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Food for thought.

A few weeks ago our Activities Department had a spaghetti dinner for some of our residents. The residents made the meatballs the day before the dinner and prepared the sauce in a crockpot for slow cooking the next day. Several residents checked on the pot in the Community Room, slowly stirring it each time they visited. Sausage was browned and added that afternoon. The antipasto and bread sticks were ordered in bulk from a local delivery restaurant.

That evening the residents gathered around to watch the activities staff boil water for the angel-hair pasta. We discussed Sunday dinners and how a watched pot never boils. We added the pasta, box by box, until we had eight pounds of pasta boiling away into a huge, almost overcooked pasta ball. We all talked about how that might have happened and what to do differently next time.

The 40 residents who participated in the special dinner ate and talked about current events, family dinners, and what we were going to have at their next special meal. As we finished cleaning up, residents returned to their rooms.


Two weeks later, the residents are still talking about the "pasta ball" and the great time they had deviating from their usual dining routine. They're discussing how great the food was and the new friends they made. They're recalling how long it took to boil the water. Even memory-challenged residents remember the antipasto salad.

We have all witnessed special dining activities in our facilities. We have all been a part of the great food debate in our activities departments and with our dietitians. But if we step back and look at these events from a human point of view, we see what a big part food plays in our leisure and family lives.

When we are born our families often celebrate. This celebration would not be complete without food. In fact, all family events--weddings, graduations, and religious and seasonal celebrations--center around food. Anytime a family gathers, Aunt Mary's Orange JELL-O Mold is there, too! "What's for dinner?" resounds every Sunday when we return home for Mom's meat loaf. We look forward to gathering with family and friends to review their week's adventures and reenergize for the week ahead.

All residents of a long-term care facility retain these lifetime associations between food and family. Meals are not only about the food; they're about the socialization. Complaints about food generally abound in Resident Council meetings, and yet we persist in trying to fix the food when it's really the socialization and presentation aspects of dining that are most important.

Food programs conducted by activities staff have proven that residents will eat more and eat healthier if the presentation, anticipation, and social aspects of dining are enhanced. Activities can take the same food item served in the dining room and turn it into the most requested item on the menu, simply by increasing residents' opportunities to socialize while eating it--or, better yet, to participate in its preparation, making the meal a "family" event.

Food provides a social and interactive experience for everyone. When we take a moment to consider these other important aspects of mealtimes, we can improve the health of our residents.


Kathy Hughes, COTA, ADC, is the Activities/Volunteer Director at Vivian Teal Howard RHCF, Syracuse, New York. To comment on this article, please send e-mail to
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Voices from the Field
Author:Hughes, Kathy
Publication:Nursing Homes
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Previous Article:The art of admissions: the admissions coordinator plays a large role in the resident's well-being, the family's morale, and the facility's financial...
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