As we age, the food we eat becomes more important than ever. Yet when we think of a fresh organic and locally sourced menu, retirement homes—a land of Jello and watery soups—don’t exactly spring to mind. You might call many seniors' diet "Hello Gruel World."
The tides are turning, however, as retirement homes across the country begin to partner with local farmers, and hire talented chefs who actually know how to prepare healthy, wholesome, organically grown local food for their patrons.
NPR describes the menu at a retirement community called Bethlehem Woods in Illinois as one where a typical dinner consists of a selection of soups, salads and sides along with a main course such as, “…tilapia with caper butter, baked ham with raisin sauce or a heart-healthy frittata.” All cooked in the community’s kitchen by Chef Eric David Corradetti.
The company that employs Corradetti is called Unidine and oversees the kitchens in 120 other retirement communities as well. Unidine is committed to providing healthy food, and prominently displays their Fresh Food Pledge front and center in every kitchen they run. The pledge promises that all “…salad dressings, sauces and stocks will be made fresh, food will be locally sourced, they'll only use eggs from cage-free chickens, meats without hormones or antibiotics…”
It might sound expensive, but as Unidine founder Richard Schenkel explains one of his reasons for creating the program (aside from better-tasting food) was that it can be more cost effective to buy fresh ingredients rather than super processed foods. Deana Wilson, head of housing for Presence Life Connections, the company that owns Bethlehem Woods and 28 other senior living facilities, agrees, explaining that their overall food costs have actually gone down since implementing a more healthy and locally sourced meal plan.
Other facilities such as Country Vista Residential Care Home, run by director Denise LoSchiavo, have gone even further to ditch the institutional approach to eating, cooking, and providing elderly care.
In an article with Edible Austin, LoSchiavo, who also acts as cook for the nearly off-the-grid retirement community, says...
I’m also cooking three chickens, beets with balsamic vinaigrette and butter, roasted sweet potatoes doused with olive oil, and baby spinach with crisp-fried bacon and sage.”
Yum! At Country Vista (a small private facility on a farm that accommodates only five residents at a time) everyone eats around a large family style dinner table—including LoSchiavo’s own family (her husband and daughter). LoSchiavo says she has learned a lot about cooking from retirees, some of whom are old farmers who give her cooking tips and appreciate her more home-cooked approach.
While it’s true that Country Vista is somewhat out of the norm (they don’t take health insurance or provide medical care beyond the country doctor down the road) residents there are invigorated by the local food and everyday tasks they are encouraged to accomplish.
In the same article in Edible Austin, LoSchiavo explains,
Anybody that’s able or willing to help is put to work,” Denise says. “Mostly, people don’t like to sit around and do nothing. Some people like to peel carrots or feed the cats, darn a pair of socks or fold laundry. My situation isn’t for everybody,” she adds. “Some people prefer to play bridge.”
As baby boomers continue to age, the demand for facilities with access to more productive activities, community involvement, and delicious fresh organic food continues to grow, a trend that we here at Wellness Warriors are certainly excited about.
Unidine Senior Living via unidine.com
Older, Wiser, Better Fed via Edible Austin
Riverwoods Joining Forces with Local Farm via Riverwoodsrc.org