“The Ridgeview kitchen serves more fresh items than ever before,” explains Aaron Kneeland, Ridgeview’s executive chef (pictured above). He estimates that about 80 percent of the food choices are made from scratch.
Several years ago when I was a new mom in my mid-twenties, I recall having a much different approach to food and meal prep than I do today. The quicker and easier, the better. I remember having a conversation with a coworker in the elevator one day, feeling pretty proud of myself as I explained how I had gotten up early that morning to assemble the Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff that I was going to serve for dinner that evening. All I had to do was reheat it when I got home. (I got a funny glance from the two guys standing next to us.)
I’ve come a long way since those days when speed, convenience and low budget were top priorities. Now, I enjoy cooking with friends and sharing recipes. I’m okay with meals that take longer than 10 minutes to prepare and I enjoy experimenting with fresh ingredients and new flavors. I consider myself a pretty decent cook now, but if I told you I love hospital food, would you still respect me as a cook?
Let me explain.
Today, I work at a hospital—Ridgeview Medical Center—and the food in the cafeteria at our Waconia campus is amazing! Trust me—I’m not the only one who believes so. Sure, we have some of the typical items you’d expect to find in any cafeteria such as country fried steak, meatloaf and burgers—people enjoy those, too—but the menu is also peppered with other unique choices that are more atypical and have become very popular with employees.
Aaron Kneeland, Ridgeview’s executive chef, explains that Ridgeview is really not all that different from other leading hospitals in the United States. He says that the trend is for hospital cafeterias to be set up like college cafeterias, with food stations offering different choices. “That’s what we’re doing too, on a smaller scale,” said Kneeland. “For example, we have a salad bar, fajita station and even a build-your-own Pho* bar. Overall, we’re offering more unique choices with fresh ingredients and some international foods, too. We’re not trying to be like a restaurant downtown, but there’s also no reason to serve food that people don’t like and won’t eat.”
You might expect Chef Kneeland to feel pressured to offer only healthy food choices simply because his kitchen is in a hospital setting, but that’s not the case. “We have stricter nutritional guidelines for patients and several have special dietary needs, which we meet and monitor, but our cafeteria is a bit different. It’s not our place to tell everyone how to eat,” says Kneeland. “It’s about choice and balance.”
That said, Kneeland does a great job of providing Ridgeview patients, staff, providers and volunteers with a variety of healthy choices each day. He changes his menu a few times a year to offer new and seasonal selections—and, within the mix, there are many healthy choices. It’s not hard to find grilled vegetables, unique salads, baked fish or chicken on the weekly menu.
I asked Kneeland if he would share a few favorite recipes with you—our friends in the community—and he graciously agreed to “down size” a few recipes for people to try at home. Here are a few of Ridgeview’s favorites:
*Pho is a Vietnamese soup consisting of broth, rice noodles, a few herbs and meat (primarily beef or chicken).