The challenge of making great food for all tastes is a high bar for any establishment.
But when those meals also need to accommodate diners with restrictions, such as stroke-related swallowing issues, or sodium intake, that high bar just hit the stratosphere.
Which is why the self-described foodies running the show at independent living facility Ridgmar Place of Fort Worth, Texas, approach their work every day with an all-hands-on-deck zeal to find new presentations, secret ingredients, and novel ways to conquer every dietary challenge while still turning out great food.
“It doesn’t hurt that the team at Ridgmar Place is a bunch of foodies!” says executive director Courtney McLaughlin. “We never stop looking for new food trends and ideas for our residents. When we’re out at restaurants during our off time, we’re all in the habit of taking food pictures and texting them to our chef Jesus. We all love good food, and our team is always searching for fresh ideas.”
Fresh ideas marry to a well-thought-out, multi-tier food plan at the heart of the living experience for residents of Ridgmar Place. In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Courtney McLaughlin describes their approach.
Q: How do you do it? How do you make food that is enticing, but that also meets dietary restrictions?
First, I want to point out that we are an independent living community, and we’re not bound or tied to any type of governmental oversight related to offering specialized diets. We’re not structured that way. That being said, however, we are home to independent seniors who may have dietary restrictions. Maybe they have diabetes, or have had a stroke, or have high blood pressure, so our challenge has been to create a dining experience that provides for everyone at Ridgmar Place, including those with restrictions.
To strike the right balance, we had to get creative. And to do that, we had to get very organized and bring on an excellent chef. That’s where we started.
Q: How do you organize and plan for your dining experience?
Our chef sits down once a week with a group of residents to discuss the upcoming menu. The chef and residents discuss ideas that they might have and the chef makes modifications to the menu based on their input and requirements. And he’s always thinking about ways to keep things interesting. One example is that we introduced black-eyed peas as a frequent side dish. It’s easy to eat, and is a nice change from a standard baked potato, and it’s a good vegetarian option because we make it without bacon. This is just one small example of the way we use one ingredient. We’ve also changed the way we offer spinach, green beans and other sides, making them without the pork. We do scratch cooking, which means we make smaller batches.
Q: How do those single ingredients and small batches fit into the overarching meal plan?
We offer our residents a choice of three menus every day. Menu One include that day’s specials of soups, salads, and three meal options, along with sides, and desserts. Menu Two is our healthy choices menu. This is where you will find entrees that are available all the time, and include baked salmon, grilled chicken breast, vegetables, chicken salad, tuna salad, et cetera. Menu Three is our café menu, which is always available, and includes burgers, chicken-fried steak, blackened salmon, and club sandwiches.
Q: What is an example of a food challenge you’ve faced?
Residents who have Parkinson’s or dementia may have difficulty using utensils. So, we created an entire menu around finger foods. And we got really creative with it. We offer a wide array of sandwiches and burgers with a large selection of toppings. And we also discovered that Kabobs, and foods on skewers are a great option!
Q: How does your chef factor in?
We have a great chef who came to this with a restaurant mentality.
Jesus comes from Puerto Rico, and he started in restaurants at a very young age. He graduated from culinary school at 20 and after the major hurricane a couple of years ago, he and his wife moved to Texas for better opportunity. He’s very talented and loves the work and the people. Not only is our cuisine loved by our residents, but we have patrons from Fort Worth who say our food and experience outshines some of our restaurants! Our dining room strives to offer a restaurant experience. We use Metallic Tones menu covers in a bumped champagne on our tables.