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned) at dinner every night.
  • Substitute a green salad or a baked potato with low-fat toppings for your fried vegetable when dining out.
  • Pack raw, hardy veggies for a snack (carrot sticks, celery sticks, grape tomatoes, raw broccoli, bell-pepper strips). Bring a side of low-fat dressing, hummus, or nut butter for dipping if desired.
    • Save Money: Prepare veggies ahead of time (peel and/or cut). Store them in zip-lock bags or a well-sealed container.
    • Splurge: Purchase already peeled and cut veggies.
    • Make your own veggie smoothie at home using spinach or kale. Store extras in the freezer for up to 2 weeks or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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