By Cristen Scifo
For the past couple of weeks, I have been completing my food service rotation through the Veteran Affairs health network. While at the Loch Raven long-term care center, my partner Samantha and I were given the opportunity to arrange a special theme meal for the Veterans there. As we were only at Loch Raven for two weeks, the meal had to be planned, created, and pulled-off in a very short period. This required me to think creatively and be flexible. As Loch Raven is a long-term care facility, the population is typically comprised of older Veterans, many of which require adaptations be made to the food so that they can safely chew or swallow their meals. Others require tools to help them feed themselves if they have arthritis, Parkinson’s, or have suffered a stroke. Although it was not always easy, working with the Veteran population was both educational and rewarding.
On our first day at Loch Raven, our preceptor informed us that she needed a menu from us by lunch as the purchase order would need to be submitted that afternoon. The theme of our meal was to be an Election Day lunch so we focused on picking items that would reflect American cuisine but still be suitable for most specialty diets. We decided to make the entire meal heart healthy, since there were no non-dialysis renal residents. That meant the the only modifications needed would be texture modifications. Eventually, we had four different diet plans for the day: regular, mechanical, puree-mechanical, and puree.
Since we were offering a variety of textures, we wanted to know more about what foods were appropriate for each diet and what products were available. For the pureed diets we provided pureed, molded, chicken and pork patties, corn, green beans, mixed berries, and strawberry cheesecake. Since the pureed foods were molded (shaped), they did resemble the original food. This created a more enjoyable experience for the Veteran eating the meal. The mechanical pureed diet was given the same menu as the pureed. The mechanical diet was modified slightly but was similar to the regular diet. An example would be the use of diced tomatoes rather than fresh in the caprese salad. Those following a mechanical diet are not allowed fresh vegetables, with some exceptions. Their vegetables must be cooked or canned. This modification allowed these residents to enjoy this side dish.
After a week of planning it was time for the meal. Samantha and I had put finishing touches on the advertisements, menu, and allergen guide the day before, so all that was left was to prep some of the food. We spent the morning of our meal chopping tomatoes and mozzarella for the salad, plating cake, and, for a patriotic touch, adding blue food dye to Sprite. We then worked with the amazing recreational therapy team at Loch Raven to decorate the room where we would be serving the Veterans. The meal went well with only minor bumps. We had more Veterans attend then we were expecting and nearly ran out of food. Fortunately we were able to react under the pressure and, with the help of the chef, provide alternative pureed options for the newly arriving Veterans.
Overall, this theme meal was a success and we got many positive comments from the Veterans and the staff. The Veterans loved the change of pace and the different menu. From purchase orders to production sheets, I learned so much about food service and accommodating dietary concerns. I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back to our nation’s Veterans while completing my dietetic internship. I am also thankful for the amazing staff at Loch Raven and our preceptor for all the guidance and support it took to pull off this theme meal.