Seniors' meals to get overhauled
In-house cooking a welcome change for residents
It is so common to complain about hospital food that it has almost become cliché, but you can’t blame folks for complaining if they aren’t given a choice.
It’s not surprising then that the news that provincial health minister Fred Horne has ordered Alberta Health Services to move back to on-site food preparation for the long-term care facilities run the health board has received a warm reception.
One resident of the Westlock Continuing Care Centre was able to offer a fairly unique perspective on the situation, having spent many years of her life in Africa eating a lot more frugally than the average Albertan.
Janet MacDougall, now a resident of the centre, said that while she has her own particular food preferences, she doesn’t see the need to complain too much about the three meals per day she is served.
She lived in Africa from 1957-1987, where one meal a day was standard and it usually consisted of a porridge made from rice, millet and/or sorghum.
“They have very little variety, but they don’t complain like we do,” she said. “We don’t suffer, really.”
MacDougall shared a meal with a Westlock News reporter in the hospital cafeteria last Saturday evening to discuss the meals and the coming changes.
The supper plate consisted of potatoes wedges, diced turnips and cod nuggets — small pieces of deep-fried fish. The meal had a uniform beige colour, with nothing green on the plate.
“This is typical of the meals we get, except they’re usually cold,” MacDougall said. “They prepare a lot of plates before they start serving.”
She knows that when serving so many meals all at once, however, that it’s not always going to be easy to ensure the food is hot once it reached every table. And besides, it’s hard to add the little touches when cooking for large groups.
“When you’re cooking for that many people you can’t make it taste like a home-cooked meal, can you?”
MacDougall said there is a wide variety of meats that are served, but they are often served with similar side dishes, and those side dishes tend to be repeated over and over.
“They serve certain things with certain things and it’s always the same,” she said. “You know what’s coming.”
The sides also tend to be heavy on the starch instead of on fresh fruit and vegetables, and it’s not always of the highest quality.
“When we have mashed potato I think it’s powdered potato. They taste alright, but it’s not the same as real potatoes,” MacDougall said.
She said fruit is always available during snack times and residents do have an option of a cold plate — consisting of fresh raw vegetables — if they so choose.
MacDougall said it’s her impression that others living in the facility feel the same way about the food, although they might not always be inclined to make their concerns known.
Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Maureen Kubinec said she has heard complaints about the food in the past, and sees Horne’s recent announcement as a step in the right direction.
“I’m very pleased that they’re going that route. I think this is maybe an example of where people spoke, then the government listened and they acted,” she said.
She acknowledged that it was a previous incarnation of the Progressive Conservatives who oversaw the end of on-site cooking in small centres two years ago.
AHS shut down the kitchens in some smaller centres to cut costs.
Meals have since been prepared in a central location then shipped across the province to be reheated.
Things are different under premier Alison Redford, Kubinec said, and the coming changes to seniors’ meals is a clear example of this government’s intent to do things differently.
“This is a different government. It really is,” she said.
“I heard it described the other days as there is a new sheriff in town. Things are done quite differently.”
The changes to the meals at AHS-run seniors facilities are expected to be implemented by this coming December, although there has as of yet been no clear indication what kind of specific changes will be made by the province.
For MacDougall, there are a few simple things that could be done to make the meals more palatable.
“I’d like to see them hotter,” she said. “And more fresh vegetables.”
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