‘Home-cooking’ back on the front burner

With reports of poor quality food in the longterm-care facility at the Stettler hospital, residents are happy to hear

Fresh foods like the vegetables on display at the Stettler Farmers’ Market on Tuesday are projected to be on the menu for Alberta seniors’ residences

With reports of poor quality food in the longterm-care facility at the Stettler hospital, residents are happy to hear that home-cooked meals are slated to come back this winter, with enhanced food services.

“Everybody is so happy about it — that we’ll have home-cooked meals,” said Jim Ellwood, a resident of Heritage House.

“It hasn’t been that good for the last two years. We are going to be pleased to get some good food.”

After hearing concerns from Stettler and other communities in the province, Health Minister Fred Horne last week ordered Alberta Health Services to end the practice of preparing meals off-site. He stipulated a return to home-cooked meals made on-site to provide fresher food that better meets residents’ dietary needs and preferences.

“Alberta Health Services is complementing its longterm-care centre menus as part of a larger initiative called Closer to Home, which will expand in the fall with on-site preparation of food in the centres, and more choices for residents, allowing them to enjoy more local favourites, familiar foods and specialties,” said Heather Kipling, communications advisor for Alberta Health.

Local residents in Heritage House and their families are invited to express their food preferences for the facility.

“We are talking to residents and their families — local community residents about the food we serve, what’s most important to them, and what menu items we could introduce again,” reads the Closer to Home information sheet.

As part of the program, families and local residents would be invited to test-taste the food and volunteers would be encouraged to serve in the “Golden Soup” program. As part of that program, they would be trained to assist nursing staff during mealtimes and “help provide a safe, comfortable and supportive environment which ensures nourishment and a fun new social connection with residents on-site.”

The health minister, Horne, said he’s eager to respond to concerns from residents and their families.

“We’ve heard what residents and their families have said about the quality of food in our longterm-care facilities and, today, we are taking action to improve that,” he said last week.

“They deserve to live in comfort and dignity and enjoy food that is not only nutritious, but looks and tastes home-cooked and satisfies cultural food preferences.”

Alberta Health will be required to prepare meals within provincial facilities that improve the taste and appearance over the food currently served, while at the same time designing meals “that better reflect flexibility and choice for residents.”

Alberta Health plans to consult with residents, families and staff to develop and present a plan of action to Horne by October, with full implementation of on-site and locally based meal preparation planned by December.

Ellwood said the current Stettler meals taste more like TV dinners.

“Some of them are not as good as TV dinners,” he said.

Since the food has been prepared off-site, the meals have been less appetizing, he said.

“The roast is so dry and tasteless, it has no aroma,” said Ellwood, a resident in the facility for about six years.

“Some of the meat has so much coating, there’s hardly any meat. Vegetables are way overcooked — they’re kind of like mush.”

A retired Calgary rancher, Grant Fawcett, has offered to pay for carrots and potatoes for the longterm-care homes. His plan for the Stettler facility was to provide fresh vegetables from a Hutterite Colony in Byemoor.

That offer, however, was turned down by Alberta Health, Fawcett said Tuesday.

“They say they can’t use food that isn’t provincially inspected,” he said. “They should be glad they’re getting free food.

“What’s happening is disgusting. People are eating unpalatable food.”

Concerns came to the forefront in June when a Calgary Herald report highlighted an Alberta Union of Public Employees video called “Hard to Swallow.” Herald food writer and restaurant critic John Gilchrist sampled a meal at the Stettler Hospital and Care Centre.

“The gravy is just glue — the potatoes are obscene,” Gilchrist said.

The dinner he sampled “reminded me of the TV dinners of the early 1960s, with the watery potatoes and the glossy gravy that came from no place natural, and the meats that really have no texture or taste,” he reported.

“I’ve eaten a lot of bad food in a lot of dodgy situations. This is the worst food I’ve had in years, Absolutely dreadful.”

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