“When you passionately believe in an idea that does not yet exist, then you CREATE it!”
Sarah and I had this idea that memory impaired and cognitively challenged residents in long-term care facilities deserve better choices when it comes to what they eat. Both of us had seen too many dining rooms where residents who had trouble eating were relegated to being served fried nuggets, spoon-fed pureed food, PB&J sandwiches that were torn apart by caregivers and other forms of finger food. All this while the residents at other tables had a choice of delicious-looking meals that they could eat on their own.
It just isn’t fair, we thought. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
The task of finding real dining alternatives for these residents was more daunting than we anticipated. The challenge, we discovered, wasn’t just in finding finger food – pigs-in-a-blanket, peanut butter-stuffed celery sticks, meatballs, those choices were always available. But creating something that was both nutritious, visually appealing and similar to what residents were getting on the traditional menu meant we had to rewrite the finger-food cookbook.
That’s when I remembered my Grandmother Bubbie’s tradition of using a food grinder to make gefilte fish, grinding and poaching fish into balls. If it worked on this time-honored Jewish culinary tradition, might it work on other, everyday meals?
So we employed Sarah’s grandmother’s old food grinder in our kitchen, added some attachments, and were off to the races. While experimenting with different meals, we heavily researched how cooked and ground meat was not only nutritious, but for many – especially the elderly – it was easier to chew and digest.
Plus, this was personal. Sarah’s mother had been living with dementia for four years. She passed away last summer at the age of 91, just as we completed our second pilot project at a Cobb County assisted living facility.
Having worked in restaurants, hotels, and institutional settings, we knew the finished product would need to taste great AND but be served with a sense of flair. Memory care and cognitively impaired residents deserve the same presentation as other residents. We transformed selections from the main menu and created a palette for these meals that looked every bit as good – if not better – than what everybody else gets.
So began the Grind Dining experience. Much has been learned since we created those first few meals. We’ve put our technique to work in several locations and have put together a training program, toolkit and other professional services that can be used just about anywhere with any patient population.
We’ll be updating this blog as frequently as we can to let you know how that’s going and to present some interesting stories, research and other news that you might find useful. We invite you to share your experiences too. If you have a family member, friend or loved one who lives in a residential facility that might need our help, please let us know. And drop us a line on how you think all of us can do better at ensuring these folks can joyfully anticipate eating again.
One last note: We’re calling this eating with Ida because we both had close relatives with that name. So we borrowed it from them to stress Grind Dining’s strong belief that everyone should be able to dine with Independence, Dignity and Accessibility.