Earlier this year, Edgemere, a senior living community in Dallas, unveiled a renovated and updated main kitchen with an open layout. Since dining here is designed to be a community event, the open layout has a big impact. Another area of impact is the Real Food First program, an initiative in which Cynthia Vaughn, chef de partie at Edgemere, is a driving force.
Real Food First’s aim is to ensure all residents—particularly those in the health center or in memory support—have a safe, dignified dining experience. As senior dining pros know well, that can get tricky when residents require a puréed diet.
Vaughn’s solution is a visually stunning puréed food menu where nothing—even chicken pot pie—seems impossible. She’s largely self-taught in the art of puréed food, and has experience being a pastry chef. (There’s a parallel in technique between making delicate frosting features like rosettes for cakes and the shapes required for puréed versions of classic meals, making this a common background for those making great puréed food.)
Using a few molds, but mostly “freestyling it” to get the right shape, color and presentation, Vaughn (pictured above) and her team create puréed menu items that are just about indistinguishable from their “real” counterparts in appearance, taste and nutritional value. And, the puréed meals look just like what the seniors’ neighbors are eating from the regular menu.
“I’ve observed a lot of residents and most people can’t distinguish the puréed diets from regular diets because they look so similar,” Vaughn says. “That’s why I do it, so people can have good-looking and good-tasting food.”
Puréed items include waffles, pancakes, sausage and eggs for breakfast—all puréed then molded back to their original form…and for lunch, options for the day might include grilled chicken and potatoes. There is a pork loin with vegetable medley for dinner. Also, Vaughn says, “the residents love my pizza. I make pizza for one resident three times a week because he loves it so much.
The most challenging puréed menu item so far has been chicken pot pie, because “you have to purée the crust, the meat, pipe out the vegetables, make the gravy, then freeze all of it,” Vaughn says. “Then you have to put it all back together and make it look exactly like it did before.”
Although only a small percentage of Edgemere residents require a puréed diet, those that do are impacted by significant issues like dysphagia and dental problems. There are even a few residents who don’t need the puréed foods but request the puréed plates when they look especially good. “We often have residents say, ‘It’s so pretty I don’t want to eat it,” Vaughn says.
This venture has been one of the most rewarding in Vaughn’s 30-year foodservice career.
“I had a resident’s family member whose dad wasn’t eating, and he wasn’t happy,” she says. “When her dad started the program, his daughter started to cry. That’s the reason why I do it.”