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Let’s talk turkey: A Thanksgiving meal at the Milwaukee VA

Chef adding steaming hot water to Thanksgiving meal stuffing mixture.
Executive Chef Katherine Block prepares whole grain and cornbread stuffing for the Thanksgiving meal at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

Executive Chef Katherine Block was recently hired at the Milwaukee VA as part of a Veterans Health Administration modernization effort that aims to improve meal quality and bring a back-to-scratch approach to food service here.

A graduate of Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton with an extensive culinary resume, Block took on the meal-centric holiday of Thanksgiving this year with some notable changes. 

“Typically, a Thanksgiving meal is carb heavy, so we made some small changes with taste and nutrition in mind," she said.  “For example, we’re roasting Brussels sprouts rather than having green bean casserole, added whole grain bread to the cornbread stuffing and are serving a fresh cranberry sauce.”

Starting with small changes is important for building a strong foundation in nutrition, she said. Block and her expert team will provide the necessary platform for training motivated staff to execute Thanksgiving and future meals with pride and flavor. 

No one really wants to be in the hospital, especially during the holidays. But for many Veterans, their health care needs find them in exactly that situation. It is important to share special moments together -- even during a difficult time.

Making the holidays feel special to Veterans at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center is something both staff and volunteers prioritize.

“Vets are away from their family. It’s important to make them feel at home, to let them know we appreciate them," one VA Food Service employee said. "I enjoy making someone’s day through food service. It can be disheartening to not be able to celebrate outside of the hospital, and a special meal can help make a holiday better.”

U.S. Navy Veteran Roy Lenzie is a lead cook in the main kitchen and has been serving holiday meals in both his active duty and VA job positions for years. 

“I’ve been making holiday meals special for Veterans for a long time now,” Lenzie said. “We’re very busy getting ready for this Thanksgiving meal.”

In-patient Veterans, as well as community living center and domiciliary residents, will be served the holiday meal at lunchtime on Thanksgiving Day. In addition, the main entree will go out to Community Homes in Milwaukee.  

While many of us will be sitting around a dinner table enjoying the "big show" of a meal with loved ones, full of gratitude and giving thanks for all our blessings, some people will not have the same opportunity. 

The holidays can be a challenging time of year for Veterans both emotionally and financially.

There are several ways to support Veterans during the holiday season. For more information on how to donate and volunteer at the Milwaukee VA, visit our website.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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