DISHED: A discussion with Gordon Food Service

This article is sponsored by Gordon Food Service. This article is based on a Housing News Q&A conference with Amanda Goldman, health care industry sales strategist at Gordon Food Service. The question-and-answer session took place on June 1, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Senior Housing News: We’ll start here and talk about cultural diversity and a celebration of tradition. I’d like to introduce you to Amanda Goldman. Amanda with Gordon Food Service.

Amanda Goldman: I’ve worked with Gordon Food Service for a little over two years, focusing on the healthcare and seniors sectors. GFS is the largest privately owned outline food service distributor in North America. For 125 years, we have been committed to providing quality and service to our customers. We are headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and have 16 distribution centers in the United States and 8 in Canada.

Talk to us a little bit about how food and nutrition impact the lives of seniors today, especially as we come out of the pandemic here and find which path is the new normal.

I’m actually a worker as well as a registered dietitian by background. Health and wellness, food and nutrition have always been really important to me. If you’re thinking about coming out of the epidemic as I just indicated, there has been a lot of focus on how food and diet can help play a role in reducing the risk of chronic disease, or also help manage that. And in fact, you can do it in a delicious way.

I think it’s something that has been really brought to the fore lately. It’s always been important, but now there’s more focus out there. I think a good way we can help bridge the gap is by adding some unique menu items, along with menu innovations. We can help with the wellness space as well, and then help elevate the dining experience of our residents even more.

Influencing the residents’ experience goes a long way. Talk to us about how you incorporate certain cultural traditions and how you look at those new innovations you’re bringing to the market.

I think food is really essential to what we do. I think everyone in the audience, I suppose, anytime you meet with your family or friends, your time is likely to revolve around food. He is truly near and dear to our hearts. We all bring our own memories of food, and the different sights and smells can evoke a lot of truly positive memories. I think if you are able to introduce different cultural aspects of dining, it can be really helpful to bridge the gap of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. Also, many of our organizations have goals within the DEI space, and dining managers and programs can really help lead this business.

There was a recent OnShift Workforce 360 ​​survey that talked about how nearly 89% of organizations really wanted to focus more, or somewhat prioritize while promoting their diversity, equality, and inclusion, so I really feel like food and nutrition or food service or culinary services or whatever you might call that area or that department, it should help lead the work in a particular organization and within a particular community. It gives these food service and culinary managers a really great opportunity to do just that.

Along the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, or DEI lines, talk to us about how you see some of your customers and clients incorporate this into their menu choices and the choices they make.

I think it’s always been really there, but, again, it’s probably a little louder right now. I think a lot of that started at the beginning of the pandemic, when no one was traveling. It is clear that residents do not necessarily travel around the world, but their family members did. Chefs are beginning to implement these great ideas, both in the critical care space, and in the senior living space. We now see a lot of different menu items built in from all over the world. I’ve seen executive chefs and culinary directors start global passport programs where they will focus on one type of cuisine for a particular month, or week, or meal.

I think that’s really how it started. If you talk to a lot of operators which is what we talk about at Gordon Food Service, they get a lot of positive responses from their innovations. Whether they focus on Italy, or whether they focus on Tunisia or Spain as examples, it was just a great way to improve the menu offerings for its residents. The addition of global menu items gives residents a taste of something different, perhaps a taste of something they’ve never experienced before.

What are some simple strategies to elevate this dining experience using the components of Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion?

I think adding different theme days is a simple strategy. For example, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine is my passion. Many people do not realize that there are about 22 countries in the Mediterranean basin. People generally think of Italy, and they think of Greece, and nowhere else. But there are Tunisia, Spain, Israel etc, and there are all these different opportunities in different countries where you can combine global types of lists.

You can easily focus on a special meal like Sunday brunch, and add unique menu items or a cool and interesting drink with a little extra in there. You can do this from all kinds of different cuisines. One of the things we’re really working on is developing some different toolkits for our clients, working with our executive chefs and culinary specialists. Upcoming kits will contain recipes and will include at least one main dish, side, appetizer, dessert, and/or drink. It’s a practical tool for our customers and we can say, “This is your toolkit for Greece,” or any other. Operators will not have to recreate the wheel. If they want to tweak recipes and be more creative, chefs can do it, but they don’t need to.

I think there are a lot of seniors communities out there who do a great job with their food programs, and some of them have highly trained chefs. Food and Nutrition departments also suffer from a lot of business issues, just like other majors. Currently there are plenty of opportunities for training, and chefs are often raised in their roles and asked to do more. Sometimes, if we can give them the tools and some different ideas, it’s really helpful for those team members. We’re really working on developing a lot of resources that provide those kinds of solutions for operators.

Another area I want to mention isn’t necessarily development and IP related, but it’s about elevating the dining experience, and it’s really from an operations perspective. And that goes back to basics as an operator, including methods for improving performance in the Food and Nutrition Services division. It is very important to complete regular staircase accuracy checks if you are still serving residents in their rooms, and to complete similar checks in the dining room. Also, completing meal tours with your residents to determine preferences and potential concerns or requests is also critical. These are the kinds of things we know we need to do, but they don’t always happen on a consistent basis. When operators apply these tactics, they will help elevate the dining experience as well for their residents.

Talk to us about how you look at it from or here while you are doing wellness and eating at the same time. How does this factor play its role? Is eating first, wellness second, or wellness first, then eating second?

I’ll say 50/50, and I’m going to be a bit neutral here. I say that because, again, I’m a dietitian and ice cream is my absolute favorite food (laughs), so I think all foods can fit into a balanced diet. I think we eat with our eyes and our sense of smell, so it’s important that we eat what we like, but also focus on new and different foods, and healthy foods as well.

I think again, what we were talking about at the beginning of this conversation with a focus on health and wellness, it’s important to add in different food items and more culture based menu items as well. Many different cultures have a lot of healthy foods that are naturally fresh, and may focus on foods in their natural state, and may focus on increasing the use of fruits and vegetables. I mentioned the Mediterranean diet earlier, it has been the number one healthy lifestyle type of eater for five straight years now by US News and World Report.

Also, there was some discussion earlier today about local foods. Farm fresh foods and local items are easy ways to incorporate healthy items into your menu. It can also be part of a culturally diverse menu. For all of these reasons and more, I believe wellness and healthy eating go together.

Looking ahead in the next six to twelve months, where do you see the most innovations in eating for seniors, and what is the future?

Whether you’re incorporating some great new items into your pub, your coffee kiosk, or fine dining, I really think it’s all about simply figuring out what our residents want to eat. It’s important to talk to their families as well, and perhaps learn their favorite recipes from back and combine them. You might also offer an educational event in the kitchen, so you can get them involved in the cooking process as well.

This is also useful for taking care of memory as well. We have a resource about teaching kitchens and cooking memories. Over the past two years, more residents have been eating in their rooms and isolation has increased, which in turn may increase the risk of weight loss and the possibility of malnutrition. Anything we can do to provide an excellent dining experience is beneficial, and that includes delicious foods made with unique ingredients. Creative menu ideas can also be driven by restaurants where many trends in food service begin. Health care menus and top food menus will soon include many of these culturally diverse trends if they aren’t already.

We’ve covered a lot over the years about the MIND diet to the Mediterranean. I want you to wear your RD hat. What would you say to the providers and operators out there today that you think is missing at least from the point of view of diet and nutrition in the lives of older adults?

As we just mentioned, in terms of adding more fresh foods, including more local foods can definitely make a difference. Also, oftentimes, dining team members may simply need more altitude training. Preparing new items can be a little intimidating. One of the great elements of the Mediterranean Diet and the MIND diet is that many of the menu items are inherently simpler with fewer ingredients—it’s all about preparing fresh, flavor combinations, and loading up on fruits and vegetables.

Going back to the reference sources, the toolkits developed by GFS will be very useful to our clients. Also, Pineapple Academy provides some great resources as well in terms of team member training. We’re all in this together, and anything we can do to help elevate the dining experience for all of our residents is a win!

The purpose of Gordon Food Service is to serve customers with quality food service products and services. To find out how visit: https://www.gfs.com/en-us.

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