Serving Up a Nutritious Advantage
“It’s fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day. That’s what human life is all about – enjoying things.” – Chef and author, Julia Child
“It’s all about fresh, fresh, fresh! Our residents wouldn’t want it any other way,” said United Active Living’s executive chef Kevin Stephenson.
Kevin has earned his credentials at private clubs including the Ranchmen’s and Silver Springs Golf and Country Club in Calgary over a 30-year career. He knows a thing or two about fine dining.
“Our philosophy makes sense,” said Kevin. “You’re here to live and make a community and have friends and enjoy your meals. It shouldn’t be ‘eat what and when we tell you to eat’. But that approach is common in many places and it’s not right. We don’t accept that in our homes, so why should our residents accept it in their homes?”
United’s approach is unique in Canada. The kitchen is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and features a menu that is available throughout the day. After all, aging isn’t about one-size-fits-all.
Meals are based on feedback from residents. When they move in, food interests and issues are discussed with staff and noted in a database. When a resident comes in to eat, the kitchen staff knows what the person prefers and what ingredients to avoid. Kevin mingles with residents at mealtimes to learn what they like and what they don’t. He wants them to be “wowed” when they leave the table.
Menu Options Backed By Research
This approach to nutrition is supported by research that shows that a varied menu of meals, served from fresh and nutritious ingredients is far better for older adults. So-called superfoods have been in the spotlight in recent years. Vegetables and fruit that feature blue, red and green colours are considered especially rich in nutrients.
An extensive Healthlink B.C. publication talks about the importance of eating well as we age.
“A healthy diet provides the ingredients to build and repair bones and tissues and keep the complex workings of the human body functioning optimally. It also provides the mental and physical energy necessary for daily life – work, recreation, relationships and time with family. It is clear that a healthy diet also protects us from infectious illnesses and chronic diseases so that we may age with a minimum of ill health, pain and disability. As people age, the need for calories decreases while the need for nutrients often increases.”
Improving On The Home Cooked Meal
Kevin designs menus with two goals in mind: to cater to personal tastes, and to provide nutritious meals. Half portions are a common request.
“I work closely with our dietician, Marie-Anne Nason, to ensure that our menu reflects the Canada Food Guide and offers the best nutrition,” noted Kevin. “To help us with that, we buy local as much as we can. The food is fresher, and we like to support local producers, to build a relationship with them.”
“The Canada Food Guide is a terrific resource to help us ensure that the nutritional content of the menu is suited for older adults,” said Marie-Anne. “United’s focus on freshness, local and flexibility is impressive and it’s being well received by the residents.”
And it’s not just about nutritional value. Meals are another way to socialize. It’s an important part of a resident’s day. Residents can eat what they want, when they want and with whom they want.
“We decided that we would go into the dining room, and we’d spot a table that needed two more people and we would just ask if we could join them, and we did this every meal for a few weeks and got to know so many nice people,” said resident Betty Earle. “To this day after more than three years we still have those good friends here.”
Residents get to know each other and forge some of their strongest and best relationships over a glass of wine or a perfectly done steak. They discuss current events, or other topics that they find interesting. Sometimes, the discussions lead to the creation of special-interest groups that open the discussions to everyone.
Resident Joyce Doolittle likes the flexibility. “I think they do a good job with the food. They really are thoughtful about it. And it means less shopping for me. There’s a whole area of grocery shopping that I don’t have to do because we eat lunch downstairs, and that’s a good way to socialize. And you can bring guests in for meals, or if you want to go out, they’ll pack you a lunch with juice and sandwiches and cookies. That’s a good service to have.”
Fresh is the hallmark, and locally produced is the first choice. “Variety is the spice of life in everything including food,” said Kevin. “It’s really important to have lots of choices. We work on a four-week rotational menu which means we don’t repeat meals the same month but even so, we make substitutions for special occasions, or make use of seasonal fruit and vegetables, so we certainly have the flexibility to change things up a bit.
“And when you can laugh and enjoy food that’s what life is all about.”
Related articles: Why Community Is Important As We Age
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United is changing the conversation around aging. From our innovative United Minds (memory care) program to professionally staffed art studios and extensive creative programming, our communities offer more than you might expect. If you have questions or topics you would like us to cover in future blogs, let us know.