Contrary to popular belief and from my experience, seniors don’t love buffets and they aren’t very interested in sandwiches and newfangled wraps. But they will save space for dessert, and they can teach a seasoned chef a thing or two in the kitchen.
These are nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned in the last 11 years as the Director of Food & Dining at EPOCH Assisted Living on Blackstone Blvd. Blackstone residents dine with us three times a day, and we take that responsibility seriously. We talk with them about their experiences as well as what they like or don’t like.
I often visit with our diners while they eat to get their feedback on the meal, and I encourage our other chefs to do the same. We have a monthly food meeting where residents offer their favorite recipes, and more than a few times I’ve had people donate their cookbooks. With residents’ input, we change our menu, which includes 20 selections of entrees, accompaniments and sides, every three months. I’ve learned a lot about the food habits and palates of seniors, including how life changes can alter their tastes, such as when they have to take medications.
At EPOCH, I think about our residents’ favorite foods and their nutritional needs. Seniors require fewer calories per meal but more nutrients, for example. They also hate to waste, so the trick is finding the right portions of nutritionally-dense foods they will recognize and enjoy. Moving to a senior living community is a big transition overall, and for most of us, food is an important part of our daily lives. We want to make it easy for residents to transition into their new home by incorporating their traditions. For this reason, we offer lox and bagels every Sunday, Gefilte fish and even Kosher options from a local vendor. We engage residents in cooking classes and wine tastings, we’ve hosted Kosher chili cook-offs and pie bake-offs. I’m pleased to report that a resident won a pie contest, beating one of our chefs in a blind taste test!
Personally, I have benefited from listening to our seniors and prioritizing food variety at Blackstone. I have learned how to prepare meals from different cultures and eras, which has added to my creativity. Food should enrich our bodies and our communities, no matter what your age. Our kitchen staff doesn’t just consider the end goal—to feed our diners—but the importance of breaking bread together.
VINCENT MESSINA is a graduate of Johnson and Wales Culinary College in Providence, Executive Chef at EPOCH on Blackstone Boulevard and owner of Gianfranco’s Ristorante.
Winter Fruit Salad with Lemon Poppy Seed Dressing
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon diced onion
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper to taste
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 head romaine lettuce torn to bite size pieces
4 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup cashews
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 apple peeled and diced
1 pear peeled and diced
In a blender, combine sugar, lemon juice, onion, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until well blended. While machine is still running, stream in oil. Add poppy seeds and process a bit longer to mix.
In a large serving bowl, toss lettuce, cheese, cashews, dried cranberries, and fresh fruit. Pour dressing over salad just before serving and toss to coat.