By Patricia Deal

Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center public affairs

It can be a challenge for families to prepare nutritious, and appealing, meals while sticking to their food budgets. So imagine the challenge to provide a variety of healthy meals to feed a "family" of 1,200 a day yet stay within a severely strict food budget.

Captain Deana Lawrence, chief of Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Nutrition Care Clinic's Production Service, constantly searches for the most cost-effective ways to meet the medically-specific nutritional needs of patients and also offer healthy options for staff and visitors.

"When managing a (dining facility), the biggest factor to consider is the budget. I need to ensure we're buying and preparing ingredients that are healthier options, and still fit into what our guests see as a value and are willing to pay for," she said. "Offering lower prices for healthier products shows our guests that it can be done."

Lawrence routinely reviews the hospital dining facility menu to ensure that lighter food options are available, there's always a good balance in colors, textures, and flavor and that there are similarly priced items for each day.

"We've made significant changes to be as healthy as possible. We prepare our menu items with healthier ingredients such as cooking with canola oil and not shortening, using a salt substitute in two main line recipes and using non-fat dry milk powder for dairy in recipes. We've added sugar-free desserts and snacks and low calorie, caffeine-free lemonade."

Lawrence cited several other healthier food options available at the facility:

Reduced or low-fat cheeses such as one percent milk-fat sour cream, 50 percent less-fat cottage cheese and mozzarella cheese sticks, fat-free cream cheese, and part-skim milk shredded mozzarella cheese.

Egg substitutes available upon request.

Instead of pats of butter, a spread with no trans-fat is offered.

Soups offered at lunch, dinner and the late night meal; two vegetarian soups currently offered.

Wheat rotini and spaghetti noodles and brown rice available on the main line.

Vegetarian burgers and turkey burgers available on short order.

When it comes to the patients at Darnall, Lawrence has achieved success balancing their specific nutritional needs with

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