American Legion Serves Healthy Food and Fellowship
Karen Kirkpatrick is combining food and drink with family, friends and co-workers for a Whole Health combination in rural Van Buren, Indiana. As kitchen manager of the Van Buren, American Legion she is extending the model of Whole Health into her community.
Van Buren, Indiana, population 812, lies about 20 minutes northeast of Marion, home to the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System. In this rural community the only options for dining out are the American Legion, a local bar, and a gas station. Kirkpatrick is offering a Whole Health menu which has people coming from as far as 30 miles to dine.
“The baseline for any healthy diet is community and family, which is something Veterans often struggle to experience because they are loners or widowed,” said Karen Shields, a dietitian with the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System. “Getting back in the community is very helpful for them and we provide that here.”
“I have been involved with the food service part of the Legion for 14 years but the Whole Health menu options have been running for about a year,” said American Legion Kitchen Manger, Karen Kirkpatrick. “Covid and all its ramifications slowed down the process, but I am proud we did not have to reduce or close during this pandemic.”
Kirkpatrick’s healthy meal program offers a wide variety of balanced dishes made from a Whole Health recipe book filled with healthy variations to Veterans’ favorite dishes like low-fat, whole-wheat macaroni and cheese, green kale salad, baked sweet potato fries and a salad bar. VA dietitian Karen Shields collaborated with Karen Kirkpatrick to identify recipes that would fit the tastes of the patrons, then Shields developed the recipe book for easy preparation by the cooking staff.
The American Legion serves more than 200 dinners, about 100 to-go orders a week, and breakfast and lunch six days a week. “When you come here, you have some kind of meat – sometimes two or three. You have vegetables, fruits and desserts; you can eat as healthy as you want to because there are so many choices,” said Robert Black, an Army Veteran (Vietnam 1969-1970). Black and his significant other, Barb Weaver come to the Legion several times a week despite living outside of the town. “We drive 30 miles to come here and it’s worth it!” he said.
Army Veteran Embree Tinkel (Korea 1955 – 1957) also visits several times a week. “My wife, daughter and I come to dinner every Tuesday because we love the chicken that is on the menu,” he said. “We have been eating at American Legion for about 20 years and were excited about the new menu items. They’re healthy but still very good!”
Similarly, Marine Corps Veteran Bill Foy has also eaten at the Legion for many years and is grateful to have the additional menu options. “I come here at least three to four times a week,” he said. “My wife has Leukemia and having these new menu options makes it easier to bring her healthy food when I get home.