Katherine (Kathy) Thomas, our new VP of Dining and Culinary Service, joined Country Meadows in November 2018. She has spent nearly all of her career managing food and nutrition services for seniors. She loves working with seniors, hearing their stories and serving them healthy, tasty meal selections.
What is your vision for the dining experience at Country Meadows?
Great tasting, healthy food is such an important part of our daily lives. We want our menus to be healthy and nutritious for our residents, but also enjoyable and something they look forward to. When they’re talking hours later about how much they enjoyed their meal, that’s a sure sign that we’re providing them with an exceptional dining experience.
Last fall, Country Meadows residents and family members requested more meal options in a customer satisfaction survey. How have you responded?
We have added a number of new meal selections to our senior living dining menu with a focus on healthy cuisine. Our seniors are at widely different levels in knowing how to eat for good health. So, we have developed a new menu of healthy food choices to help them maintain a desirable weight, stay energized and get nutrients to lower their risk of chronic health conditions. Our new menu was launched at all our locations on April 28.
What are you doing to make meals healthier?
Residents will be offered more foods that are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. We have moderated total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol by serving meals baked, broiled or grilled. Plus, we are offering more fruit, vegetable and whole grain options, providing dairy selections lower in fat and keeping fried foods to a minimum.
Are the new options mostly dinner selections, or are there offerings for lunch and breakfast, too?
All three daily meals feature new recipes, mostly made from scratch. Here is a sampling: for breakfast, egg and cheese strata, puffed omelet with vegetables and scrambled eggs with peppers or broccoli; for lunch, various soups including lentil and butternut squash, garden burgers and grilled salads (steak or chicken); and dinner: stuffed flounder, homemade meatloaf and balsamic herb chicken.
But let’s not forget desserts! We’re offering a wider selection of homemade cheesecakes, pies and cookies. Even a healthy diet can allow room for guilty pleasures!
Are you still offering local favorites?
Oh yes, we will continue to serve crowd-pleasing local dishes like pork and sauerkraut. Another is macaroni and cheese with stewed tomatoes, though favorites vary from campus to campus. While these might seem standard fare, they are popular entrees and are among the most requested by residents. They will remain on our menu but may be served less frequently. A healthy diet should have balance, variety and moderation. At least 80 percent of weekly dietary intake should be healthy foods, and our new menu items, balanced by old favorites, should achieve that.
Are there any foods on the Country Meadows menu that might surprise people?
The biggest surprises would probably be dishes on our Elegant Entrees menu that are special-order items. Individual residents can, by special request, order a wide variety of options—even lobster or filet mignon!
What is the key to launching a new senior living dining program at 12 retirement communities all at once?
I think it’s having a good working relationship with each of our campus dining directors. We have frequent video conferences and training sessions. Plus, I have been on the road—I have visited all our campuses and have been as accessible as possible to each director and staff.
Your bio says that you have studied varieties of grapes and wines. Does that enter into your role at Country Meadows at all?
It hasn’t yet, but I’m hoping that it will. For example, as part of our community life program, our dining directors could work with community life staff to plan special wine-and-food pairing dinners for residents. I love that our campuses offer Happy Hours so residents already have an appreciation for wine varieties.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Satisfying our residents with good, nutritious meals and a pleasant dining experience—when we do that, it speaks for itself. I want residents to say, “Guess what I had for dinner last night?!” or “That meal was delicious! The chef has sure made a difference with our new menu.”