Purée With Purpose providing nutrition, dignity

Published in FSD Update

Stuffed flounder with mashed potatoes and baby carrots.

The idea of molding puréed foods into desired shapes for patients suffering from dysphagia is certainly not new. But Unidine’s Purée With Purpose has redefined the process, and the company has been recognized for its efforts.

“Purée With Purpose really distinguishes itself in two ways,” says Todd Saylor, vice president, culinary services, for the Boston-based food management firm. “First, we are educating our people on why the program is so important. We’ve found that we can really spur creativity when people understand why people are on a puréed diet. This is not an end-of-life diet. Plenty of people are on it because of a trauma like an accident or a stroke, and they will get better. So this is a temporary measure.”

The second element is that the company is creating its own meals from scratch, by puréeing foods that are on the menu and reshaping them to look like the original items.

“This is part of our fresh foods pledge,” he explains. “You can buy preshaped items, but they often have a lot of fillers in them. Our puréed foods are fresh, from-scratch foods—the same items our regular patients or residents [are served].”

Saylor knows something about puréed foods. He has been working with them for 25 years, first with the Wood Co. and later with Cura Hospitality, before joining Unidine two years ago. He also worked with Hormel Health Labs to develop the company’s Thick & Easy puréed foods line.

Unidine’s program has been so successful that it was recognized late last year with an award at the LTC & Senior Living Link Conference, in Chicago. CHE Trinity Senior Living Communities, a Unidine account in Livonia, Mich., received a Spirit of Innovation Award at the conference for Purée With Purpose.

Larry D’Andrea, executive chef for Unidine at Trinity, says the program “gives voice to the voiceless.”

“We currently have 16 residents out of 265 who receive puréed meals,” D’Andrea explains. “So it would be very easy to overlook them. But the extra effort is worth it. Residents really enjoy receiving a meal that looks exactly like the meal other people are getting. We’ve even had other residents ask to try the puréed meals, so we will make a few extra.”

D’Andrea notes that the most difficult part of implementing the program was getting staff to buy into it. He says some employees were concerned that they didn’t have either the time or the skill set to reshape the puréed items.

“But we’ve given them extensive training, and the time-consuming part is actually puréeing the foods,” he says. “Shaping a meatball or using a ricer to make puréed pasta look like spaghetti doesn’t take much time at all.”

D’Andrea adds that the most difficult food to make is broccoli: “It’s hard to make the florets,” he says. On the other hand, pizza always gets rave reviews. “But whatever we’re doing, the goal is always the same: to give these patients a dignified dining experience.”