Jim Lee, Director of Dining Services for The Arbor Company, talks to Melissa about Dining with Dignity—an award-winning program for residents at Arbor communities who need a modified diet that still provides an enjoyable, social dining experience. Learn more about the modifications we make to create delicious meals that promote independence, engagement, and dignity for all of our residents.

Video Transcript

- Hello, everyone and welcome into "Senior Living Live," My name is Melissa. As always, I appreciate you watching. Now, we have been checking in with residents, staff members at Arbor communities and today we're gonna introduce you to somebody who works behind the scenes for the Arbor Company and we're going to talk specifically about food today. I want to discuss a program that is very unique to Arbor communities, it is called Dining with Dignity. A loved one who has dementia or a disease that affects motor skills, this is an interview that you will want to watch. I am thrilled to introduce you to Jim Lee, the director of dining services for the Arbor Company, who will tell us all about this fantastic program. Jim, how are you today?

- I am doing very well, thank you for having me.

- Always good to see you and you're always such a wealth of knowledge when it comes to something so important and that is food. It's something we enjoy, but it also helps to keep us going. So before we get into Dining with Dignity, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

- So I have been in senior living and with Arbor Company for 17 years, I just started my 18th year with them, so very blessed and honored to be able to work with them. Definitely found my calling and my niche and working with our residents every day. My function and role as the leader of our dining discipline is to work with a bunch of talented people at the communities, our dining directors and chefs and our team members. And what we do is work together to write menus and create recipes, educate both of our staff on how to prepare and educate our residents on maybe some healthier tips, ways to eat healthier and enjoy a different type of diet. Introduce them to new and exotic and different foods, celebrate some seasons and some themes, and things of that nature.

- Yeah, and we have another video from you where we're talking all about salt and it is very informative. So this one will also be just as informative as we discuss Dining with Dignity, which is an award-winning program for residents who need a little bit more assistance when it comes to meal time. So tell us about this program, when it started, how it started and how it benefits seniors living at Arbor communities.

- Absolutely, we are super, super proud of this program. So back in 2013, we spent, a team of us spent six months at one of our communities using it as kind of a test kitchen. And we used our residents as those test subjects. We certainly let them know what was going on ahead of time and we just introduced them to different styles of eating. So we were able to develop this program, as you mentioned, called Dining with Dignity And it's intended for folks that are with us as residents that we need to offer a modified diet for. And it could be a dexterity issue, it could be some chewing and swallowing issues. So we wanted to develop something that provided them with an independent dining experience and something that is very pleasing to the eye. The plate presentation is pleasing to the eye, but then it is also safe for the residents to enjoy.

- So for someone who maybe hasn't seen it and is trying to get a picture, or a mental picture, of what this looks like, what it tastes like, give us a sample menu of Dining with Dignity foods that residents see every day.

- Absolutely, so I'll say every day, as far as the style, but one of my absolute favorites without question is Thanksgiving dinner. We've all had it, so we start with roasting the turkey, making the mashed potatoes, the cornbread stuffing, the cranberry chutney, the mixed vegetables, everything. We make it just like you would at home for your kids and your grandparents. We do it for our residents that way. And then what we'll do is we'll take it a step beyond and we will modify all of those foods to meet the needs of the residents based on a safe way for them to be able to consume it, chew it and swallow it and make it pretty. So one of the ways that we do that is specifically with our Thanksgiving dinner, is we will make a Stromboli, that's a Thanksgiving dinner Stromboli. And so we'll modify everything to where the texture is appropriate for those residents, we will slice it into medallions and they're enjoying a full Thanksgiving dinner in little bite sized pockets, they can actually pick up and enjoy or grab with a fork and enjoy that way, but once it gets to their mouth, it's very safe to be able to chew and swallow as well. So we're very, very proud of doing that, that's one of our favorite things to do as well.

- Yeah, I mean, and by doing it this way, you can modify just about anything, right?

- Absolutely true. Beef Wellington becomes ground beef Wellington, for example, absolutely.

- Oh, that's fantastic, now what about desserts? Because that's one of my favorite things, does this get included?

- Dessert does get included, absolutely does. So we wanna pay attention to something that is, the texture is very soft and very smooth for them. So we'll do a cheesecake that might be a cheesecake parfait for them to enjoy, and then a lot of times what we've found is there are some residents say, "I want the same thing. I don't want what I have in the slice, I want it as a parfait because it looks super duper attractive." So we find that we give it to residents that will benefit from it, even if it's not a requirement based on their diet order.

- Oh, that's amazing. Now this program, everybody should know is exclusive to Arbor community, so if you're looking at other communities right now that are not operated by the Arbor Company, you're probably not going to find Dining with Dignity. So what feedback Jim, have you received from residents and their families when it comes to Dining with Dignity?

- So great feedback, generally speaking. So we had to start out quite honestly with an education piece, so that was both for the residents and for the family members. And so we introduce it as, "Hey, here's a nice little appetizer for you to start with, you can still eat what you have been eating, but here it is in a little bit of a different way, different presentation," to really get them on board. And then again, we've done the education piece of it as well. Quite honestly, we've worked with residents and their physicians and their families where we have the adult male who's been in power, the leader of a company and in charge of the household and what have you, his whole life. And from a dignity standpoint, to get to the point where somebody might be cutting up your food for you, or you can't have solid foods anymore, it's intimidating for many. And so we'll have residents that would shut down. So by being able to do this, we're able to offer that independence for the residents in a dignified experience. And from our residents and our family members, they are very appreciative that we were able to go this extra step and treat those residents with dignity and respect that they deserve. So overwhelmingly positive on thank you for taking that time and the extra steps in the preparation to meet the needs of mom and dad.

- Yeah, and when you talk about people who may shut down, that's huge because they're not getting the nutrition that they need to survive and thrive really and so on that in, Jim, because the program is unique and it helps people who were having a little bit of a difficult time at mealtime, these people have a hard time perhaps sometimes caring for themselves, so how does this program help them do that?

- So behind the scenes we have brought this down to a science related to the nutritional content of a plate presentation, the calculations are there, the modification for that specific resident is there, portion control, all of that. So we've really taken all of the guesswork out of the equation and say here you go, if you consume this or these that are on the plate, you will have a well-balanced diet, nutritionally sound for you, nutritionally balanced, healthier for you. That sort of thing. The way that we present it, I bring up tapas as that style. So cute little bite sized pieces in a little pocket, layered parfait, that sort of thing. So it's very easy for a resident to be able to grab, pick up, enjoy whether it be with hands or utensils. And then what that does is it takes any assistance from a care staff or a server out of the equation, so they're sitting there with fork and hand if they want to, and they're able to enjoy a dignified experience and they have pride that they're still able to do this, but still get exactly what it is that they need nutritionally.

- Yeah, and you had mentioned it, it's been around, it kind of started with it in 2013, how has it even evolved more over that period of time?

- The way it's involve more is feedback from the residents on asking questions and what I mean is saying, well, you did this with the turkey dinner, can you do this with Christmas dinner and do X, Y, and Z. And they're actually asking us questions of, Can you take my favorite dish and do this. Recently, I had a resident, a couple that are huge barbecue fans, are in Texas, from Texas. They want some barbecue, but certainly the handling of the bones and the big pieces and such, is a little difficult for them. They said, "Jim, we love barbecue, what can you do for us?" So we hopped back in the kitchen and we played around a little bit, and we came up with a couple of different styles that they actually enjoy. So they're able to enjoy the barbecue, one of their favorite things. We're able to provide it for them because they love it, but then we feel good because it's nutritionally sound for them and it's safe for them to be able to consume.

- All goes back to one of the Arbor Company slogans and that's making deep connections and you guys do that day in and day out. You and your chefs do everything you can to really make your residents feel special. And gosh, it's just, nowadays it's hard to find the good in everything, but boy, it's pretty easy when you're looking behind the scenes at these Arbor communities, especially back in the kitchen. So thank you so much for helping educate us about Dining with Dignity. Now Jim, if somebody has a question about this and they're looking at an Arbor community and want a little bit more information about Dining with Dignity, what can they do, or where can they go to get that information?

- I feel like the best step is come visit one of our communities and have a seat, have a meal. And ask for a Dining with Dignity option and we will create something for you so you can get a sample of what it is that we do. It's not always intended for that 80 year old resident that has difficulty with their hands or chewing and swallowing. There's tons of items and products that you're eating every day out in restaurants that could fall underneath this program that you don't even think of. So enjoy it, get to sample it, have mom or dad come in, whoever it is that you're looking for a home for, have them come in and enjoy a meal and allow this opportunity to present you with what it is that we do and prove to you that we'll take care of mom and dad for you.

- Doesn't get much better than that, I love it. Jim, thank you so much for educating us today.

- My pleasure, thank you for having me.

- Now, if you've enjoyed this interview about Dining with Dignity with Jim, you can log onto www.seniorlivinglive.com. If you catch another one of his videos, all about salt and how to reduce your salt intake every single meal, it is a fantastic video to watch. Of course, at www.seniorlivinglive.com, we've got all of our video content, all about senior living 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As always, we appreciate you watching "Senior Living Live," have a great day everybody.

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