Monday, January 3, 2011


by Kate Collins

Because of severe health problems involving partial paralysis and balance, my friend’s 83-yr-old mother recently entered a nursing/rehab facility where she is currently receiving therapy and wonderful care. Well, almost wonderful, because when it comes to nutrition, they get a D-.

“You are what you eat” is an old saying with a lot of value. Your diet reflects your general state of health. Eat lots of greens, fresh fruits, low fat meats, and go light on bad fats, processed food, white flour, and sugar, and you are miles above the general populace. It’s Nutrition 101.

So why is a facility whose main goal is to rehabilitate and care for the elderly serving meals such as this: hush puppies (fried, processed cornmeal) tater tots (fried processed white potatoes) and fried fish (trans fat laden flesh from various fish parts)?

Or this for Mexican night: tacos (consisting of 3 tortilla chips and 1 scoop of ground something) refried bean paste, and 3 pieces of lettuce? I could go on, but you may be getting ready to eat, and I don’t want you to lose your appetite.

From what I hear, hospitals aren’t much better, and many school lunch programs are abysmal. My daughter was complaining about the poor quality of food in schools and asked, “Where do we start to get it changed?” My answer was that it has to come from a grass roots movement. We all have to demand it, otherwise the big food companies and their lobbyists rule.

My question is: Why do the above examples of meals pass as good nutrition? There is so much information in the news about how to stay healthy by eating healthy, why hasn’t that reached the people who are dedicated to helping people GET healthy? Why aren’t nutritionists being taught this?

I find this terribly frustrating. Do you?


Min said...

Oh boy. Don't get me started on this one! I have an MPH (Master's in Public Health) and a brouhaha broke out on Christmas when my mother (a retired high school teacher made a snide comment about schools having Coke machines in schools now.

While I agree that it's nutritionally bad, it's also funding for schools. And since the government has seen fit to put to dollars elsewhere (coughmilitarycough [sorry, us MPH-ers are known for being pretty liberal]), schools can easily turn a buck by allying with corporate sponsors. And the more empty the calories, the cheaper it is.

So, as much as schools and nursing homes WANT to provide nutritionally sound meals, they COST. And where do they find the money? Certainly not from the government (Medicare, Medicaid, educational funding, etc.). So they're stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Sorry - I warned you not to get me started...

Bella@BeguileThySorrow said...

It really is all about the money. Bean paste and frozen saturated trans fat (aka tater tots and fried fish)is way cheaper to provide and prepare, whether it be in schools, elder-care facilities, or the drive-thru.
I love that the chef Jaime Oliver has begun a movement to try and change this, but you're right: we need to speak up as well, every chance we get. I myself make very little in pay but go out of my way to buy organic, no GMO's, non processed food (like Whole Foods, Amy's, &organic milk) as much as possible. Don't get me wrong, I still buy the occasional Egg Mcmuffin and coffee at McD's when I'm running late but I really am trying to change enough that someday soon I wont have to ever eat low nutrient "food".

Laineshots said...

I think it's a matter of reputation. How could institutions ever keep that priceless reputation their food has always had if they started serving real food?

Okay, it's a dark joke. I've worked in institution kitchens enough to know that sometimes it's a matter of ignorance, sometimes apathy, sometimes budget, sometimes all three. Nutritionists ARE being taught this, but the boards of large institutions too often don't seriously consider their recommendations when doling out money for food.

When it comes right down to it, things change only when enough people demand change insistently enough to be heard. And that means WE have to be educated enough, and want change enough, to make change happen.

Kate Collins said...

You've all made great points. It's about the money. It's about the apathy of people who could force change. It's about ignorance. And for us, it's a big frustration. We see the need for change, but until more money is allocated for those institutions, it's not going to happen. I wish more parents could take a stand by sending lunches with their kids. I know -- unrealistic. How many kids would go along with that?
As I said, it's terribly frustrating.

Sheila Connolly said...

As others have said, I think the key word is "cost". And ease of preparation may be a close second. Tear open bag, place items on baking sheet, shove in oven--done. Saves staff time, and definitely saves thinking about it.

Some years ago I read an entertaining editorial that said there's a new food group: the brown foods. It includes all the processed foods listed here, and it's our kids' favorite.

At least at my daughter's high school a few years ago they banned the Coke machines. Maybe it's a start.

Anonymous said...

Kate, when my Dad was in the nursing home, I was suprised at the quality of most of the food--far better than the fare he got at the hospital. However, the portions were gigantic. I have a pretty hefty appetite, but I'd be hard pressed to eat the portions they delivered to people who, for the most part, had no interest in food--or didn't have the teeth to eat it. My god the waste . . . but yes, sometimes he got healthy meals and sometimes he was served junk. And when it came to the end of his life, they kept those meals coming instead of offering something simple like soup that could be easily swallowed.

Anonymous said...

As a thirty year veteran in the health care field, mostly working in rehab or long term care, I will say from experience, that yes, the dollar sign is primarily the bottom line. Not just for food but for quality of care in general.
The 'corporate' homes rank last, they will do whatever it takes to make a profit, while those run by religious groups or the few small independent centers that are left, usually have much better care and nutrition.
One small place (30 residents)I worked, had a small garden and green house to help give residents something to do and the veggies produced were incorporated by the dietician into the meals. Redidents were encouraged to share favorite meals and often those too, came up on the weekly menus.
A big plus for all involved.

Miki Willa said...

I agree with what has been written here. Money is probably the driving force, but I also think ease of preparation and storage is way up there. It seems it is easier to pull something from the freezer that can be easily heated up is faster and easier that preparing a nutritious green salad, some roasted fresh veggies, and fresh fish that is not fried. When my brother-in-law was in a rehab home for a few weeks, we finally ended up taking all his meal to him. I know this is a hugh problem, but I really don't know how to fix it. There is not only apathy in the industry, but I have observed apathy in many people who have relatives in these places. Very sad.

CA Verstraete said...

Yes it is about money - and these places make money hand over fist. I'm sure that between medicare, insurance etc. payments the "profit" would be enough to provide decent meals, if someone takes a pay cut of course. How much do the director and ceo etc. make a year??

Andrea C. said...

I remember when the government (I think it was Ronald Reagan) claimed that ketchup could count as a vegetable in school lunches!! Ugg!!!

Kate Collins said...

Andrea, I remember that, too! Incredible. Miki, I can see taking in meals for a loved one. Who wants to see a family member given junk? And end of life care should not include piles of food. the appetite is shutting down. What are they thinking?
What a shame that something can't be done. Maybe it'll take a lot of boomer aged politician going into "homes" to start changing things. We've changed so many other concepts. Let's start demanding better food for schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
Abby Knight would absolutely do this.