Executive Decisions with Caroline Neff

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Caroline Neff is the Dining Services Coordinator at Sunrise Assisted Living in Clayton (Missouri). Before joining Sunrise, Neff worked at an independent retirement community in the St. Louis area. Earlier, she and her husband owned a restaurant for 10 years. She recently spoke about what's new in long-term care food service.

Q Do you believe facilities are paying more attention to food service?

A I think so, especially food service budgetary needs. The rising cost of beef and milk really challenge the kitchen operation. Costs go up, but the budget can't always account for those increases. More operators are cutting out pre-made products -- doing things like making hamburger patties instead of buying them. But with labor challenges, even that can be difficult.

Q What is the biggest change in food service you have seen recently?

A Choices -- that's a big buzzword in meal planning. I remember going to visit my grandparents. They were served only one option. Facilities now offer a whole menu of choices. Residents can select what they want to eat. Sunrise even offers a Chef's Choice meal option. So if the resident craves a tuna fish sandwich, they can order a tuna fish sandwich. Choices keep the kitchen fresh. Plus, the more flexibility a dietary service offers, the better it sells the property. 

Q What are some of the new trends, and can you give some examples?

A Facilities are trying to tailor to more special-diet needs by providing low-salt, low-sugar, and low-calorie meal options. For one, I use a lot of Mrs. Dash and cut back on added salt by preparing beef stock or chicken stock in my own kitchen. I rely on the natural flavor rather than adding salt to my dishes. Same goes for sugars. We offer residents two desserts and one is always no sugar added, like an apple pie. The natural sweetener from the fruit gives all the sweetness it needs.

Q What do you think is the best part of your job, and why do you feel that way?

A I love interacting with the people I serve. It's just a quick visit most times, putting your hand on their shoulder, saying 'Hey, how are you doing today?' To me, that relationship goes beyond professional. It's personal. In life and in general, knowing that you're there for someone, talking to them, visiting with them -- that gives me a great reward.