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Theme Meal - At least I didn't serve Tofu

Posted Oct 22 2010 8:36am




I really needed a good night of sleep to reflect on the past few weeks. This was probably one of the most exhausting non-triathlon related things that I have ever done..both mentally and physically.
A theme meal was the big project for my food service rotation. I have a bunch of other assignments and projects for this rotation but planning, preparing and serving a meal was the spotlight of this rotation. I spent the first 5 weeks of this rotation learning how the food service system works in the nursing home and familiarizing myself with equipment as well as ordering and preparing food in the most cost effective and safe manner. I still have 5 weeks to go to soak up as much information as I can but at half way, I feel really good as a dietetic intern, trying to learn how to be a dietary manager. I am certain that a dietary manager is not in my future as a career choice, but I am trying to make the most of it because I know that every part of this internship is valuable now and in the future. Becoming a registered dietitian is no joke and I can't wait to put all of my experiences and knowledge to good use in about 7 months!!

The concept of my "farm to table" theme came to me while I was in my community nutrition rotation. My preceptor at the time (who is now my mentor and friend) shared a similar passion with me which included fresh and wholesome foods. Rather than using the word "healthy" (which is often overused in our society) when talking about nutritious recipes or foods, we tried to replace the word with something more descriptive and specific. We would often say "powerful" nutrition because we both felt as if wholesome food...straight from the earth...is the most powerful food source that you can put into your body. Of course, there are lots of other products on the market that I eat on a daily/weekly basis that contain ingredients, but overall, I feel as if fruits and veggies are the most effective food sources to living a long and healthy life.

Of course, having a healthy relationship with food is the first start of having a healthy diet. Once I learned to stop seeing food as good or bad, I began to see food in a new light. Rather, I looked at foods as fuel to keep me going on a daily basis. I saw food as fuel for my workouts and for my every day activities. Fuel that wouldn't run out in an effort to keep me healthy, strong and happy for the rest of my life. I have never once saw my diet as temporary and I couldn't imagine eating any other way...for the rest of my life. There are no off-limit foods and because of that, I never feel deprived with a plant-based diet. There's always a time for everything..just not all at one time.

Creating a menu that would please the employees at the nursing home was no easy task. Prefacing that everyone at the nursing home is super nice and thoughtful (that includes the administrative staff, the residents, the kitchen staff and the nurses), I have observed many dietary choices that aren't the most heart-healthy options to encouraging a long and healthy life. Sadly, I don't have much of a say as a dietetic intern, especially when it comes to changing the menu for the residents or encouraging the staff to bring their lunch or choose non-fried options. I would certainly not be nice to someone because of how they eat but in my heart, I always want to inspire and motivate others to adopt more heart-healthy habits. As we all know, living a healthy life doesn't not happen over night. I can easily think back to my chicken finger + ranch dressing non-vegetarian days as a young kid, followed by my teenage vegetarian years which included a diet filled with shortbread girl scout cookies, air head candy, cheeze-its, Dr. Pepper, bagel bites, Ranch Doritos, midnight waffle house outings with friends and weekend McDonalds Cinnamon rolls. Oh, I can't forget Thursday school pizza, dipped in ranch dressing.

Having been a lacto-ovo vegetarian since the age of around 11 or 12 (because of animal reasons), my meat-free life has not always been a priority on my list of daily to-do's. Going strong as a vegetarian for the past 16 or 17 years, I am 100% that I will not eat meat or fish for the rest of my life. Now, more than ever, I feel young, healthy and clean and I believe that my diet supports my love for living life to the fullest. However, that is me and I believe in my heart that my role in life is to not persuade others to change dietary habits. Knowing that education is not the key in changing life-long unhealthy habits, I believe that the best thing I can do for others is to motivate and inspire.

My goal for my theme meal was not to educate. Certainly, we all know what to do to lose weight and increase activity but for whatever reason, it is easier said than done. While I was in the dietary office on Thurs, giving myself a well-needed yogurt and fruit break, I heard a nurse talking to another nurse about wanting/needing to lose 20 lbs. Hoping that the nurse would be excited about my meal, she passed on the salad and turkey burger and choose chips, salsa and cookies for her lunch. It was not my role to tell her what she should be eating but I felt as if at least I provide the option for her. I hope that when she is ready, she will have a few recipes in mind for a new start to living the rest of her life.

A day before the employee banquet and my theme meal, I heard that many people were hesitant about my meal. The administrator (who is really nice and allowed me to prepare the meal for their banquet) was also nervous about my meal because she was worried that the employees would not like it. She told the dietary manager that she needed to have another option for the employees so she suggested fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans. I was nearly in tears (although trying to stay strong as I anticipated many set backs in my "healthy" menu) when I heard that there was going to be another food choice at the banquet. All my hard work, time and effort to give the employees just one meal, on one day, that perhaps would open their eyes to a new way of eating and all of that would be thrown down the drain because of "another option". The day before the banquet, I told the administrator that I wouldn't carry on with my menu (even though I had already spent about 5 hours of planning and about 6 hours of prep work) because if you provide others with a non-healthy alternative, it is likely that the healthy option would be overlooked. Even if we all love living a healthy life, we all know that if pizza and salad is served over salad, pizza would be the first thing on our minds (and oh boy..do I love pizza!).
After expressing my thoughts about this meal and my passion for healthy living, the administrator told me that I could keep my menu and that the employees could tough it out for one day. I was thrilled but still extremely nervous and overwhelmed.

To sum up the event, I have never been so exhausted. Of course, with the stress of not knowing if the staff would even eat my meal, I have never worked so hard to prepare a meal for 60 people.
I made homemade mango salsa (spicy w/ jalapeno and non-spicy w/o jalapeno) which went along with original Sun Chips.
I made chocolate chip cookies, as well as raisin cookies from scratch.
I made a strawberry, mandarin and walnut salad and I cut up the fixings for the burgers.
Although the turkey burgers required minimal work (baked in the convention oven and then placed in a little chicken stock to maintain moistness..I wanted to grill them but because of lack of time, this was the only option), the turkey burgers and whole wheat buns were certainly something different for the employees at the nursing home.
It took a lot of hours to prepare this meal and I am really happy with how it turned out. I will admit that I have never been so nervous in my life. However, I didn't want to compromise my beliefs and I would not have felt right putting my heart and soul into this meal and not feeling good about what I was serving to others. Aside from meat and fish, I will never prepare a recipe that I won't eat myself. If the food is good enough to provide to others, there is no reason why I can't eat it myself.

Overall, I would say that most of the employees enjoyed the meal. Not sure if they will continue eating like they did at the banquet but I did receive a lot of comments that I did a great job preparing the meal and that the food was delicious and excellent. I was on the serving line for the meal and I couldn't believe how many people loved my salsa. I was quite surprised that the salad ran out by the end of the banquet.

Of course, I wasn't surprised by the comments I heard. I didn't take them to heart and I kept my mouth shut, but I just wanted others to try something new for only one day (or one meal). Again, my goal wasn't to educate but rather to inspire. If I could open up one mind, I guess I would feel like I accomplished something.

Here are some comments I heard...
"What's all this...healthy stuff?"
"Oh, I don't do healthy food"
"What kind of burger is that? That's the only meat you have? Are you serious that is the only meat you are serving?"
"I don't want a salad"
"Oh.. today we are eating healthy"
"Oh alright, I'll try it" (of course, several plates still had salad and burgers on them when the banquet was over..but at least they tried them)

On the bright side, I did have several people who came up to me wanting recipes and thanking me for preparing a healthy meal. I felt like everyone appreciated my effort in preparing this meal but I think only a handful really left the meal feeling like they did something great for their body.

Well, I guess I will leave you with pics of my Farm To Table Theme Meal. I will post recipes tomorrow...Without a doubt, I'm sure you all will LOVE them!
Thanks for your support.

6 quarts Mango Salsa





96 Homemade Cookies





60 Turkey Burgers



Salad and burger fixings




Condiments and Cookies
(it took a long time to put the cookies in bags, as well as the mustard, ketchup and mayo in little containers as well as the salad dressings)


The Final Product





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