Sponsored by TenCate Protective Fabrics
By Yoona Ha, FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff
Lt. Ryan McKay was at the Riverside County Fire Department’s barbecue gathering about 15 years ago when one of his colleagues pulled him aside and walked him to the grill.
This caught McKay off guard. What could possibly lead to a chat in front of a barbecue grill?
“‘I’m going to teach you one of the most important skills that you’ll ever learn in the fire service,’ is what he said to me as he flipped open the grill and marinated the chicken breasts with pepper and a little salt,” McKay said, “and really that got me thinking. The important skill firefighters should have is the ability to take care of their diet by cooking those nutritional meals.”
That moment stuck with McKay. In the years since, he’s carved a place for himself in his kitchen, the same place he learned how to cook from his wife. Today, he’s carved a corner for himself in the culinary space as a firehouse chef and has appeared on shows like NBC’s “Food Fighters” and “Atlanta & Company.”
Eating is what brings us together, says McKay. But the problem is that our pattern of eating conflicts with our lifestyles.
Eat well to be well
More than 70 percent of firefighters are obese or overweight, which is a higher rate than the general population, as the CDC noted in a 2014 study. It’s not just obesity that’s causing problems for firefighters. Cardiovascular events account for nearly half of the deaths of on-duty firefighters, and obesity is also linked to an increase in the risk of different types of cancer.
With heart attacks killing roughly half of all firefighters who die in the line of duty each year, many health-conscious firefighters like McKay are trying to change that through TenCate Protective Fabric’s new initiative to promote firefighter safety and wellness.
“Firefighters are increasingly plagued by having a sedentary lifestyle, not having health coverage, struggling to prepare meals in advance with a compressed schedule, because a lot of firefighters have second jobs,” said McKay. “It’s an uphill battle that can be combated through awareness and education that speaks directly to firefighters.”
McKay is behind The Firehouse Chef, a blog filled with recipes that are tailored to feed firefighters with busy lifestyles. He describes the task of cooking as a form of daily self-care. There are plenty of benefits to cooking meals at home – ask McKay and he’ll rattle them off for you:
- More control over the flavors and textures of the food.
- Less money spent on eating out.
- More control over your portions, and most importantly, what goes into your food.
Keeping nutrition at the forefront should be every firefighter’s priority, says McKay, and there are opportunities everywhere for anyone in the fire service to become engaged and involved. You can try asking your fire chief to provide a platform for discussion, enlisting a local nutrition and wellness system for a free trial run in your department or even sharing free online resources like the ones on American Firefighter that offer advice on cooking, grocery shopping and taking health-conscious steps to eat well.
“I’ve always believed in taking a grassroots approach to nutritional advocacy,” said McKay. “If change happens, it starts from the bottom a lot of times, so don’t be afraid to speak up.”
This arsenal of our favorite quick and easy hearty meals is a great bet for cooking up something special. Here are our top picks:
Fire roasted salsa
Fire Roasted Salsa is part canned, mostly fresh and can be made all in a blender and in minutes. Get the recipe here.
Citrus salads are a bright, refreshing addition to your meal throughout all seasons. Find the recipe here.
ROASTED SPATCHCOCK CHICKEN WITH ROOT VEGETABLES
This chicken dinner recipe with root vegetables is a perfect as a weeknight recipe or as a dinner party special. Check out how you can make your own here.
Steel cut oatmeal
McKay’s heated oatmeal recipe has more texture and flavor than the oatmeal you’re used to. Here’s the recipe.
This addictive herb sauce is one that you’ll want to use right away and pairs well with meat. Find the recipe here.