FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Making health care food better

When I visited Minoru Residence, I stopped to listen to a group of children sing and watch two resident cats sleep on a nursing station counter.
I noted the dining rooms and the lounges, and it struck me that this isn’t a place you know about until you have the need to know about a nursing home.
I am here because of a conversation with Mary Gazetas, whose husband is a resident. For those of you who know Mary, you know that wherever she treads there’s bound to be a garden (and some artistic flair) following behind her. And that’s what she’s creating at the Residence.
“The Res,” owned by Vancouver Coastal Health, is home to 250 people who require extended health care and three meals a day. The Res supports the Eden philosophy whereby the atmosphere is less institutional and more home-like. Where to start when there have been no improvements since 2003, the garden beds are neglected and the menu is boring.
Mary, together with volunteers Isabelle, a master gardener, and Kate (who is doing this because her father was in a care home in England and got much pleasure from the garden), are organizing work parties.
“Farming and growing food were a big part of many of the residents’ past,” said Mary. “Their faces change when they touch the soil again.”
Residents grew up with certain foods and food still plays a huge part in their daily lives. Different cultures; different preferences; different memories attached to food. It’s a monumental task to accommodate not only the food preferences but the special diets and textures (some residents eat a cream of potato/salmon sandwich). And sodium is always a challenge. The need to be creative is greater here than anywhere else.
Tiffany Yeung, food services manager, and executive chef Dave Davis form part of the team that will update the menu and implement the transition. They’ve sat in on the meetings with families and residents and found that the conversation revolved around food for an hour. They accompanied meal rounds to see what residents were eating and what they were leaving on their plate. What they discovered was that the residents want more.
From a health perspective, there is a nutritional standard to be met. When you have 750 meals to be executed on a daily basis, how do you meet dietary regimen as well as likes and dislikes? Chef Dave accepted the challenge to make the food look better and taste better (without adding a lot of extra work for the cooks). He’s no stranger to challenges – Athletes Village during the Olympics and Kwantlen College menu. He also knows that we eat with our eyes first.
The improvements - plates presented beautifully, garnished with fresh herbs; increased availability of ice cream; nuts/seeds/fruit added to oatmeal; tablecloths; kitchen tours; choices; sourcing food as local as possible; and more – have had a tremendous effect. Plates are empty. Instead of fuel, food has become entertainment. “That looks good” is heard often. Now, when families meet with staff members, the conversation about food is less than ten minutes. Even staff are now eating the meals instead of bringing their lunch from home.
New china, flowers from the garden, and hot food cart service are slated for the near future.
Chef Dave, who rides his motorcycle to work from Coquitlam, works with a 28-day menu, lunch being the big meal of the day. From blue hake (sustainable fish from New Zealand) to Chinese bbq chicken; peach cobbler to butterscotch pudding; rice pilaf with turmeric to Greek rotini; Moroccan lentil soup to fresh tomato bisque; teriyaki chicken to Polynesian meatballs. He adds vegetables to sauces. He uses fresh, quality ingredients. He roasts pork and beef. He’s given the residents, some of them here for years, something to look forward to.
“This is their home,” Chef Dave said. “I’m just bringing “home” back.

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