When you think of pureed food, visions of art and a taste of pure bliss don’t often come to mind; however the gourmet chefs at Brookdale Senior Living Solutions are reinventing the senior living dining experience.
“Awaken your taste buds.” This mantra is used by the culinary geniuses at Brookdale Senior Living Solutions on a daily basis.
Attending to residents’ specific dietary needs while maximizing flavor and offering healthy meals is just the start of what senior living has to offer these days. Ricardo Gomez, Regional Director of Dining Services at Brookdale Senior Living Solutions, provides insight into how chefs “put a lot of love” into every dish. Pureed food is one such example of a seemingly unpalatable food that Brookdale chefs construct into tasty, culinary masterpieces for their senior audience.
Artful, Tasteful Pureed Dining
“Flavor is the intersection of what we taste and smell—it’s important,” notes Gomez. “Appearance and texture also have a large influence on our appetite, which is why it’s so essential to get pureed foods right.” But why do people need pureed diets? Seniors who have difficulty chewing or swallowing sometimes require a soft food diet. And, often, when seniors switch to pureed food diets, their nutrition can take a turn for the worse. Naturopathic physician and A Place for Mom nutrition expert, Dr. Lindsay Jones-Born comments:
“Changes in body function may impact nutritional intake, such as dentition, or the makeup of a set of teeth— including how many, their arrangement and their condition. The loss of teeth and/or ill-fitting dentures can lead to avoidance of hard and sticky foods, and certain medical conditions, including dementia, stroke, dysphagia and others make soft-food diets necessary as swallowing can be difficult. The introduction to these soft foods can often make eating less enjoyable, which creates a problem when it comes to not only a healthy diet, but also the socialization involved with eating. This is why finding tasty pureed meals are so crucial for a senior’s health and emotional well-being.”
But achieving this feat is not an easy one. Pureed food diets require additional seasoning and presentation. This is where Brookdale Senior Living chefs’ shine.
Learn more about the art and masterful cuisine of pureed food by reading Gomez’s interview below:
Question: Where do chefs get specific training for pureed food diets?
Ricardo Gomez: Assisted living and skilled nursing require a different level of cooking expertise. Brookdale hires great, professional chefs, but they don’t, necessarily, have the experience of modifying foods to puree. So we do ‘hands-on’ 1:1 training with regional directors so that all our chefs in these communities are able to transform any meal into its pureed form.
We also encourage all dining leaders to watch videos and study training material and everyone goes through our Service Learning Management Systems training. We also offer our Culinary Arts Institute training. Pureed food requires tools and molds, which is why it is one of the more challenging dietary meal options. It’s also important to include that ‘passion and love’ in each meal, which is a part of the Brookdale culture.
Q: How do you maintain a good taste/texture to appeal to residents?
RG: Our mission is to create high-quality, enjoyable meals for residents. We have to ask ourselves, ‘Does it look good?’ and then, ‘Does it taste as good as it looks?’ – every dish needs to pass the test.
We do this by pureeing our meals to light consistency using only fresh ingredients. A lot of other communities will provide pre-made and frozen versions, but we want to take it a step further as we understand how important resident satisfaction is; we provide freshly prepared pureed meals at the time of service.
Also, some cooks use water when blending, but we use homemade chicken stock—and mold it. We have molds available to make the food beautiful. And when we mold we use ‘piping-hot’ stock and puree at the moment of service to ensure good taste. We construct the meal to look as close to the original meal.
And practice makes perfect—it’s true. I like to sit down with the marketing director and the health and wellness director and present them a menu—and they choose items—and we create and serve items in puree form. We use flavored broths and spices to enhance taste while and minimize extra textures and gelatins to keep flavors in-tact. We find that there’s no better way to discuss pureed food and the process than our dining professionals experience the meals for themselves.
Q: Do you find the presentation of the food makes much of a difference to resident enjoyment?
RG: Yes, it does! Presentation is huge as we eat with our eyes. For example, vegetables presented as a ‘scoop and blob’ on a plate isn’t very appealing. If we puree at the moment—have a canvas—and create a true artistic masterpiece, the food becomes appetizing. We also garnish; it makes a huge difference.
Q: What are some of the “insider secrets” to making pureed food look nice while holding nutritional value?
RG: We find that if you don’t freeze and thaw—instead serve fresh—that makes a huge difference. Also, make sure the foods don’t run together and NEVER serve leftovers. Stay away from canned, make sure to portion properly and seal the foods’ juices. Chefs can enhance flavors using citrus, spices and seasonings and using the proper technique. Also, make sure you use a recipe for everything you do and put a lot of love into the meal. Don’t underestimate residents’ hearts and desire for a good dining experience!
Q: What specific resident conditions require pureed food?
RG: Basically any resident who has chewing and swallowing problems. If there is a choking hazard, we might recommend a pureed diet. Every assisted living and skilled nursing community offers 8 diets, and puree is one of those.
Q: What are your favorite pureed food recipes? Do you mind sharing those with us?
RG: Chocolate cake—I love chocolate cake! And when you see the regular and pureed version, they both look and taste great!
But, in all honesty, all the foods are great. The ham looks like ham and the cheese looks like cheese. The steaks, salads, spaghetti and baked goods are all masterfully created and taste delicious. You just have to understand who you’re serving. Puree is just a different consistency that residents get used to. All the foods taste the way they’re supposed to taste, even though it’s pureed.
But you do have to remember that you can’t pick up the hamburger and eat it as it’s hard to grab with your hands. It’s best to eat with a fork. Utensils are necessary with this type of diet.
Q: What creations are most popular? Which ones are you most proud of?
RG: It’s impossible for me to answer that! We have so many excellent options and so many communities provide pureed meals.
The chef’s salad and beef stew seem to be popular on our Culinary Road Show and the deli sandwich is pretty amazing as it has sliced tomatoes, pickles and lettuce. The fresh cod looks beautiful. I know that Bob Davis prepares the beef stew during the Road Show presentation, which is pretty popular. What’s great is that our menu manager program and diet summary reports offer items. Our chefs have access to any item at their fingertips—they can puree anything on the menu.
Again, we follow the ‘eat well, live well’ philosophy, which includes our beautiful puree options.
About Brookdale Senior Living and Ricardo Gomez
Ricardo Gomez is the Regional Director of Dining Services at Brookdale Senior Living Solutions. Brookdale offers new answers to the age-old question of aging. Framing everything we do inside your vision for all the places you’d still like your life to go. As an individual. A couple. A family. Being a trusted partner in bringing all those places you seek in life- to life. By listening to your needs. Understanding the life you want for yourself or your loved one. Then customizing a solution that puts life, close within reach.
At Brookdale Senior Living, you can expect us to be a trusted partner by listening and understanding your needs, discussing potential solutions and options, mutually determining the right thing to do and working with you to take action together. Then we customize a solution that puts the life you want within reach. It is our job to provide solutions for the unmet needs of those who seek senior living solutions. We do this in more than 600 retirement communities, and with a wide range of innovative programs and services. Brookdale has nearly 50,000 associates whose passion, courage and true sense of partnership make Brookdale what it is. More than a company, it is a calling.
Do you have any good pureed food cooking tips or recipes? What do you think about all the pureed food pictures in this article — would you eat them? We welcome your comments below.