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Cura’s BeWell program gently nudges residents toward healthy eating

Chefs add excitement to the wellness initiative through a teaching kitchen and small tweaks to favorite dishes.
Chefs and dietitians set up and prep the ingredients ahead of time for the recipe demos. / Photo courtesy of Cura Hospitality.

Cura’s BeWell Kitchens are expanding to more senior living communities, thanks to chefs who make healthy eating fun, educational and tasty for residents.

The culinary team at Presbyterian Senior Living at Westminster Woods in Huntindon, Pa. created the first teaching kitchen, based on a model developed by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Cura chefs and dietitians evolved the concept into the company’s BeWell Kitchens, which are now also in place at Presbyterian Manors of Mid America at Wichita and Parsons Presbyterian Manors, both located in Kansas, as well as operations in Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

Through chef demos and hands-on interactive experiences, residents learn how to prepare a BeWell recipe without it seeming like school. Participants then take home laminated recipes so they can prepare the dishes in their own kitchens. The culinary demonstrations also incorporate a small dose of nutrition education—but the staff is careful not to overdo it.  

Cura Corporate Executive Chef Lance Franklin is a living role model at how healthy makeovers of favorite recipes can make a big difference—and he spreads the message.

Thirteen years ago, Franklin drastically changed his eating habits and mindset to get back to a healthy weight.

“I’m a pescatarian and try to eat as clean as I can,” he says. “I teach my chefs and cooks how to reduce meat on the plate and make substitutions. As a chef, you can improve your eating habits by experimenting. You never run out of options.”

One of his favorites is a healthier version of lasagna that substitutes mushrooms for meat. That’s one of the recipes demonstrated in the BeWell Kitchens, along with turkey burgers in place of beef burgers. Franklin and Cura’s corporate director of culinary operations Chris Greve have also developed anti-inflammatory and brain-boosting spice blends to season dishes. These ingredients help connect participants to the concept of functional foods that go beyond nutrition to support health and prevent disease.

Along with the chefs and cooks, registered dietitians also take part in the demos to communicate the nutrition message. “I work with the community’s life enrichment director to coordinate a time for the event between lunch and dinner and give residents enough time to rsvp,” said Torehn Windt, regional dietitian and menu manager for the two Kansas operations.

Cooking demo

Photo courtesy of Cura Hospitality

At a recent demo, Windt and David Wills, director of culinary for Presbyterian Manors of Mid America, prepared a summer chicken salad. The ingredient set-up included zucchini, summer squash, peppers, pine nuts, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, cooked chicken and peach vinaigrette dressing.

“The recipe gave residents the opportunity to toss their own salad with us,” said Windt. “For those residents who didn’t participate, we had tasters so they could sample and observe.”

Resident Donna Berner was totally engaged. “I learned many new things and am eager to grill zucchini and prepare that delicious peach vinaigrette dressing,” she said. “I immediately added frozen peaches to my shopping list.”

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