From Start to Finish: Designing a Theme Meal

IMG_8112-by Isabella Dang

Planning and executing a theme meal from start to finish was a big challenge. Thankfully, with the support of the Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Food and Nutrition Services (FANS) staff and working alongside my partner, Jackie, the challenge was met with hard work and excitement over pierogies.

Let’s dive right in!


The first step in planning a theme meal is to create an alluring theme and set a date. After talking with the executive and sous chefs, we decided to debut our lunch on Thursday, September 27th. Jackie and I bounced ideas back and forth as we were considering what is “going on” around that time of the month. Here is what we came up with, as well as some things we needed to consider:

Theme Ideas

  • Fall Fest/ Harvest→ autumn inspired vegetables: squash, carrots, root vegetables, hardy vegetables, apples etc.
  • Oktoberfest→ German-inspired/European- inspired cuisines: pierogies, bratwurst, cabbage, etc.


  • Acceptability of the food… will customers be attracted to food that is typically not served in the cafe?
  • Jackie and I had a personal goal of wanting the entrees to be more plant-based.
  • We heard many customers like white rice.
  • We heard a good number of customers are vegetarian.
  • We wanted to make sure the entrees looked attractive; therefore, we considered the color and presentation of the dishes.
  • The executive chef was going to be out of town on the day of our theme meal, so we needed to have everything prepared at least two days before and be in constant communication with the sous chef.

With all of this in mind, Jackie and I tackled pinning down a theme. To be honest, we liked both of our theme ideas. The attractive colors from the fall produce in a harvest theme, as well as the excitement of introducing pierogies and bratwurst to the cafe, made it a hard decision. So Jackie and I decided to combine both themes together to generate: OKTOBER HARVEST.

In the second step, my partner and I developed the menu. After an afternoon brainstorming session, we came up with two entrees and three sides:

  1. Sauteed Bratwurst and Cabbage
  2. Chickpea Butternut Squash Curry
  3. Basmati Rice
  4. Pierogies
  5. Roasted Carrots, Red Potatoes, Parsnips, and Brussel SproutsScreen Shot 2018-10-15 at 6.30.41 PM

The executive and sous chefs liked our menu idea! After reviewing some recipes from the internet and tweaking the portions and ingredients, we had our final menu. The sous chef commented that the recipes were straight-forward and the dishes would definitely bring something new to the fall menu rotation. After finalizing the menu and starting on some marketing material, everyone in the office referred to our “Oktober Harvest” as the “big day.”

The third step was all about ordering products. We worked with the executive chef, sous chef, and retail manager. Jackie and I looked over their shoulders as they ordered the products and compared prices. We all talked through how the produce would be pre-cut to reduce labor on the kitchen staff and we went back on forth on how the pierogies would be prepared. Boiled? Fried? Pan-fried? In any case, the kitchen was too busy to do any pierogies testing days before, so we settled on testing the best pierogies-cooking method on the “big day.”Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 6.30.54 PM

In our fourth step, we created a marketing campaign and the presentation of our serving station. Jackie and I spent hours working on Canva, a design tool, creating our menu, flyers, education material, and recipe hand-outs. We designed our signage with uniform color schemes, fonts, and graphics. After countless drafts and reviewing our material with the retail manager, we had our final products. Our preceptor, the general manager, and one of the RDs were kind enough to advertise our “big day” by sending out e-mails and posting our flyers on the hospital floors.


Jackie and I arrived in the kitchen at 7 AM for our “big day.” We cut the parsnips, portioned out the ingredient for the curry, adjusted the curry consistency by adding some cornstarch and finished off the morning by testing pierogies. We decided frying the pierogies would be the best approach for service. The decorations were out, signage was up and the food was cooked… it was time to debut!

IMG_3380Jackie and I proudly served meals during lunchtime, between 11:30 AM to 2 PM, and overall, it was a success! We received multiple compliments from customers in person and through e-mail. One customer actually came back for more curry. According to the sales numbers, the retail manager said our event was a hit and customers really like pierogies. Parts of our menu will be featured on their permanent fall menu rotation. I’m not going to lie; being on our feet, hovering over the steam tables, and talking to customers was pretty tiring. And Jackie and I cannot thank the FANS staff enough for the training they gave us and all of their hard work. The successful Oktober Harvest theme meal would not have been possible without all the support and help we received, from all the managers, cooks, cashiers, servers etc. I learned that when you work with a dedicated team, almost any challenge can be tackled together!






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