GRUNDY CENTER The menu at the East J Caf in Grundy County Memorial Hospital is tempting - shrimp skewers, chicken cordon bleu, and Tuscan vegetable soup are just a few of the items available recently. A lunchtime staple for hospital associates, the salad bar is stocked with a variety of greens, chopped vegetables and healthy salad toppings.
In addition to serving hospital employees and members of the public in the East J Caf, the Food and Nutrition Department of the hospital prepares meals for hospital patients and Long Term Care residents. Close to 280 meals are prepared daily, and the emphasis on fresh and healthy foods is clear with a peek at the menu.
"Our menu choices reflect today's knowledge of what foods are right for a healthy individual, as well as for someone who has a chronic disease to manage, such as diabetes or heart disease," says Food and Nutrition Services manager Crystal Petersen, a registered dietitian who oversees menus for the hospital and Long Term Care.
Chef Breanna Staker, who is a graduate of the culinary program at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, emphasizes fresh in her daily soups, salads and entrees. A glance at the food for today's lunch preparation reveals fresh mushrooms, onions, and peppers waiting to be turned into Tuscan Vegetable Soup. "Fresh tastes so much better," says Chef Bre, who says close to 100% of each hospital meal is made from scratch, using fresh fruits and vegetables rather than canned. Chef Bre's favorite part of meal preparation is creating entres, and she enjoys placing an emphasis on Mediterranean-style dishes that feature intense flavors and bright colors.
To bring attention to the benefits of locally produced food, Petersen and Staker plan a Farmers Market Tour. They'll visit three local Farmers Markets to highlight the fresh foods available, while passing out recipes and tips for using in-season produce. They'll also be purchasing fresh foods to prepare and serve to the public in the East J Caf. The hospital also maintains garden plots in the Grundy Center Community Gardens to provide fresh vegetables and herbs.
"Local food is much tastier because it's grown in its natural climate, and you're purchasing it right from the grower shortly after it is picked," says Chef Bre. She looks forward to the Farmers Market Tour, which has its first stop on Thursday, July 25 at the Grundy County Fair, where the Grundy Center Farmers Market will be set up from 4:30 6:30 p.m. Watch for other Farmers Market Tour dates in Gladbrook and Conrad.
If you'd like to enjoy Chef Bre's fresh menu items, the East J Caf is open to the public Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., serving lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The East J Caf will be serving food purchased at the Farmers Market Tour at the Grundy County Fair in its Friday, July 26 lunchtime menu. The weekly menu can be found on the hospital's website at www.grundycountyhospital.org.