If you ask most people, a good meal matters. Seniors are no different. In fact, as you get older many people say that food becomes increasingly important since you are less able to enjoy other pleasures that you once took for granted.
“I used to spend a lot of time hiking, biking, exotic travel, long drives with my wife in the country. Now I can’t do any of those things, but I can still eat just fine and I don’t mind saying, I look forward to every meal,” said George Sinclair, a Calgary senior.
The problem is, says George, he is not exactly enamored with the menu at the place he chose to reside, but at the age of 80, he is reluctant to move.
While there are variations in the menus at different AgeCare communities, what is standard across the board is the resident-driven meal choices … a fundamental goal to prepare what people want and will enjoy.
“Something I learned a long time ago is that after sleep, what our residents do more than anything else in their day is eat. They spend up to three hours a day gathered around a meal – it’s a huge part of their day and it’s also a great social opportunity. So, without question, it is absolutely critical that we get the food right,” said Rob Shea, General Manager of AgeCare Seton in Calgary.
Rob’s aim to achieve meal approval is unyielding. From his experience, if the food isn’t good, residents will perceive that the care isn’t good; the atmosphere is unfriendly; the day is unpleasant … basically, he believes that lousy food clouds people’s entire outlook. And since AgeCare is all about satisfaction and contentment, delighting residents at mealtime is paramount.
“We are constantly seeking input and feedback from our residents. We have short evaluation forms on every floor here. We encourage residents to fill them out,” he said. “Then once a month we try a new menu item and we invite residents and family members to come to a meeting and sample the new product. After they eat the meal we ask them to complete a simple six-question evaluation telling us what they liked or didn’t like. If the meal gets a rating of 85% or higher, we’re in business. Next, we work on the recipe and how best to cook it. Do they like it best grilled? Fried? Do the ingredients need adjusting?”
Rob explains that AgeCare has a five-week meal rotation, but what he has learned is that variety is not the key, but rather serving residents their favourite dishes more often is what makes them happy.
“At one point we were serving 35 different kinds of soup, and you know what I was hearing? Rob, we want more chicken noodle soup, more tomato, more vegetable soup. They don’t want the ones they haven’t heard of or can’t pronounce – they want the ones they know and love. So now we’ve eliminated 12 different soups and we focus our efforts on their favorites.”
Rob asserts that AgeCare is a long way from perfect, but they are constantly striving to get the food right. He digs out an elaborate spreadsheet charting feedback ratings and gives the example of Chili. “Our residents wanted it, but it took us three different recipes to get it right – to hit our 85 percent approval rating. Lasagna was the same – now we’ve got the recipe right and it’s a favourite.”
Most recently the cook introduced a grilled Rueben sandwich with waffle fries and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Rob lights up when he relays how this new meal item was a hands-down winner, it garnered the highest resident approval rating ever at 96%.
“Feeding a lot of people is a challenge, there’s no question about that, but the key is to keep trying … to figure out what residents love and eliminate what they don’t like,” said Rob. “We do this by asking and by listening, then doing all we can to make them happy.”
For George Sinclair, the news about AgeCare stops him in his tracks. “Really? They serve Rueben Sandwiches there? That’s my favorite.”
Pat Fream is a wife, mother and 30-year writer with extensive experience in the human services industry. In all avenues of life, Pat seeks opportunities to hear and tell stories and finds joy in the magic of connecting people with shared experiences. An impassioned fan of seniors, Pat draws wisdom and inspiration from her aging parents and their friends, many of whom are living well in vibrant senior communities.