By JOSEPH DITS, South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Lisa Youngquist wanted to spice up her meals.
She’d loved the companionship that the Meals on Wheels volunteers brought whenever they made deliveries. And she definitely didn’t want to go back to the time before that, when for three to four years, she’d reheat a frozen, store-bought meal every day — good luck finding the veggies.
She wanted to eat well. It helps her failing body parts that, at just 66, ache so much that she spends most of the day in bed, soothed by heating pads. She has a condition that keeps her from absorbing Vitamin D.
Enter Nicky Foust, who in February had just started a local franchise of the business Chefs for Seniors. She shops for groceries and then cooks meals for clients in their own homes — in this case, the same house where Youngquist has lived for 30 years.
“The house smells wonderful,” Youngquist attested after Foust had just finished cooking baked apples, spinach mushroom quiche, black beans and sausage and pork fried rice.
The meals will last two weeks. Next time, Youngquist is looking forward to a Moroccan dish — yes, with spices, perhaps more than many senior citizens like or can handle.
It is one of many services that help to keep seniors in their own homes — and well fed. Foust said she tailors the meals to each person’s tastes and medical and dietary restrictions, at first going through a list of ingredients that the person is willing to eat, like onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery, turkey and so on. She presents a menu of dishes from which they can choose. They also choose if they want breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The taste buds of seniors can turn fickle. So, serving just any food can lead to wasted meals and, as a result, declining health.
“My focus is on getting the most nutrition without turning them off,” she said, describing how she looks for local, in-season produce and sneaks vegetables into soups and other dishes. She said she doesn’t use prepackaged foods and even makes her own barbecue sauce, avoiding the heavy salt and sugar in store-bought sauce.
Foust knows taste buds. She’d just returned to her home area, Elkhart, after more than 30 years as a self-trained cook, server, owner and manager in Colorado, where she’d dished up in various swanky restaurants, down-home eateries and a summer camp.
She also realizes how hard it is for seniors to keep food on the table when their abilities decline, adding, “If you’re already struggling to cook and shop, that’s hard.”
She’d returned to Elkhart last year to be close to her aging parents and their health issues, in case they needed anything, and moved into a house near them on their five-acre property.
“I didn’t know if it would be six months or six years,” she said, now feeling like it will be a long stay.
When Foust looked for local work, her mother shared a magazine ad she’d spied for Chefs for Seniors, which was seeking franchisees. As the Wisconsin-based company’s only franchisee in Indiana, Foust now has at least four clients. She said she can handle up to 12 before she starts hiring help.
But Chefs for Seniors isn’t the only service that provides meals to keep folks in their homes.
A database at the nonprofit REAL Services shows that there are more than 120 homemaker services in St. Joseph County alone that, among many other tasks, help to fix meals in residents’ homes, said Julie Olson-Tobias, director of the agency’s Aging and Disability Resource Center.
In fact, Youngquist hires such aids from another company to help her with laundry, cleaning and some trips to the doctor as well as to socialize, though she can only schedule them for up to seven hours per week.
If these services are good, they will keep an alert eye for hazards in the home and changes in the client’s health, mood and behavior.
The database number from Olson-Tobias doesn’t include the prepared-meal services for seniors like Mom’s Meals, which delivers full meals that you can stash in the fridge. Nor do they include the deliveries of meals and ingredients that target a broader array of independent, able-bodied folks who don’t want to cook, like Freshly.
But Chefs for Seniors is the only one that Olson-Tobias knows of where a trained cook comes specifically to cook in your home. Many of the homemaker services, she said, may cook using ingredients already in the home or go shop for them, unless they heat up something that’s in the fridge.
Clients may not be able to afford the services if they are paying for them out of pocket. Instead, they can turn to Meals on Wheels, which REAL Services runs in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, for delivery of prepared meals five days a week, coming from the program’s set menu. Clients may give a nominal donation per meal, though it’s not required.
The number of local Meals on Wheels clients has grown 33% over its pre-pandemic levels, Director of Nutrition George Hawthorne said. He attributes that to an aging population that’s growing in numbers, as well as declining health and a range of other reasons.
But it also means that he desperately needs more volunteers to pick up Meals on Wheels routes and spend a little time with each client.
Foust always enjoyed chatting with restaurant diners and now, as she fixes food for her elder clients, she said, “It’s my goal to get them telling stories.”
Pricing for Chefs for Seniors varies by the franchise. Foust may come every week or every other week to cook a few meals, depending on the clients’ needs. Her standard cost, in addition to the groceries themselves, is $130 per session, or $150 if there are special dietary restrictions that need extra planning. Each meal has two to six servings, so that much of it can be stored in the fridge and freezer.
How long the meals last depends on how much a person (or a couple) eats, she said. Youngquist, for example, said she eats just one main meal and dessert per day, plus snacks like granola.
Foust also does cooking at $60 per hour for special holiday or event meals for the client and family members.
She said it sometimes takes a couple of times before she tweaks a meal just right for her client’s taste. Asked if she cooks from her clients’ own favorite recipes, she said, “I’m hesitant to recreate their aunty’s apple pie; it’s never going to be that great.”
Youngquist said her meals now are a huge improvement over the frozen meals, which she realizes can be high in sodium.
“I know what she puts in them,” she said. “The last time, I was over the moon.”
What should you consider when hiring someone to cook or deliver meals for a senior or homebound person? Julie Olson-Tobias from REAL Services suggests:
If it’s a homemaker service, does the homemaker know how to cook? Or does the worker simply know how to heat things up? Be aware that you may get different assigned homemakers over time, as the company’s staff and schedules change.
If meals are being delivered and simply dropped off, can the client physically lift the items? And is there enough room in the fridge or freezer?
If you hire a service that offers meals for anyone (not specifically for seniors), consider how large the portion sizes are. Do they match the client’s appetite, which can be smaller? How many of the meals will the client realistically eat, so there’s no waste?
Chefs for Seniors: Contact Foust at 574-993-5624, firstname.lastname@example.org or chefsforseniors.com/south-bend-elkhart.
Meals on Wheels: In St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, call 574-256-1649 or visit realservices.org/services/meals-and-nutrition/. To volunteer, call 574-284-7138.
REAL Services resource center: Call 574-284-7107 or 800-552-2916 in St. Joseph, Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall and Kosciusko counties.
Source: South Bend Tribune
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