Think you have it rough making a Thanksgiving dinner for 15 family members?
The Food Services team at Akron Children’s prepares more than 100 meals for patient families spending their Thanksgiving in the hospital, as well as the doctors, nurses and support staff caring for them.
The meal is a well-organized annual effort as Tammy Strickland, food services supervisor, Barb Buzzelli-Andes, Kids Café manager, and Chef Cathy Bartko have been doing it for so long.
A traditional Thanksgiving meal, with turkey, side dishes and dessert, will be served from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. The turkey breasts will be freshly carved.
A meal deal, priced at $6.05, includes turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans or corn, a dinner roll, and a slice of pie. Hearty eaters can purchase extra servings, and coffee is free Thanksgiving Day.
“We typically go through between 16 to 18 turkey breasts, 9 – 12 pounds each,” said Strickland. “We are actually not super busy that day because the hospital tries as hard as possible to let children go home if they are at all well enough to do so.”
Even though they’re not home, many parents express gratitude for a taste of their favorite Thanksgiving foods whether they’re eating it bedside or in the cafeteria.
“We also view our role as a help for our busy and dedicated employees,” said Buzzelli-Andes. “I see nurses who leave at 3:30 p.m. taking a few meals home. It would be exhausting to do all that cooking after a long work day so we are glad to help them.”
And then there are the desserts. Employees can pre-order pies, banana bread and cookies to pick up and take home before Thanksgiving. There are usually extras for those who didn’t pre-order.
“Last year, we sold 152 pies to take home,” said Bartko. “In order of popularity, we have pumpkin, pecan, apple caramel nut, chocolate peanut butter, sweet potato, lemon crunch, Dutch apple and cherry.”
Whole pies range from $7 to $12.
Hollywood Squares, a peanut butter and chocolate layer cookie reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, are also very popular.
Most of the work on the meal begins in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning, but, for the bakers, Monday and Tuesday are crunch time with non-stop measuring, mixing, pouring, baking and boxing.
In addition to the Kids’ Café, the Thanksgiving meal is available for patients to order from their rooms all day. But all the regular kid-friendly options are also still on the day’s menu.
“If you are talking kids, you are talking chicken nuggets and pizza,” said Chef Cathy. “It’s not turkey.”