With the arrival of March and spring, farmers and gardeners begin plotting their crops, and National Nutrition Month brings healthy eating into focus. Across Concordia Lutheran Ministries’ campuses, culinary team members work hard to provide delicious, healthy dining experiences with special considerations for senior and special diets.
With decades of experience, Nemorio Ramirez-Martinez, director of food service for Concordia at Villa St. Joseph, leads his kitchen by balancing taste and nutrition.
“Concordia lets me create different dishes and use diverse recipes,” Nemorio says. “We are putting together really good food for the residents. We make 90% of the food from scratch.”
For Nemorio, freshness is the key, with only a handful of fruits and other items arriving processed. Many processed foods come with added salts and sugars. These ingredients are essential for preserving food but can be problematic for healthy diets. These ingredients weigh more negatively in food for seniors.
For senior nutrition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends limiting saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. The FDA encourages seniors to seek more foods with dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
“Older adults have different nutritional needs than other age groups,” the FDA says. “Eating too much or too little of some nutrients may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.”
Nemorio regularly considers diabetic, lactose-intolerant and gluten-intolerant diets when selecting menus and providing alternatives. It can be tricky because those considerations can impact the taste. Nemorio constantly looks for new ways to meet residents’ unique dietary needs.
Jessica Pyle, personal care administrator for Concordia at Villa St. Joseph, says Nemorio meets with residents regularly and considers their input. After recent meetings, his food service team has been prepping more salads and offering lettuce wraps instead of breaded sandwiches.
Pyle says the great care Nemorio and his team put into their healthy food receives rave reviews from the residents. It also has drawn others to their doors.
“We sell meal tickets for families who wish to join their loved ones,” Jessica says. “We sell a handful every day. People enjoy the food even from the greater community.”
Inspired staff like Nemorio and his team span across Concordia’s facilities, but at some locations, residents have the option to add to their already great diets. Multiple locations, including Concordia of the South Hills, Concordia at Sumner, Concordia Village of Tampa, Highpointe at Rebecca and Concordia at Cabot, have spaces and places where residents can grow their own flowers and produce. Some residents are using these spaces to supplement the well-balanced options Concordia offers.
Margaret Zabo and her husband Dan moved into Concordia of the South Hills’ retirement living in 2011. She and Dan became avid members of a gardening group that tends to a set of garden boxes on campus. She loved planting fresh produce, and Dan kept the gardens clean and free of weeds until he passed in 2021.
“We took turns watering. We had residents on the ground floor very close to the beds, and they helped look out for them too,” she says.
Margaret remembers a man who grew a lot of herbs, including chives and oregano. She says some people grew cucumbers and zucchinis, and she and her husband grew a lot of tomatoes.
“I don’t like tomatoes unless they’re home grown,” she says.
And, when the crops came, the campus community passed around the yield. Sometimes Margaret would drop off a handful of tomatoes on a neighbor’s doorstep. Others would leave baskets of fresh vegetables in the common areas. Nothing went to waste.
Margaret says last year was likely her last in helping with the group. She hopes people continue tending to the garden boxes with produce and beautiful flowers. It gives people a great sense of purpose and community.
“We take care of each other here,” Margaret says.
At Concordia, nutrition plays a key role in our goal to help personal care, assisted living, skilled and retirement living residents age healthily in place. To find a location near you, visit our list of locations.
Founded in 1881, Concordia Lutheran Ministries is a faith-based, CARF-CCAC-accredited Aging Services Network and recipient of the inaugural Pennsylvania Department of Aging Excellence in Quality Care Award. As one of the largest nonprofit senior care providers in the country, the organization serves 50,000 people annually through in-home care and inpatient locations in western PA, eastern OH and Tampa, FL.
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