Leading a culture change in dining

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Tom Basore is in the process of training kitchen staff at Park Lane Nursing Home to prepare more made-from-scratch meals which he has been able to successfully accomplish at two other nursing homes.


Tom Basore is in the process of training kitchen staff at Park Lane Nursing Home to prepare more made-from-scratch meals which he has been able to successfully accomplish at two other nursing homes.

By Rod Haxton, editor

Five years ago, Tom Basore set out to shatter the stereotype that meals being served out of commercial kitchens can’t still taste like homemade.

Water’s Edge, a restaurant in Hesston is the result.

Not only is it a popular dining spot for local residents, but the same kitchen staff also prepares the high quality meals served to residents at the local nursing home and assisted living facility.

“Seventy percent of our business is from outside the nursing home and assisted living residents,” says Basore.

“It’s really, really unusual. I don’t know of any other retirement centers that have a destination restaurant.”

Basore is sharing that expertise as a consultant at Park Lane Nursing Home in Scott City. He’s teaching the kitchen staff how to incorporate the techniques, which have been successful for Water’s Edge.

“We’re not looking to create a restaurant on the scale that Tom has in Hesston, but we do want to prepare meals that taste like homemade, which our residents can enjoy,” says Park Lane Administrator Nicole Turner.


She learned about Basore through Linda Kettles, operations and nursing consultant at Park Lane. She had become familiar with the culinary expert through Leadership Kansas.

“We’re looking at a culture change in dining. Our goal is to gradually shift away from institutional meals,” says Turner.


Comfort Food

While Basore’s success with meal preparation at Water’s Edge began five years ago, Park Lane is his first opportunity to share that knowledge as a consultant.

“Changing the image that people have of institutionalized cooking has become a passion,” says Basore. “It’s possible to prepare made-from-scratch comfort food and not bust your food service budget.”

The problem, says Basore, began a number of years ago when nursing homes decided that meals were one place where they could cut costs. As a result, the federal government stepped in and set strict dietary guidelines which were difficult for many homes to comply with.

“One of the biggest issues was the difficulty in meeting the documentation that was required when preparing food from scratch,” Basore noted.

Major food companies stepped in and began providing processed food with inexpensive ingredients that met the federal guidelines. It was an easy solution for nursing homes and others who had to follow closely monitored diet needs of their residents.

Unfortunately, meal quality also suffered.


Change of Direction

The pendulum has begun to swing back in the other direction thanks to recommendations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which have emphasized that “person-centered care is essential to happiness” in nursing homes.

In other words, provide better meals with more made-from-scratch cooking and the residents will be happier . . . and healthier.

That also requires extensive training of kitchen staff, many of whom have had no experience with scratch meal preparation on such a large scale.

“You have good kitchen staff here (at Park Lane) and you can tell they care, but they haven’t been instructed in scratch cooking on a scale like this,” Basore says.

And not-for-profit homes, such as Park Lane, are more receptive to what he’s trying to do.

The staff will also be trained in food preparation with recipes that include scratch ingredients.


Staying Within Budget

Basore readily challenges the perception that it’s cheaper to buy processed, ready-to-cook meals.

“I’m showing how it’s possible to buy high-quality products and stay within a budget,” he says. “It’s possible to buy good quality beef and fresh produce at prices you can afford.”

A unique and highly successful approach has been to get the community involved. Basore prefers using fresh, locally grown ingredients as much as possible.

“Everyone who has a garden eventually gets to the point where they’re tired of all the tomatoes or cucumbers or whatever they’ve been growing. We’ll take them,” he says. “We can’t take one or two tomatoes at a time, but if someone has a sack or a basket of tomatoes, or cucumbers or some other fruits or vegetables they want to give us, we’ll take it.”

And it’s not just the meals that are homemade.

“At each of our facilities we serve homemade ice cream. We’re not ready to do that here just yet, but it’s one of our goals.”

Basore began his consulting work at Park Lane in May and has visited the nursing home 2-3 days each month.

“We have raised awareness, but change doesn’t happen overnight,” he cautions. “You move slowly so that everyone understands the process and it becomes something that they continue doing when I’m not around.

“My heart is in providing award-winning food for residents in nursing homes. I want them to feel that way every time we serve them a meal,” Basore emphasizes. “But, I also understand the challenges.”

Likewise, Turner likes the enthusiasm that Basore brings and what this will eventually mean for her residents.

“So many of the people living here have grown up with home-cooked meals. Being able to enjoy a good meal means a lot to them,” she adds. “But, this represents a big shift in how we’ve been doing things.

“I feel very fortunate in having someone like Tom showing us how we can 

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