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Picking menus a balancing act for senior centers
By ALEXANDER SIMONE
Senior center cooks prepare food for seniors every day but they are bound by some strict nutrition regulations.
Flint Hills Area Agency Aging, which presides over area senior centers, determines what can be served, and the centers are allowed to pick from those options, Peabody site manager LouAnn Bowlin said.
“We have to follow the guidelines but we still can provide a meal that seniors want,” she said.
One of the more difficult tasks is introducing variety to what vegetables are served, Marion Senior Center cook Kathy Bernhardt said.
“Especially in the winter when the fresh ones aren’t so abundant,” she said. “It seems like I’m serving the same ones over and over.”
Since selection of fruits and vegetables declines during winter, it’s even more important to mix up the menu when fresh options are available, Bernhardt said.
Seniors help pick menu items in their own way, Bowlin said.
“People tell us,” she said. “They’re pretty open about saying, ‘I really didn’t like this, don’t serve it again.’ OK, we won’t serve that one again. Even though we have menus, they still have a choice.”
Discerning which foods are preferred often comes down to having a watchful eye, Bernhardt said.
“I can tell by the plates that come back to the kitchen whether they like it or not,” she said.
The centers each provide hundreds of meals a week. Marion averages 50 to 60 meals, with 25 to 35 home deliveries; Hillsboro prepares roughly 80 meals a week, with 25 to 30 served at the center; and Peabody makes 50 to 60 a week, with 6 to 8 meals served at the center.
There is a service from Wichita that provides meals for senior centers, but Bowlin has never used it.
“I don’t know how they do it,” she said. “We even went through a flood and only missed one day. We still cooked our own food and didn’t have any brought in.”
Bernhadt doesn’t have to make the whole meal every day at Marion since community member Bill Goentzel visits once or twice a month to grill burgers. That doesn’t mean Bernhardt is off the hook those days, though. She and the kitchen volunteers still have to handle the meals’ other portions like fruit and dessert.
“It’s not hard,” Bernhardt said. “It just takes time.”
Last modified Aug. 20, 2020