Person-centered care, Chopped style

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

If there was such thing as an armchair quarterback for the Food Network show Chopped, it'd be me. My friends and I have logged an almost embarrassing amount of time watching it (eight hours on one recent rainy day binge), yelling critiques at the on-screen chefs' dishes as we eat something totally unimpressive, such as microwave popcorn.

If you're not familiar with Chopped, allow me to fill you in on what you're missing. Each episode features four chefs battling it out in appetizer, entree and dessert rounds. The chefs have to include four special ingredients in each dish, which they have no idea about until they open a pretty ominous looking picnic basket.

Once the ingredients are unveiled (Cheetos? M&Ms? Chicken in a can? An Old Fashioned?) the chefs get to work, whipping up the best (or least disgusting) dish they can in under 20 minutes.

Chopped is drama-filled and intensely interesting, watching these talented chefs put their creativity to work at a moment's notice. And it's instantly what came to mind as I read this recent story from the Associated Press on a slow growing trend in the nursing home industry: individualized menus.

The AP story highlights the chef at Sunny Vista Living Center in Colorado Springs, CO, as he cooked up a last minute order of Thai-style soup for a resident who didn't care for any of the dozen choices already on the facility's menu.

“You have to be creative,” the chef said. Just as if it was Chopped, good, person-centered cooking is embedded with creativity and an aim to please, whether the diners are the show's uppity judges or elderly nursing home residents with dietary restrictions.

While the individualized menu trend has been slow to pick up steam, it may get a boost from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' massive regulatory overhaul for nursing homes. Among the proposed food and nutrition services regulations are requirements that providers' create menus that “reflect the religious, cultural and ethnic needs and preferences of the residents” while “not limiting the resident's right to make personal dietary choices.”

Sound like a tall order? CMS thinks so too, noting that it may be a challenge for nursing homes to meet every resident's' needs and preferences, given the diversity of the country's nursing home population.

Essentially, it boils down to this: CMS thinks more work needs to be “to ensure residents are offered meaningful choices in diets that are nutritionally adequate and satisfying to the individual.”

Complaints about quantity, quality and variation of nursing home meals rank among the top 10 grievances filed by residents and their families, the AP story notes. While the costs of fresh food and labor may seem prohibitive, the individualized meal options may be offset by the benefits that come with them.

The specialized menus helped prevent weight loss, Sunny Vista's administrator told the AP. The price of medication to boost residents' appetites is higher than preparing them a nutritious and enjoyable meal. Not only that, individual meals are “the right thing to do,” she added.

While nursing home kitchen staff may not feel the pressure that comes with competing on Chopped, this growing trend of individualized menus may present them with creative challenges much like the show's mystery baskets. And with the CMS taking a stab at regulating person-centered dining choices, it's unlikely we'll see the issue on the chopping block any time soon.

Follow McKnight's Staff Writer Emily Mongan @emmongan.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.