Eating the food we love with people we enjoy is one of life’s great pleasures. At United Hebrew, Chef Udo Schneider’s goal is for our nursing home residents to look forward to every single meal with pleasure. That’s why he’s been hard at work on developing a new menu, which recently debuted to much praise from our residents.
Simple baked fish with butter now exists as several varieties including fish almondine, fish primavera, and lemon pepper fish. A heavier beef stew was scrapped in favor of a new chicken Caesar wrap. A cold deli sandwich of corned beef and mustard is now made “a little fancier” as a hot Reuben from the grill.
“Our goal is for our residents to enjoy meals that are healthy, freshly made, and based on personal preferences. Some older adults, because of aging or medications, may experience a loss of appetite. So new culinary choices keep things interesting and appealing — that’s important. It keeps people engaged.”
Since starting work at United Hebrew nearly two years ago, Chef Udo has been working on improving the resident dining experience.
In his first year, he went on a “listening tour” to learn residents’ personal preferences around food. He visited individual units after meal service to introduce himself and ask what residents liked and didn’t like. In partnership with our recreation staff, he introduced new hands-on cooking demonstrations and “cook-offs” with our other chefs on campus, which helped him to get to know residents and learn about their favorite meals and recipes. He also consulted with our dieticians to ensure any new items would meet the nutritional needs of our elderly population.
Chef Udo’s research led him to develop a menu that was lighter and entirely prepared from scratch. There were a lot of boxes to check off for a recipe to make it to the menu: was it nutritious? Could it be made with fresh ingredients? Did it reflect our diverse population’s interests and background? He also wanted to ensure the meals were adaptable for residents with therapeutic diets.
Food to Savor
“We’ve added a lot of flavor with new spices, light sauces, and plenty of seasoning,” Chef Udo explains. “We’ve also traded heavy meals in the evening for lighter fare. It helps our residents digest and sleep better.”
It became especially important to include items that reflected a wide array of ethnic cuisines as the population at United Hebrew is diverse.
“What they eat should reflect a diverse range of cultures,” he says. “We set out to honor a variety of flavors and traditions and include something that would please everyone.”
So, Jamaican beef patties, Italian tortellini with pesto, Spanish-style frittatas, and Asian stir-fried chicken and vegetables are among the new ethnic dishes served. Special attention is paid to ensure the new flavors work for residents with food intolerances or medical conditions, for whom meals might be chopped, pureed or prepared differently.
And there are more than a few resident favorites that are here to stay.
“I had strict instructions to leave the grilled cheese alone,” he notes. “It’s a favorite for lunch and no one wanted to give that up.”
Good Food Also Spells Hospitality
The menu will continue to evolve, according to Chef Udo. He continues surveying new and veteran residents alike, making notes and accommodating special requests when he can. The cooking class program serves as a test bed of sorts. If residents try something there that is a hit, he’ll consider rotating the dish into the regular menu, as he did recently after demonstrating how to cook Tuscan chicken.
But ultimately, Chef Udo says, the meals had to make people happy. “This is more than just a dining program,” he points out. “This is also about hospitality. We want our nursing facility to feel like home. Food is central to that feeling.”