Feeding the Recovering Appetite

At Champion Center, the chemical dependency treatment focus for recovery is holistic, meaning that recovery from substance abuse involves mind, body and spirit. In that thinking, recovery must also incorporate nutritious eating to ensure a healthy future lifestyle. That is where Director of Dietary Services, Christy Cioni and her staff come in to the treatment plan.

Christy, who earned a degree in culinary arts from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland, is responsible for creating healthy, tasty and inventive menus for those undergoing chemical dependency or alcohol recovery. “It’s fresh food, made by hand, from scratch,” she explained. “Pesto, marinara sauces are made from scratch. We use our own veggie stock for soups.”

On the menu, Cioni said the facility has options for lighter meals, and sometimes more indulgent items.

“We try to change up the cuisine,” she explained. “We have Italian, Asian, Mexican and more. We incorporate some of the key whole foods like quinoa and lentils.”

While breakfast is typically scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, and oatmeal –- with specials like spinach and cheese bread pudding or waffles tossed into the mix –- it’s lunch and dinner where Christy entices the appetites of Champion Center patients.

Santa Lucia Cafe Menu

A sample lunch menu recently for a week included entrees of roast turkey breast and Swiss cheese on multigrain croissant with cream of mushroom soup; fish sandwich on a hoagie with vegetable beef soup; Asian grilled chicken salad with miso-ginger soup; turkey, bacon and Swiss cheese on 9-grain bread with Greek Lemon rice soup; Barbecue pulled pork sandwich with barley vegetable soup; French dip with butternut squash soup and grilled ham and cheese on Texas toast with tomato soup.

Dinner choices for the same week were equally mouth-watering: classic meatloaf with herbed mashed potatoes; Italian sausage and peppers over penne pasta; pork tenderloin with smoky-sweet rub and rice pilaf; beef and chicken thigh fajitas with black beans; beef stir fry with brown rice; bacon-wrapped pork loin with roasted winter squash and southwestern roasted turkey breast with cheddar chive mashed potatoes. Desserts spanned the gamut of apple-cranberry crisp to Italian Wedding cookies to ice cream sundaes and lemon bars.

Nourishment centers are available in living areas, where healthy snacks such as vegetable cups, half-sandwiches and granola bars are available.

“There’s almost like a cycle,” Cioni said. “They come in to detox and they’re not really hungry. Their appetites are limited. They’re probably not eating. They’re often malnourished, especially alcoholics who can be drinking their calories instead of eating.”

Then, when patients are finished with the medical detox, they find their appetites.

“They realize they’re starving, or forgot how good something tastes,” she said. “When they move downstairs (post-detox), they’re ravenous and just want to eat everything. Then they get to the point where they see the pounds going on.”

That’s when the patients start adding more vegetables, or reducing carbs. The patient census also can inform Cioni’s menu. If a particular patient is ultra-health conscious, that kind of thinking might carry through to other patients. At one point, there were a number of male patients in their 20s to 40s who wanted more proteins and vegetables and fewer carbohydrates, Cioni said.

“We try to have balance, so those who are excited to be eating again and really want biscuits and gravy can have that, and it’s once a week,” she says. “And the other days you can have oatmeal and fruit.” Menus are revised quarterly and seasonal or holiday are incorporated. Christy prepares special menus throughout the year, celebrating various holidays.

“We treat the patients to outdoor BBQs for Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day,” Christy says. “We also create holiday inspired feasts for our patients to enjoy on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. This past New Year’s Eve, our evening cook had a great time, preparing an elegant, three-course plated dinner. This was a fun departure from our regular cafeteria style of service.”

Chicken Tikka Masala

6 Servings


  • Garlic, minced 2 tbsp
  • Ginger, peeled, microplaned 4 tsp
  • Ground turmeric 4 tsp
  • Garam masala 2 tsp
  • Ground coriander 2 tsp
  • Ground cumin 2 tsp
  • Whole milk yogurt - not greek 1 1/2 cup
  • Kosher salt 1 tbsp
  • Chicken breast - boneless/skinless 4 ea
  • Vegetable oil 3 tbsp
  • Small onion, thinly sliced 1 ea
  • Tomato paste 1/4 cup
  • Ground cardamom 1/2 tsp
  • Red pepper flakes 1/2 tsp
  • Canned tomatoes, pulsed in robo 28 oz
  • Heavy cream 2 cup
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped 3/4 cup


  1. Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander & cumin in a small bowl. Whisk yogurt, salt & half of spice
  2. Whisk yogurt, salt & half of spice mixture in a medium bowl. Add chicken, turn to coat.
  3. Cover and chill 4- 6 hours.
  4. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.
  5. Ceat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, pepper flakes and cook, stirring often until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft. Add remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until bottom of pot begins to brown.
  6. Add tomatoes with juices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens.
  7. Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 30 - 40 minutes.
  8. Preheat broiler. Grease a sheet pan and wire racks. Arrange chicken in a single layer, broil until chicken starts to blacken in spots (it will not be cooked through).
  9. Cut chicken into bite size pieces, add to sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through.
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