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The Food Could Be Better

January 4, 2009
by Kathleen Mears
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I have had three separate nursing home stays and the food was different each time. My first stay was when I was 29. I did not know the largest meal was served in the middle of the day. I learned to eat the midday meal when my supper consisted of half an egg salad sandwich and a bowl of soup. Midday meal entrées were usually a beef, pork, or chicken patty. I got very tired of those patties. The nurses aides hated the fact that I had to eat institutional food and they would gladly run to a drive-in to get me a hot dog and chips.

In 1994, my two-week stay at a different nursing home featured home cooking, which was good. Since I was there while hiring new home staff, I was able to get food in or go out for different food with friends or my caregivers. I was also familiar with the nursing home food routine.

When I came to live permanently in a nursing home, I wondered how the food would be. I had not eaten beef and pork for quite a while and they were the major part of the menu here. Initially I ate in the dining room. The only available place for me to eat in my power chair was facing the wall. Without a view I went back to eating all meats. I ate well because at the time the day-shift cook was very good. I even ate her country fried steak for the first time.

At home I used fat-free salad dressing and ended up buying my own here that was stored in a unit refrigerator. I never thought they had enough salad. A palate-challenging evening meal for me was butter beans and stewed tomatoes. But I learned to eat it.

The hamburgers had gristle, but I ate them anyway. I discovered I liked mock pecan pie (made with oatmeal) which I had not eaten before. I did not like the apple pie because the apples were not tender. When I asked the dietary manager about the tenderness of the apples, she told me that was the way she liked them.

When I asked the dietitian why we had tangy scrambled eggs for breakfast, I got a strange look. Then she explained that lemon juice was added to the scrambled eggs to keep them from turning green. After that I had a better understanding of the scrambled egg preparation and adapted to the taste.

When pizza was served it was usually in wedges with only cheese on it. Most of the younger residents were thrilled to have pizza and ate extra slices. But I longed for golden brown crust. Gelatin was served frequently. Because of my numerous hospital stays, I did not eat it; the thought of it made me jiggle. The turkey was processed and reminded me of warmed lunch meat. But I ate it and called it 'slab turkey'.

The evening snacks surprised me. They had different types of flavored graham crackers, rice crispy treats, and salty cheese puffs. My sister was told that they had nine different diets here. The regular diet had 2600 calories which we thought was a lot. She asked about removing the 'sawdust factor' from my diet. Since the administrator did not understand, she explained that she wanted to remove the heavy carbs and fillers from my diet. It seemed difficult for the staff to relate to that.

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Thank you for your letter. I am an Executive Chef and FSD that works dilligently and intelligently with my staff to provide mostly-scratch delicious foods for our residents, staff, and guests. We serve fresh, naturally nutritionally complete meals that we are proud to serve. It is an honor to provide such foods -with passion- to those that cannot provide for themselves. We, at my facility, are working to end the 'nursing home food' stigma. I, proudly, graduated from the CIA, and I apprentice at the finest restaurants in the world- still- to keep my chops fresh. During the growing season we utilize an amazing organic farm just a few miles from our facility. Our 'nursing home food' is better, I must say, than most area restaurants. I hope that all chefs someday realize the importance of providing great food to our older community- where it is needed most.

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Kathleen Mears

www.ltlmagazine.com/blog/kathleen-mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...