Dining at the Steel Away Cafe inside Fort Memorial Hospital has become a new experience as a result of numerous changes made over the past year. Not only did the cafeteria get remodeled and renamed, but the menu is now remarkably more colorful.

Executive Chef Colleen Miller was hired in February to help better fulfill Fort HealthCare’s mission to improve the health and wellbeing of the community. Miller is a Fort Atkinson native professionally trained at Le Cordon Bleu.

Menu changes began with the daily addition of a colorful pre-made salad to the salad bar. New hot vegetables and entrées were introduced and patient menus were given a makeover.

Food Service Manager Candy Olson said that the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.” The soups have been especially popular, including roasted red pepper, red lentil coconut curry, tomato basil and roasted carrot. Other popular dishes have been the very berry spinach salad and fish tacos. “Sometimes I take home a box of one of the colorful salads to bring home for my family’s dinner,” shared Carrie Garity, Medical Staff Coordinator. 

Barb Grabow, manager of the hospital’s employee child care center described the children’s reaction to the change in menu. “After a while their palates became used to the new tastes and the kids are now really enjoying the meals. In fact, one day we watched as a 2-year-old separated corn and black beans, and ate the beans! What a surprise! We have many stories like that to share these days.”

Locally grown and produced foods are used whenever possible. Farm fresh eggs have been sourced from Jelli’s Market in Sullivan and JR’s Country Acres of Lake Mills. The kitchen regularly uses wild rice harvested by Native Americans in northern Wisconsin and other items that their primary supplier can source locally. Some of the items that have been purchased direct from area farmers include mixed greens for the salad bar, asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes and onions. The menu is changed quarterly to reflect the changes in the seasons and the availability of different foods.

“Area farmers aren’t used to selling to institutions like us,” shared Margaret Martin, Fort HealthCare’s sustainability coordinator, “but we’re hoping that by blazing a trail for local produce an infrastructure will begin to take shape that will make it easier for other businesses to follow our lead. Supporting small family farms and maintaining the rural character of our region is something we all agree on.”

Local produce is fresher, tastes better and has a longer shelf life making it easier to increase the nutritional value of one’s diet. Many local farmers use organic growing principles which means improved nutrient content in the soil, reduced exposure to hazardous chemicals on the part of workers as well as consumers and less contamination of the air and water supply. Herbs are grown on the hospital’s roof providing flavor for meals without adding calories or salt. In addition, the hospital now serves exclusively grass-fed beef supplied by Wisconsin Meadows, a beef cooperative composed of family farms across the state. The cattle are raised without use of synthetic growth hormones or antibiotics and graze in fields free of pesticides or herbicides.

Stephanie Nischik, Fort HealthCare’s Nutrition Services Manager stated, “I’m delighted with the variety of foods we now serve in our cafeteria thanks to our new chef’s passion for making food that tastes good and is healthy, too.”

Seniors are now eligible for 10 percent off when they visit the Steel Away Café for supper between 5:15 and 6:30 p.m. Area farmers interested in supplying the hospital can leave a detailed message for Executive Chef Colleen Miller, at (920) 568-5459.