Vikings want food to taste like home cooking

The Vikings spent a lot of time in preparation for their trip to London this week, and that included a plenty of advance work by team chef Geji McKinney-Banks.

Geji McKinney-Banks is charged with making sure the Minnesota Vikings have nutritional meal options. Usually, that entails a rather routine job at the team's Winter Park facility in Eden Prairie, Minn. This week, the challenge has ramped up.

McKinney-Banks has spent the last few months preparing for the team's trip to London and trying to think of ways to keep the 50-plus players, 20-plus coaches and 100-plus staff happy, at least when it comes to the culinary choices.

"London does a great job culinarily, but we feel that it's imperative not to stray too far away from the same kind of food that we serve here at Winter Park," McKinney-Banks said.

First and foremost, McKinney-Banks is concerned with keeping the players well-fed, not just in volume but in nutrition, before Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium.

Her food challenge is increased because she is (partly) at the mercy of the chefs at two hotels in which the Vikings are splitting time. They arrived Tuesday morning and have stayed at a hotel about an hour outside of London near Watford. After Friday's practice, they are relocating to London for Friday evening responsibilities in promoting the NFL game and Saturday meetings in advance of Sunday's game that will kickoff off at 6 p.m. London time, noon Central.

McKinney-Banks visited with the food service directors at both hotels this summer during her trip to London and said she doesn't want the difference in food preferences between Brits and Americans to negatively affect the players.

"They don't have biscuits in London. They don't know what it is. To them, it's a cookie," McKinney-Banks said before the team left. "I went to KFC over there and I asked for a two-piece and a biscuit and they looked at me as if I was crazy. Seriously, they don't know, so I had to ship over Bisquick so they can make our biscuits from scratch. That is a must-have. (The players) love biscuits.

"The way we season foods, I shipped over all of our seasonings, a lot of our southern spices and things like that London does not carry. It's comfortable for (the players) – the hot sauces – gives them a little bit of home."

Among the other items she shipped: Nutri-Grain bars, Fiber One bars and turkey burgers.

"If the players don't like the food or the taste of the food, then they're not eating and they're not getting the same nutrition that they would get over here," general manager Rick Spielman said in advance of the trip. "For someone to sit there and not eat for a week because they don't like the food, they can't run to McDonald's … We're trying to make the food quality and the taste the same here."

In order to do that, McKinney-Banks has been supervising the preparation of the food. Part of that responsibility will include making sure players are surprised by any ingredients they might be allergic to, as happened when Adrian Peterson ate shellfish during the team's 2012 training camp and had an allergic reaction that required the use of an EpiPen, a product he now endorses.

At Winter Park, the Vikings go by a dot system for labeling all foods in their cafeteria. Red dots indicate high calories, yellow dots are moderate calories, and green dots indicate lower calories.

"I'm able to create the menus for them and the things that they like for the most part and then give them some London entrees as well, but I'm dotting every piece of food so they know exactly what they're getting," McKinney-Banks said.

Equipment manager Dennis Ryan had pallets of water and Gatorade shipped weeks in advance, but not everything is about nutrition. Sometimes a familiar treat just helps.

"We're even going to pack up our coffee maker and Caribou French Roast and give them a little taste of home," Ryan said.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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