How a senior living chef bridges generational taste gaps
Baby boomers are trickling into senior living communities, joining residents who are in their 80s, 90s and even 100s. What can be a 30-year age span in the dining room presents new and unique foodservice challenges, says Brian Rocco, a Morrison Community Living regional chef at the Beatitudes Campus, a continuing care community in Phoenix. It starts with different perceptions of healthy eating.
“Older residents still see healthy eating as controlling portion sizes, fat and calories, but for younger ones [in their 60s and early 70s], it’s more about lifestyle—using food for wellness and power,” he says. Boomers also are looking for more exciting flavors and on-trend items, Rocco adds.
Rocco’s experience jibes with findings in Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. Although younger senior citizens are concerned about sodium and fat intake, particularly as they age, they also associate fruits and vegetables, freshness and housemade foods with healthfulness.
Here are some of the ways Rocco menus healthy items that have wide appeal.
Take comfort foods outside the comfort zone
Older residents love potatoes, but Rocco gives them a chef-inspired spin with a potato-succotash hash. The side dish also incorporates more vegetables—something boomers appreciate.
Vegetarian as an option, not a mandate
“I don’t use the word vegetarian on the menu but offer options that also appeal to meat eaters,” says Rocco. A jerk portobello steak was very well-received when first introduced, he says, noting that “[t]he portobello mushroom is sliced just like a steak and people don’t complain that the dish isn’t meaty enough.” Since the majority of residents don’t like too much heat, he toned down the jerk seasoning a bit.
Cut back on sauces, dial up flavor
Plain steamed vegetables are on hand for those who prefer them that way. But to jazz up vegetables without adding rich, caloric sauces, Rocco turns to healthier ingredients. Steamed or roasted broccoli, for example, gets topped with walnut gremolata (nuts blended with garlic and lemon zest), while steamed baby carrots are tossed with a pesto made from the leafy green carrot tops.
Use meat as a garnish
One of Rocco’s more successful summer dishes was a salad with grilled peaches and burrata topped with just a sprinkling of prosciutto. He also applies meaty cooking techniques to vegetables to give them more assertive flavor—often by “throwing vegetables from the rotisserie and grill into the center of the plate,” he says. “Our goal is to make good food that just happens to be healthy.”