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March 4, 2010

Nursing home food goes all Bobby Flay

Bobby FlayNursing home food sounds like something bland, maybe even pureed, so Grandma can dig in without dentures.

But apparently things have changed. We have entered the era of nursing home cuisine.

That's according to Genesis HealthCare, an East Coast nursing home company with facilities in Maryland. The company is so proud of its food that it is staging a Food Network-style competition among its chefs this afternoon in Baltimore.

"Nursing Home Chefs Compete in Culinary 'Throwdown' at Baltimore Culinary College," reads the news release.

I'm not sure references to Bobby Flay and throwing things down is what most people associate with a nice, pleasant, safe place for Grandma to spend her golden years. But at least the food seems to be getting better. 

In this afternoon's competition at Baltimore International College, four two-person teams will go head-to-head with dishes called Perring Chicken, Carolina Gumbo, Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach and Tomato, and Pan-Seared Salmon with Tzatziki Sauce.

This gives me an idea: Top Ten Best/Worst Nursing Home Dinners. Your nominations, please.

AP Photo

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 12:31 PM | | Comments (31)


Cool event!! I don't know much about nursing home food, though.

Idk nursing home food but I do know hospital food. The best thing when I was an inpatient was the cherry jello.

Oh, snap. I've got to call my brother...this may be his doing. He is a food director with Genesis, and this reeks of him! Ha!!

Wow, that sounds far better than the fruit cocktail and cottage cheese that I was imagining for my twilight years.

I like the Lorna Dune cookies and tapioca pudding personally. My first job as a teenager I worked for the dining services of a nursing home. I lived on Lorna Dune's and pudding.

I imagine dry, flavorless food, and oversteamed veggies. Steamed to the point where they have lost all color.

When my dad was in a home, they wouldn't even serve brand name Coke! It was like, cans of Sam's Club Kola or something.

Readers of these comments know how I feel about my regular Coke.

Coke perked my dad up for a few days, like winding up a wind up toy. Keep that in mind when you are old and feeble!

We had to sneak in gourmet stuff, like Brie and Camembert. When the food is bad and you don't eat it, you get weaker and weaker and weaker...

BaltBabs, that's how my mom cooked veggies! I grew up thinking that green beans were pale green and limp with no flavor!

Joyce, I know just what you mean! For decades I never enjoyed the delicious taste of Brussels Sprouts because as a kid they were always served as awful gooey mushy lumps.

oh, I suppose I should add: sorry Mom, I love you anyway!

Growing up I would never eat steamed vegetables. My mom had the habit of over steaming, like in my previous post, until all the color was gone. Sadly she did the same with meat, well done! I think that is why I had such poor eating habits as a child.

Steamed meat? Eww...

To this day, I want to beat my mother senseless with a pot roast, because she completely ruined pot roast (and many other foods) for me as a child.

There is a story in our family about my brother asking our new stepmother, who is a great cook, for her to please once again serve those same beans we had earlier that week. When she said, "You mean green beans?", my brother said, "No, those are gray and soft. These are green ones that squeaked when you bit into them." Sadly, we didn't know any different growing up. Our green beans came from a can, and were then boiled for an hour or so. So, can you imagine the pot roast?

"I want to beat my mother senseless with a pot roast"

Dawn, your real name isn't Naomi Campbell is it? ; )

Actually, I just got a visual of the scene from Serial Mom, when Kathleen Turner bludgeons someone to death with a leg of lamb...

Yes, I have the newest cell phone out there...the I-Potroast! And I shall beat my mother senseless with it!

Also, as a quick aside, I was an extra in Serial Mom! Spent the whole day filming the scene where Mink Stole, well, stole, Kathleen Turner's parking space in front of the old Greetings and Readings on Taylor Avenue. Such great fun!

Very cool Dawn! That must have been a blast. I grew up in and around that area, so it was neat recognizing the locations of the shots. I used to love G & R, haven't been to it since it moved to Hunt Valley (that would mean venturing into the dreaded Wegman's parking lot!).

I-Potroast, lol!

I spent some time as a volunteer in a nursing home (Genesis actually), and the food was about what you'd expect from institutional fare. I didn't taste it, but I could see it and smell it. Little variety, no fresh fruit.

Sometimes I took strawberries in to the patients I spent time with, and it was touching to see how they reacted--eyes closed, just savoring the smell, taste and texture of something they no longer got to have. They said it brought back such good memories. I took them other treats too, but it was the strawberries that really lit up the afternoon.

I hope I never end up in one of those places.

Flaquita, That was a kind and thoughtful thing to do:)

Trixie, The new G&R is really nice. You should definitely visit at least once. There is actually a lot of parking, maybe not as close as you would prefer, but that's all all the more incentive to try a tasty treat while you're there.

flaquita, eat your fresh fruits and veggies now then!

My mom was in an Ellicott City nursing home for 8 months. She was supposed to be on a food restricted diet: low fat, low cholesterol and low sodium.

I'd like the staff dietitian to tell me how Tater Tots and a dried out hamburger or meatloaf with gravy (served with french fries) fit her doctor ordered diet.

Once I got her out of there and fed her home cooked meals again, her health and spirits improved. Imagine that!

My Grand Mom was in Bon Secures hospital back in the early 60's. She had had a stroke, the doctor said she didn't have long to live. She managed to ask me for a crab cake and a bottle of beer. The nun said absolutely not. But I managed to sneak in a bottle of beer and the crab cake. Well, almost, the beer dropped out from under my coat as I was going up a staircase, right in front of three nuns who were coming down the stairs. I mumbled how sorry I was, and looked around helplessly. A janitor came and mopped up the mess. The nuns went on their way. I took the crab cake to my GM, and returned to my car for another beer. She ate the crab cake and drank a few sips of the beer. She smiled, she was so happy. Several weeks later she went to a nursing home and lived for almost another year. From time to time I continued to bring her a beer and a crab cake. I hope one of my grand kids does that for me if I get in the same situation.

i hear ya, Dawn. My mom cooked meat (except oven-fried chicken) to uniform grey color and leathery consistency. And she boiled canned vegetables to grey and lifeless. The only things she didn't kill were fresh corn on the cob, applesauce, stewed tomatoes, and lettuce. As a result, the only canned vegetables I use are corn (for fritters), beans and tomatoes; everything else is either fresh or frozen.

And Dottie, you will live long and prosper as a result!

Jack Z., I understand that patients in hospice at Gilcrest can have just about anything they desire from the kitchen, including excellent crab cakes. I'm not sure about the beer, though--does anyone know?

Great obit in yesterday's paper about a woman originally from Italy who died at 109. She attributed her longevity to several glasses of wine and vermouth every day. Right on!

Dahlink - I read that obituary, too. She got up on a ladder and used a broom to knock down the oranges that were closest to the sun from her son's orange tree. Cute visual....

Dahlink, when the XH was in Gilcrist, I took him beer and his dog. By then, he wasn't eating much, but the smell of both made him happy. Staff members were in and out and didn't say anything about either the beer or the dog but there were no offers to serve him one from inhouse.

Eve, maybe dog wasn't on the menu at Gilchrist that week. (Ditto for beer.)

I confirmed it....the Genesis Throwdown was totally my brother!! How funny is that? I will send him the link for this, and hopefully he will pipe in with the results. Genesis is very lucky to have him, and he is really making a difference in the quality of their food. At least in the tri-state area that is his territory.

Dottie, trust me, the only one in our house that eats canned green beans now is our dog. It's fresh or frozen for us too. My mother also used to punish us with a dish called Texas Hash. Literally punish us. If we were acting up, she would threaten to make it for dinner to get us to behave. Worked every time. To this day, I still have no idea what was in Texas Hash, and shudder to think about it.

When my dad was at the end of his life, we snuck in both his dog and a bottle of vintage Old Granddad into his hospital room. The ICU, nonetheless!! He was totally unconcious by that point, but we rubbed some Old Granddad on his lips and all did a shot in his honor. Funny thing was that as soon as word got around that we were doing shots in his room, we had lots of doctors and nurses show up.

When my aunt was a resident at Riverview in Essex, the highlight of her week was when I brought her food. Didn't matter what it was - homemade anything, Pizza John's pizza, fresh fruit, ice cream - granted, most of it wasn't always the healthiest, but when you reach the point that you can't walk and have no quality of life, is the sodium and fat content really that important?

When my aunt was a resident at Riverview in Essex, the highlight of her week was when I brought her food. Didn't matter what it was - homemade anything, Pizza John's pizza, fresh fruit, ice cream - granted, most of it wasn't always the healthiest, but when you reach the point that you can't walk and have no quality of life, is the sodium and fat content really that important?

As a former resident at the genesis cromwell center, let me tell you the food sucked most of the time. It is not because the staff can't cook. They are required to use the corporate menu. When the staff were allowed to cook their own recipes, they food was great. This was maybe 1 day a month.

When you first go into a genesis center as a resident, they ask you what your likes and dislikes. But that is as far as it goes. It does not matter that you told them you do not like hot dogs or beans. If that's on the menu that night, that what you get. So you go hungry that night.

Genesis is very good at improving their bottom line. So the only improvements they make are the ones the will attract more victims.

Those who stay in nursing homes deserve this. It is indeed a good thing that the quality of food they receive is changing. They would have a happier time being sent to nursing homes if service were better as compared to previous years. Perhaps they should try Fort Lauderdale catering services for their activities, too. See if they wouldn't be happier!

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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