For Dubrovka “Dubie” Sturman, moving into Davenhill Senior Living* was, “a present to our children.” With both her adult children living in the United States, far from her Toronto home, she wanted them to feel at ease. An added benefit for herself and husband Darko was the ease with which the Davenhill accommodated her.
“Not only do I like that they cook for me,” she says, “but my husband is a vegetarian, not strict, but he doesn’t eat meat. So here he is getting meals that are suited to him, with fish instead of meat. Also, I am on a low cholesterol diet, so I asked the chef when I came, and they are making for us every day the fish or chicken or eggs. And on days when they don’t have it on the menu, they will prepare it for us.”
This accommodation to personal diets and food tastes is seen in many other retirement communities across the country. “Residents are encouraged to speak up about whatever they want” says April Johnstone, Marketing Manager at the Redwoods in Ottawa. “We put our menu out for the week so everybody will know what it is we’re serving. If there is something that they would like to see different, that gives them the opportunity to speak up and order something off the a la carte menu.”
Add your own recipe to the menu
At Villagia in the Glebe, also in Ottawa, Chef Kerry Wickens literally goes out of his way to listen to people. “When new people come into the community, I’ll go and meet with them personally, find out their likes and dislikes, learn about any allergies, learn what their favourite kind of food is. I encourage them to give me their own recipes and I can incorporate that into the menu. And when we do that, we give them credit on the menu.”
At Symphony Senior Living Orleans, Rachelle Vroom told us recently, “I had a resident come to me this morning and tell me that he remembers as a boy that his mom used to make baked beans for lunch. So I let the chef know and the chef is going to add it to the menu in the next couple of weeks. And we always have multiple options during the day, so if we don’t like baked beans there’s always something else. Like Wickens, “the chef will ask residents for a recipe, and he’s not afraid to do some homework and find one online. Residents have asked if we can try some new desserts and the chef is always willing to do so."
The food council
Symphony Senior Living Orleans is one of numerous communities across the country where residents can participate in regular meetings about food choices. The food council is a monthly face-to-face between the chef and residents, giving people an opportunity to say "what they’d like to see more of on the menu, as well as what they’d like to see changed."
For Vroom, "The bottom line is getting to know your residents. I’ve got some who are very systematic, they want the soft-boiled egg here, they want the toast with no crust set here. And our staff are trained to get to know our residents so that it doesn’t matter which staff member serves that person breakfast, they know exactly how they like it plated, they know they don’t want crust on their bread, they like a double toast... those are all the little details that we pay attention to, because this is their home."
Wickens at the Villagia echoes those ideas when he says, “Some people say, 'I like my vegetables del dente,' or others say, 'I’d like my vegetables to be cooked more.' 'I like my rice softer.... or harder.' If they mention that to their server, we can accommodate that."
At Cedar Springs PARC in Vancouver, Henry is astounded that the community's chef gives him food to go. "I don’t see how it could be any better," he says of Chef Joseph's culinary creations. Henry likes to take a tray to dine outside and enjoy the tranquility of the patio. "You get the same meals as served in the dining room, with the benefit of enjoying the outdoors."
The upshot of all this is that communities definitely become home. Dubrovka and Darko are typical of many seniors. “Darko and me we, sit together, we have our table now, we have a nice view in the dining room. When we come in, they greet everybody. I like how people are very friendly here. Here it’s very casual.”
*closed in 2019.