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What You Should Know About Nutrition

What You Should Know About Nutrition

Mar. 19th, 2021

Nutrition is a necessity for living a healthy life. When it comes to the nutrition of residents in healthcare settings, the meals provided must be able to meet all the residents’ health needs in addition to being enjoyable.

We talked with Moe Elmaher, Executive Director and VP of Culinary, and Kym Brenneman, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, on the Saber Community Support & Development team to learn more about nutrition and how they are able to provide healthy meals for our residents.

Brenneman completed her degree at Kent State University. After working through various rotations, she found that she enjoyed working in long term care. She’s been working with Saber Healthcare for years now, working in a few early communities as a dietitian, moving onto a regional position, and now working as the Director of Food and Nutrition Services.

Elmaher’s journey with the culinary industry began thirty years ago as a dishwasher in Monaco when he decided to go to culinary school in France. He graduated in 1987 and later moved to America in 1989. Some of his culinary experience includes working in hotels located in Las Vegas and developing menus in the airline industry for companies such as American Airlines and British Airways.

Brenneman and Elmaher shared their expertise on the subject of nutrition and discussed how they develop menus for residents, as well as some of the challenges they may face.

Why is nutrition important?                                               

Brenneman and Elmaher described nutrition as the meeting point between your nutritional needs and enjoying your food.

“It’s the experience and enjoyment,” Brenneman shared. “It’s the crossroads where your needs and wants meet.”

Many of our residents are part of the vulnerable population, and changes to their nutrition impact them in more ways than what you can see. Not meeting nutritional needs can lead to complications such as dehydration, weight loss, and skin conditions.  

 “Before I joined Saber Healthcare, I didn’t know a lot of what Kym (Brenneman) knows. She taught me a lot with how we cook, how we present, and how we serve,” Elmaher said.

Moe and Kym work together to create menus that meet our residents’ nutritional needs. They said that they must have an understanding of how food works because of the vast amount of food misinformation out in the world. Things such as fad diets and supplementation are important to be able to parse through because oftentimes that information is an advertisement instead of real nutritional advice.

How does your team develop menus for our residents?

The process of menu development for our communities is extensive. Brenneman, Elmaher, and our Dietary teams work to ensure not only the residents’ nutritional needs are met, but also that our buildings are providing presentable and delicious meals.

Elmaher shared that the planning starts with simply discussing a concept of a menu. His team talks to employees and dietitians to see what residents prefer and like. Then, they develop a list of recipes to build the menu, create the menu itself, and work on the food presentation.

Another core part of menu development is going into the test kitchen and trying different recipes, asking for testers, tweaking meals as needed, finalizing the menu, and presenting the final menu choices.

Elmaher stated that it is also important for his team to look at the menu from the resident’s viewpoint. The residents have their own tastes and needs, so the food must look savory while still complying with nutritional restrictions.

This is where Brenneman comes in with her knowledge. She takes the reported preferences from the communities to create the base menu using the USDA dietary pattern for older adults as a guide. For example, to meet vitamin and fiber needs, the USDA food pattern calls for two and a half cup equivalents of vegetables each day, and when creating the menus Brenneman and Elmaher have to ensure they meet this minimum for vegetables.

Once Brenneman and Elmaher have the base menu, they will look at substitutions for each item based on therapeutic restrictions such as diabetics, renal residents, vegetarian residents, and more.

Brenneman added that there are also residents who have chewing and swallowing problems and they may have to find different substitutions to meet their nutritional needs. In cases such as these, they have to make pureed food and make it look presentable. It needs to have the same flavor, texture, and taste as regular food.

Once all of these steps are complete, Elmaher and Brenneman make a spreadsheet so that Saber Healthcare’s cooks can see the menu and all the substitutions. They mentioned that many pieces and parts go into this menu process, and it takes about thirty days to develop.

Examples of successful meals

Although the planning process of menus takes a lot of work, it has definitely proved successful.

Saber Healthcare has recently begun a new Port of Call program. This is a partnership between the Life Enrichment and Food Nutrition Services departments where the residents can enjoy food from different cultures. The program so far has been extremely exciting for many of our residents.

The departments work together to pick a theme each month and build a meal towards that theme. For example, February was Mardi Gras, and our communities celebrated Fat Tuesday with shrimp and grits, a vegetable medley, beignets, and more.

Communities have also had success with different menu days, such as Chef’s Choice, where the chef picks what to cook, and Resident’s Choice, where the residents choose their favorite meal.

How is this process challenging?

Brenneman and Elmaher discussed how the process of menu development can be fun and rewarding, but also challenging.

Brenneman shared that one challenge is regional preferences. When making menus, they have to make sure they allow enough room for flexibility. There are some foods and traditions that southern communities love, whereas they’re not as popular in the north.

Furthermore, some of our buildings have large Jewish communities where the residents will want to enjoy a Kosher meal. Brenneman and Elmaher said that for these buildings, they partner with organizations that offer the kitchens that can cook these meals and also discuss meeting the residents’ nutritional needs. This is one way our buildings help our residents celebrate their culture while still remaining compliant with nutrition guidelines.

Elmaher added that different diets and preferences can be challenging because the menus have to meet the needs of every individual. If a resident is vegetarian or has different preferences, the dietary team will work with the family to decide what they can do for that resident.

Some challenges Elmaher and Brenneman have are things everyone faces, such as getting enough fiber in a day. It’s necessary to include favorites that people enjoy eating while still hitting those goals of the fiber, fruits, and vegetables that are needed in a day.

What is the best nutrition advice you have?

We asked Brenneman and Elmaher for their best advice on nutrition.

Elmaher stated that nutrition is significant. He said that you cannot deprive yourself from food, but you can control portion sizes.

“You can eat anything, including pizza and steak, but don’t exceed the ounces of what your body needs,” Elmaher said.

Brenneman added that if you want to make a positive dietary change, start small and pick a few things you can do to make a difference.

“Review your eating habits for opportunities to move from a less than healthy eating pattern to an eating pattern that supports your health goals or reach out to a dietitian who can help you. Then, pick two things you want to work on and find a way to do those things,” Brenneman said. “Accomplish those goals, then build on them. Little successes make big successes.”

Elmaher and Brenneman also shared some simple tips that everyone can take to improve their nutrition.

“Focus on what to add versus on what to subtract,” Brenneman said. “A good first step is to make sure you’re getting enough fluids, fruits, and vegetables in a day. Then you can start looking at total calories.”

“Stick to the list you take to the grocery store and read labels,” Elmaher shared.

Saber Healthcare Appreciates our Nutrition Experts

Saber Healthcare is thankful for all those who make up our dietary team, including cooks and dietitians. Thank you Elmaher, Brenneman, and all our dietary experts for what you do for our residents!

To learn more about Saber Healthcare Group and what we do, click here.

Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.