The Royales, as Royale Retirement Homes are called, are one of California's large networks of residential care facilities for healthy senior citizens. And a key feature of the care is the food.
"The main consideration is to serve healthy, well-balanced meals that also taste good," said Michael Lemke, chef at the Coronado Royale on Coronado Island in San Diego. Lemke, like other Royale chefs, works with registered dietitians in designing menus for 1,600 seniors consuming 1.7 million meals each year.
Close contact with the residents provides ample opportunity for the chefs of the 14 facilities throughout California to cater to their likes and dislikes. "We also consider medically restricted diets of each individual," said Lemke, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and chef for 21 years.
Uses Herbs and Spices
"In general, we avoid salt in cooking but compensate for the resulting bland flavor by using chicken and beef bases as well as herbs and spices," he said. Herbs such as oregano, tarragon, dill, parsley and garlic are used as flavor enhancers. However, fats and cholesterol are also major considerations in preparing foods for the elderly, making menu choices somewhat of a challenge for a generation brought up on meat and potatoes.
"Meat and potatoes and anything sweet is still the favorite food of most of our residents," Lemke said. The residents like things grilled or baked, and liver is very popular fried the old-fashioned way. Poultry--chicken, Cornish hens and roast turkey on Sunday--are frequent weekly menu items, as well. Fresh, not canned vegetables are served and enjoyed, according to Lemke.
"Carrots are a favorite with our residents. And they also like cauliflower or broccoli with cheese sauce, creamed peas and spinach." Any dislikes? "Zucchini, no matter how imaginatively prepared," he said.
Marinated in Wine
Because many residents require soft foods due to dentures, plastic esophaguses, or other health problems, meats are marinated in wine to tenderize as well as to add flavor. Vegetables are cooked to a soft stage and fruits are served ripe. Favorite fruits? Bananas, strawberries, grapes and watermelon.
Soft food diets include scrambled eggs, cottage cheese and pureed meats, according to Lemke.
"As for desserts, our people like anything sweet--cakes and the two-crust-type apple pie, puddings, cobblers, shortcakes and baked Alaska are favorites, but we try to hold the sugar content down by making desserts as sugar-free as possible," he said. Desserts are often flavored with fruit juices and topped with low-calorie whips. Ice cream, which comes in both dietetic and regular form, is also a great favorite.
Balancing meals is easier than expected, for most of the seniors seem to enjoy complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and grains, which, in a well-balanced diet, should consist of 55% to 60% of the day's intake of food.
"We make sure there is a salad for lunch and vegetables for dinner. We use rice, pasta and potatoes for starch. Spaghetti and meat balls are definitely a favorite," Lemke said.
Here are a few recipes from chef Lemke, which are favorites of the Royale residents.
SPAGHETTI MEAT SAUCE
4 slices bacon, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound chicken livers, minced
1/3 cup tomato puree
1 1/2 cups vermouth or white Chianti
3 1/2 cups beef stock
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cook bacon until brown and crisp. Drain fat. Add olive oil to pan and heat. Add onions, carrots and celery. Saute until tender.
Add ground beef and saute until browned. Add livers and cook until pink. Add tomato puree, vermouth, beef stock, nutmeg and pepper. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat 1 hour. Makes 4 cups.
VEGETARIAN PITA POCKETS
Warm whole-wheat or unbleached white flour pita bread
Thinly sliced lettuce
Cucumbers, thinly sliced
Red onion rings
Dill pickle slices
Raw or cooked mushrooms
Chopped green onions
Crumbled hoop cheese
Steamed fresh vegetables
Low-fat sour cream or uncreamed cottage cheese blended with buttermilk or non-fat milk
Cut pita bread in half if large or slice off top to open pocket. Stuff pocket of pita bread with any combination of lettuce, tomato wedges, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, onion rings, carrot, pickles, capers, mushrooms, green onions, hoop cheese or vegetables. Top with sour cream.
CURRIED SALMON-RICE LOAF
1 (17 1/2-ounce) can salmon
1/3 cup chopped green onions
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped or powdered garlic
3 cups cooked rice
Flake salmon. Remove skin and bones. Add salmon, green onions, curry powder, lemon juice, cider vinegar and garlic to rice. Mix well. Pack into plastic-lined loaf pan and chill several hours in refrigerator. When ready to serve, unmold onto lettuce-lined platter. Makes 4 servings.