Meals Matter

In the short-term rehab inpatient unit at Christian Health Care Center (CHCC), patients are going back in time with the transformation of the dining room into a 50s diner. At this special-themed dinner, patients and families sing along to Elvis Presley and Bobby Darrin, while feasting on grilled-cheese wedges, oven-fried chicken, crinkle-cut French fries, coleslaw, and ice-cream sundaes, all served by Activity staff members donning poodle skirts.

At The Longview Assisted Living Residence, Executive Sous Chef Frank Poveromo is gathered with residents for the monthly Chef Demo and Dining Diary. Today, he’s making stromboli. After sampling the Italian specialty, the chef and residents have a conversation about the week’s menu. The seniors provide input and feedback about the culinary selections.

A local farmer’s market is the destination for Hillcrest Residence seniors. On this popular scheduled outing, a delectable assortment of locally grown and/or baked foods is available for purchase by the independent seniors. Although Hillcrest provides three delicious and healthy meals a day, some seniors will use their farmer’s market procurements to make a favorite recipe in Hillcrest’s Resident Country Kitchen. This fully outfitted kitchen, complete with snacks, is available to residents around-the-clock.

Fellowship and food are on the menu at Summer Hill, one of CHCC’s independent senior apartment complexes in Wayne. Residents are gathered in the Community Room for the Summer Hill Dining Program, a unique, low-cost benefit for an independent-senior complex. While participants dine on homemade carrot ginger soup, boneless herb-roasted chicken with apple stuffing and corn niblets, they share stories and socialize.

The magnificent aroma of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies is floating through Heritage Manor Nursing Home East. Tucked in a corner of the Activities office, resident Pam Brooks is baking the treats for participants of a meeting in the DeYoung Auditorium. The staff set up “Pam’s Kitchen” after learning about her love of cooking. With ingredients supplied by CHCC, Ms. Brooks makes sweets for her neighbors on Heritage Manor East, Summer Hill residents, and CHCC staff.

At Ramapo Ridge Psychiatric Hospital (RRPH), dietitian Linda Heiser, RD, recognizes the stress being experienced by the wife of a newly admitted patient. Before his lunch is delivered, Ms. Heiser retrieves a meal for his wife so the couple can dine together. This simple gesture makes a tremendous impact on the wife, helping to alleviate her anxiety over her husband’s hospitalization.

Throughout CHCC’s senior-life, mental-health, and short-term rehab programs, services, and residences, meals matter – on so many levels.

“Good nutrition and sharing meals play a significant role in health, healing, and wellness,” says Tamara Alvarez, Director of Food and Nutrition Services (FANS). “Mealtimes not only provide physical benefits, but psychological and social, as well.”

Optimal nutrition for all patients, residents, and clients at CHCC begins with a dietary assessment upon admission. Registered dietitians, who are members of the interdisciplinary care team, gather information about medical diagnosis, weight history, food allergies, medications, dental status, and food preferences. Nutritional status among seniors, in particular, can be adversely affected by natural changes of aging. For individuals with mental disorders, food can impact mental health.

“If you skip a meal, blood-sugar levels fluctuate and cause mood swings,” Ms. Heiser says. “Skipping meals can also result in poor concentration, and stress can cause you to either overeat or skip meals.”

Once an individual’s information is gathered and analyzed, a well-balanced, appropriate diet is developed. Thereafter, dietary status is assessed regularly and altered, as necessary.

Ensuring optimal nutrition also involves input from residents and patients themselves. Through Longview’s Dining Diary and Heritage Manor Nursing Home’s Resident Dining Council, seniors offer their opinions on current menu selections and propose new options.

One of the largest culinary transformations at CHCC has occurred in inpatient short-term rehab. The dining room now features restaurant-style service with an extensive menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Previously, only breakfast was offered a la carte in the dining room. Many patients chose to dine in their rooms, an option still available today.

“When only breakfast was available a la carte, I noticed that patients were socializing and developing relationships. I thought, ‘How do we get more patients to eat in the dining room?’ “ Ms. Alvarez says. “Now, the dining room is packed! Activity team members serve as the wait staff, and FANS team members are the host and runner. Music plays in the background while patients dine and socialize. We have specials daily and theme dinners monthly. And families can eat with their loved ones, too, which is so important.

“In society, food is a celebration. At CHCC, we recognize that meals play a tremendous role in the everyday life of our residents, patients, clients, and consumers. We cater to our residents. We hear their voice. Our goal is to ensure that they are always excited about dining, to have something to look forward to. One bad meal can ruin the rest of their day. We don’t want that ever to happen.”

Through CHCC’s Speakers Bureau, our registered dietitians are available to make presentations at your school, business, community group, or religious institution. Email Karen Hockstein at khockstein@chccnj.org or call (201) 848-4463 to learn more.

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