Food is a way to connect with our families, new friends, and with our own bodies. It's such an important part of our everyday lives that sometimes it's easy to take mealtimes for granted, especially if your every day has been more focused on survival. A few organizations are working to reconnect wounded warriors with their families and the simple pleasures in life through food.
The Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that works to meet the needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers, gives warriors and their guests the opportunity to learn from expert chefs during Wounded Warrior Project cooking demonstrations. It's all part of the Jacksonville, Florida, based organization's effort to give American veterans hands-on help to maintain their physical health.
The Wounded Warrior Project helps injured veterans and their families learn to make healthy choices through nutrition and cooking classes. It can be difficult for members of the military who are used to regimented physical training and mess hall meals to come home to unlimited choices and fewer restrictions on what they can eat and when.
"Wounded Warrior Project events like this one have opened my mind to eating healthier foods and to making better decisions when preparing meals," Navy veteran Luis Gonzales, who attended the class with his wife, said in a press release about the cooking program.
Class participants learned how to make salads and lentil soup.
"The cooking class was very informative," said Navy veteran Leon Beard. "My wife and I learned some great tips from the chef, like the importance of selecting the right olive oil when cooking, as well as the correct way to chop onions, garlic, and lettuce. We made a chopped chicken salad that was so delicious we made it at home the following week."
In addition, WWP events provide opportunities for injured veterans to form bonds with one another, their families, and their communities. It can be especially difficult for veterans who are still dealing with injuries to eat healthy, or sometimes just to sit down and enjoy a meal. They may be running from medical appointment to medical appointment, dealing with mounds of paperwork, and sometimes doing it all far from home. Having strategies to cook healthy meals is important, but so is having time to reconnect with their families over those meals.
Serve Our Willing Warriors, a nonprofit organization that operates the Warrior Retreat at Bull Run in Northern Virginia, has a Visiting Chef program where world-class chefs create five-star dining experiences for injured service members and their families who are staying at the retreat.
The meals are designed to give the families a chance to experience a special meal, but it often becomes more than just a meal, according to an article in The Washington Post. It's a safe space for families to relax and for the wounded veterans to find a sense of normalcy back in civilian life. The Post article says:
"The soldiers with PTSD tend to keep to themselves, but something about the camaraderie of the kitchen, with its hierarchy and its focus on tasks, can give the visitors at Bull Run a safe place to talk about their experiences."
The program expenses, including the food and the chefs' time, is all donated, and the warriors and their families often participate in making the meal.
For veterans staying at or near a Veterans Administration medical center, it can be tough to get a home-cooked meal. That's where the Fisher House comes in. Vets and their families staying at one of the 77 Fisher Houses in the United States may find a local group of volunteers coming in to prepare a meal for them.
Cooking dinner in the house's open kitchen gives volunteers the chance to chat with veterans and their families, and sitting down to eat a meal together is a special experience. As one vet's family said, "Once you cook for someone, you're family."