Living in a Continuing Care Retirement Community means drastic lifestyle changes. One is menu planning. Instead of asking “What’s for Dinner?” or “Where should we go for dinner?” we ask “What’s on the menu?” (More)

I had the privilege of participating in planning the menu here. Other communities do it differently. We started with a committee of the Head Chef, three chefs, two cooks, two dining room managers, four assistants and seven residents. The Head Chef decides, the three chefs propose, and everyone else can suggest when there is a pause in the decision process.

We start with a proposed menu from corporate for five weeks. We then change it to fit our community. Every day corporate suggests a soup, a meat, poultry and seafood, two salads, a green vegetable, a second vegetable, two starches, dessert and low sugar dessert. Tastes here are different. We go for a soup, a meat, poultry and seafood, dessert and low sugar dessert. We always have mashed potatoes available so we only have one starch on the menu. Instead we have a steamed vegetable plus two more vegetables for three choices. We have simplified salads to a house salad and a special salad.

Spaghetti is a favorite so it goes on the menu every Tuesday. Chef-carved meat is another so that is served every Thursday. Fresh seafood can’t be predicted so that’s Chef’s choice every Friday. (We had Lobster Rolls when the price was right.)

We have two other rules. First, we only serve an specific recipe twice in five weeks. For example, rice gets served as rice, brown rice, brown and wild rice, Jasmine rice, fried rice, rice pilaf, vegetable rice pilaf, rice pilaf with mushrooms, confetti rice, Florentine rice, wild rice with fruit and nuts, etc. We don’t apply this rule to favorite dishes.

Our second rule was that the day’s menu should match a key entree. A love-it-or-hate-it dish like liver is not a key entree.

Work went fast with a week’s menu up. Chef usually picked the salad. We all inserted spaghetti, and Chef-carved meat. Next we checked the two entrees that had been displaced to see if they should be swapped out on other days. Then we selected the vegetables and starches. Then we checked again for Chef’s proposals. This caught items that the residents shunned in the past. All this in a half hour a week.

My suggestion of mesclun with mandarin oranges and almonds was accepted when the chefs ran out of salad proposals. Chef substituted Lamb Moroccan for Greek meatloaf at my suggestion. I also claim credit for Veal Hungarian Goulash, one of the three veal entrees on the menu.

Desserts were a special task. The Head Chef announce that corporate had contracted for two banquet-quality desserts a week that needed to be inserted in the menu. One desert that was inserted was chocolate éclairs that came from heaven.

One check for the day prompted a discussion of whether fried catfish should be served with fried okra. I said they were a pair and got the backing of a cook and Chef. Chicken and dumplings were added to the day’s menu.

We should be enjoying good meals for the next five or ten weeks.