One recent lunchtime, Sharon “Carol” Varela was seated at a table at the Comprehensive Care Center, sharing a meal with her daughter and granddaughter.
They laughed and chatted as they enjoyed a scrumptious meal.
These are the moments desired by CCC Director of Dietary Services Norman Skau. Norm has started a monthly themed “Special Event” luncheon, aiming to be “over-the-top with a gourmet theme.”
In January, residents were served a New Year’s Brunch with seafood quiche, potato pancakes, and a Danish Kringle. February’s Valentine meal was roast pork loin and rice pilaf. March was a St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and a minty brownie dessert. Family members join in for a minimal charge.
“I am so proud of our team in the food nutrition department,” Norm said. “I am encouraging the chefs to cook outside the normal parameters of institutional cooking.”
It’s part of a “real food first” philosophy that encourages residents to take pleasure in eating while also enabling them to stay healthy. “I just want to make it nicer for them, so they have a nice experience — regardless of how long they stay”
Norm says. “I want to make it the nicest and best we can offer them. That’s the passion behind it.” Among the changes made, he said, are the inclusion of more fresh vegetables and fruits and more fish and fresh meat. Vegetable oil was replaced with olive oil and margarine was nixed for butter, to help enhance the flavors. A new vendor offers a better variety and quality of food.
“It’s good,” said Carol Varela, as she ate her corned beef. “I like the way it tastes.” Her daughter, Gail Gonzales, said she’s been to a number of the monthly luncheons, in addition to regular visits.
“I think it’s very nice that they reach out to the families,” Gail said. Rosie Oceguera brings her father, Rosalio Escobedo, to the meals to visit his wife of 67 years, Guadalupe.
Her mother has been a CCC resident for five months and has a great appetite. “It’s really nice they do something special for the residents,” Rosie said. “I think it’s really good. At their age, their taste buds have changed so much. The food is flavorful and nutritious.”
Norm said the purchase of hotel buffet-style equipment and a carving station means easier preparation and serving for the monthly events. The new software allows him to take his personal gourmet recipes and convert them for special diets, such as low-sodium or diabetic. That enables a transition from institutional to home-style food, he says. His team, which includes a combined 130 years of kitchen experience, also appreciates the change.
“The goal is making it taste good,” says David Robles, food service production supervisor. “We’re getting away from institutional cooking and making it more homelike. We’ve improved a lot.” He said the cooks and servers enjoy seeing residents enthusiastic about mealtime. “It makes me happy,” he said. “Our cooks see it. Overall, it gives them motivation to prep better foods.”
If they wish, residents are given a “meal holiday” if their diets would normally not allow the foods prepared for the monthly luncheons. Norm said a monthly birthday dinner with prime rib and salmon is on the horizon.
“Meal times are their social hour, it’s their nourishment, it’s everything,” Norm said. “They stop feeling isolated and alone. They’ve got a nice hot meal and they’re happy. It makes a whole different feeling for them.”