Metro hospital preparing Thanksgiving meals for thousands

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Ladies and gentlemen -- start your ovens!

Kitchens across the metro are already warming up, preparing to cook huge Thanksgiving Day meals. That includes one at a very busy metro hospital, where chefs are prepared to feed thousands.

Preparations for turkey day 2014 at The University of Kansas Hospital are too big for just one day. A culinary staff of 20 people has been cooking around the clock for two days.

Hospital Executive Chef Jeff Lathrop and his team of chefs are in the home stretch of busy preparations. Lathrop says his kitchen will plow through as much as 450 pounds of fresh turkey on Thursday, and nearly the same amount of fresh hams.

Add in close to 300 pounds of fresh vegetables, and Thanksgiving Day turns into a kitchen-sized test.

"It's big," Lathrop said. "On a scale of one to 10, it's a nine-and-a-half. It's big. It's a lot of responsibility in taking care of my patients and employees and their families."

Lathrop's kitchen has to accommodate dietary needs as well. That's where dietician Kara Friel comes in, helping remind patients with diabetic and cardiac concerns to stick to their diets, and avoid the fat and salt.

"We may need to modify a recipe and not add as much salt -- or even make a substitution so that patient can get the best quality care," Friel said.

Sarah Canaday was supposed to host Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Instead, she's spending the holiday as a patient in the hospital's cardiac unit.

"I've been on the cardiac floor before, and I've had the cardiac restriction before," Canady said. "They're really good about saying, 'You can't have that, but maybe you could try this.'"

"I don't think anyone realizes the time and effort and love that goes into what we do, but the end product is all that really matters at the end of the day," Lathrop said.

Chef Lathrop is somewhat new to work in the hospital kitchen, but he's worked for 30 years in private restaurants. He says the challenge of feeding thousands on Thanksgiving Day is one he's looking forward to.

The hospital kitchen's job can grow tougher, depending on the patient population. Hospital officials say they can accommodate as many as 650 patients, but the current patient headcount is much lower right now.

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