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Cooking for 50 Senior Citizens


CaliPoutine
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I lurk here all the time, just wanted to tell you how fascinating this thread is to me! I get nervous just making dinner for my husband--so cooking for 50 finicky people, regardless of their age, is just mind-blowing. FWIW, I'd happily eat anything you cooked for them myself except no seconds on jello--I'd eat the extra cupcake.

I think, though, that the comment of older gentleman ("you're always making us food we've never had before...oh, yes it's all delicious") is quite telling. In only a few times there you are giving them food that they've never tried and really like! You can't please everyone, but perhaps one of your guests is saying to his/her family "You know, we tried these crazy things called Perogies and I liked them!" After 6 times, who knows what could happen! I'm sure a lot of it is about their building trust in you, as well--kind of like the song "Getting to know you...getting to know all about you..."

In any case, I love reading about what you're doing! Thanks!

Thanks!! Your post means a lot to me.

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I apologize. sincerely! I think that you are wonderful, and I follow all of your posts, and I feel awful about havinng hurt your feelings, or angered you.

I was not clear about what I am thinking. I understand that you don't really understand me. I am going to take some time to formulate my thoughts into the proper words, and I will repost. Mainly, I am thinking that you are trying to give a pig a bath. Now, if you were just going to chase the pig around, that would be fun, but bathing a pig? You know the saying, you just annoy the pig, and get dirty yourself, to boot. These people are adults with long lives and their own refined palates. Look how they enjoyed the biscuits! The chicken was a hit, I'll wager, you just had some logistical troubles. What I want to say, s that you can't change THEM, but you can change the experience for yourself, by changing your focus.

There is nothing wrong with them wanting potatoes, Jello or anything familiar. Life is tough, especially when you become elderly. I know that I WANT my old favorites a lot more often lately. And, I am just hoping to become elderly! OK, I'll settle for middle aged. But, still, I want more comfort foods, not less.

PS: I grew up in the same way, Jewish in Fort Lauderdale. I have a feeling that saying that means nothing in regards to what we each ate, and our family culture, though.

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Sorry, Randi, I didn't mean to criticize either. I thought it was other people, perhaps the ones who hired you, telling you what you should cook, regardless of the desires of the Seniors.

I perfectly understanding getting bored cooking the same thing over and over. My first restaurant was by reservation only, and people ate what I felt like cooking. Only once or twice in several years did I repeat a menu, although many recipes were repeated. Making up menus is my favorite thing, much more enjoyable than cooking.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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Please keep in mind as well that I have 3 dollars per person to spend. In order for me to meet that cost, I have to get the main protein for under 3 bucks a lb.

Also, keep in mind that dairy products as well as poulty are very expensive here. I spent 6.27 on eggs alone, I spent 4.49 on 1 gallon( 4L) of milk. I spent 2.99 for 1 quart( 1L) of half and half( for their coffee). The chickens cost 60 bucks, give or take a few. The zucchini cost 12 dollars. I spent 12 dollars on 2lbs of baby spinach, 3 dollars on bacon, 2.50 on mushrooms, I bought 8 lemons at 50 cents each. 1 red onion, veg shortening was 3.69, butter is 3.79lb, etc, etc. Everything adds up. I go to 3 different stores trying to get the best deals so I can stay within budget. I also have to buy 4 cans of juice(1.77each). I bought 3 tomato and 1 apple and they complained that there wasnt enough tomato, the reason I bought the apple was because I was told they do like it.

I guess I'm just not used to ppl complaining about my food, I suppose I need thicker skin.

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I guess I'm just not used to ppl complaining about my food, I suppose I need thicker skin.

It's natural to dwell on negative comments, I think. Even if 99% of the people love your food, the 1% that don't will probably stand out for most. But as a teacher, one thing I learned was not to look at negative comments as criticisms, but as learning opportunities. That's why it's so important to get formal feedback (in the form of a questionnaire, for example) from the seniors, if you haven't already.

About the lasagne, it's possible that people didn't want either, but felt they had to vote for one, so they chose the lesser of two evils. Would it be possible to do a non-tomato sauce lasagne, or some kind of Minnesota hotdish noodle thing? It's still baked, but the flavours might be more similar to what they like, and you can still put your own twist on it.

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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I'm still fascinated by this thread...please keep posting. I find your frustrations interesting, too. Why the aversion to frozen veggies? Heck, you're in Ontario in the winter. In pre-industrial times, winter veggies were quite limited in snowy climes. So many of your clientele shaped their tastes in a locale where seasonal choices weren't so diverse....but I applaud you for trying to get some new things into the mix. On the other hand, if the program experiences mass defection over your menu choices, that doesn't really count as success either. Keep on trucking...and see if you can't sneak some beans & rice into the mix.

Oh, and I can't remember if somebody already suggested this (just read the most recent posts), have you considered looking through local community cookbooks for some ideas about what people might like? You can identify some regional tastes & trends that might bear fruit in your menu-planning.

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...If these were Orientals, not one person would object ...

(Asians. Not Orientals. Unless she's serving a room full of noodles or rugs. :wink: )

Keep up the good work! You're doing a fantastic job!

Hey, if they like potatoes so much, why not try gnnochi? Or fried potato pancakes or mashed potato cakes? Just a thought.

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...If these were Orientals, not one person would object ...

(Asians. Not Orientals. Unless she's serving a room full of noodles or rugs. :wink: )

Guess my age is showing. Sorry if anyone's offended.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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I go to 3 different stores trying to get the best deals so I can stay within budget.

Hi there.

this is SUCH an interesting thread. I used to be part of a team which made community dinners in a church kitchen as fundraisers. Three or four times a year. Can you say "chow mein for 300"? It's a real challenge to coordinate food budget, prep time, AND volunteers! Good for you Randi!

Not sure whether this has been mentioned up-thread (menopause brain happening here), but are you able to "tag along" an order with your other boss at the catering co for delivery the day of your seniors' gig? Things like milk, eggs, carrots or whatever. Of course, you need to "know your prices", but I wonder if all the driving around is a big of a drag?

That's why it's so important to get formal feedback (in the form of a questionnaire, for example) from the seniors, if you haven't already.

maybe a Volunteer could do surveys?

Take care. When is your holiday?

Karen

Karen Dar Woon

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I guess I'm just not used to ppl complaining about my food, I suppose I need thicker skin.

I think complaining was my grandmother's second nature, and if she wasn't complaining there was something wrong with her.

Too hot, too cold, too tough, too mushy, not the right brand, not how she cooked it......

When she went to visit my sister (my sister has 4 young children), my sister would ask what she wanted for breakfast, my grandmother would say, if it's not too much trouble an omlet would be nice. My sister said she would make an omlet for her every morning because that's what she asked for. When my grandmother returned home my Aunt asked how the visit went; my grandmother complained...all they did was feed me eggs and I don't even like eggs. :blink::laugh:

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Since your biscuits went over so well, why not try making chicken & biscuits or a chicken pot pie without the bottom crust? That lends itself to large quantities and the seniors get the bready stuff that they seem to like. (But who doesn't like bready stuff?)

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Hi Randi! I love your blog. Please count me in as one of your fans and keep sharing your experiences with us. I think that what you are doing is admirable. Working my way through college, I worked at a day care center where I cooked for 40 toddlers and 20 staff members 3 times per day (2 snacks and lunch). One of my proudest moments was the time that a parent came back to the kitchen and wanted to know "how do you cook beets?" It seems that her 3 yr old came home demanding beets for dinner.

The funny part is that the only reason we had beets was that the US government gave away food in those days, and the prior cook had left me with a store room full of canned beets and potatoes because she couldn't figure out how to cook them for kids!

So I hope that you keep on doing what you're doing, because one day you will have a moment like that and 20 yrs later, you'll still be reminiscing about the day that you made Harvard Beets and everyone loved them.

Considering your budgetary constraints and desire to provide healthy meals, I'm wondering if you have considered consulting a source such as the Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd book. A lot of the meals in Moosewood books use very inexpensive, readily available ingredients.

Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

KBJ

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Before I heated up the stew, I filled two 4L plastic containers with stew and froze it.  I knew Id have too much.

Don't know if you're aware of this, but just in case...

I cook stew by the vatful often, partly so I can freeze some of it to make quick dinners later.

If you've added potatoes to your stew, and they've cooked, they do not freeze well, to say the least. When you thaw them out, they dissolve into paste.

I either don't add any potatoes to stew I'm going to freeze, or, if I'm freezing leftovers, try to scoop them out before I freeze it.

Then, when it's time to thaw and cook, I'll chop up some potatoes, cook them in the microwave and then add to the hot stew.

Like I said, this may be something you already know but if not, don't think that you can just thaw out that stew and heat it up and it'll be good as new. You have to plan to do something about those mushy potatoes.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I admire you for taking on this task, and for bringing a sense of adventure to it. I know that your post on the last meal followed a VERY nutsy day. And I know how hard it is to remember to look at and focus on the good things sometimes.

A complaint is just information to be added to the total pool of information (Mr So&so thinks my food is a bit spicy. Mrs So&thus prefers Jello to any other dessert), and is not to be taken personally. A compliment however, is a compliment as well as info; take compliments very personally. These folks are finishing some things to the point of nearly licking the containers. They are coming back for another meal. Some of them actually take the trouble to say nice things. These are big. I wish you luck in not over-looking them.

It might help you, if you got to know your clients a little, as individuals. One person by face and name each meal. Start with the ones who come up to you for any reason - more dressing, a complaint, a request. It wont make the work any easier or the budget bigger, but it might make the whole thing more fun and more warm-fuzzy for you.

When my husband and I are old and cranky and feeling beat up by physical changes, we are going to have very different culinary likes and dislikes. It would be very confusing to lump us in a single undifferentiated "seniors" category & then cook for us.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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  • 2 weeks later...

We're back from Florida and I'm completely refreshed and ready to cook the next meal for the Seniors.

The coordinator called me and said Mr. So and So would like the biscuit recipe. Like I said previously, I thought they sucked, but if he wants it, so be it.

She also told me that someone complained about the gravy. They thought it was too greasy and not thick enough. *sigh* Well of course it was, I didnt have time to drain off the grease, I just mixed the drippings in with the broth.

The next meal is April 12th. I plan to make Ham and Scallopped potatoes. The coordinator told me the previous cook advised me to cut and boil the spuds first so they wont take as long to cook. I'll have to investigate some recipes. Ham's should be on sale before Easter and I'll pick those up. I'm pretty sure they'll go for 1.49lb. I'm making this meal very easy on myself because I'm heading to Ann Arbor the day before for a truffle making class at Zingerman's. I'll be arriving home really late.

I'm making pillsbury cresent rolls( They should be on sale for 99cents and the Seniors love them). I'm also making a dessert that is super easy and everyone loves( well everyone who isnt a foodie). Spring Breeze Cheesecake. 1 ready made graham cracker crust, 1 bar of creamcheese( which costs an insane 3 bucks here), some brown sugar and coolwhip. Top with fresh fruit( probably strawberries). I can make one for the diabetics by using Splenda. I'll probably make these on Tuesday over at my other job.

I think I'll do some type of bean salad and roasted asparagus as well.

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Randi, Cook's Illustrated/the America's Test Kitchen Cookbook has a great scalloped potato recipe that call for cooking the potatoe slices in the liquid before baking to get them going more quickly. Cook 'til almost tender and then dump the whole nine yards in the baking dish and stick in the oven. Works like a charm.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Randi, Cook's Illustrated/the America's Test Kitchen Cookbook has a great scalloped potato recipe that call for cooking the potatoe slices in the liquid before baking to get them going more quickly.  Cook 'til almost tender and then dump the whole nine yards in the baking dish and stick in the oven.  Works like a charm.

Thanks!!

Is that from The America's Test Kitchen Family cookbook? I have that book and I checked the recipe. It calls for 1 cup of heavy cream. I wonder if I can sub out half and half. Heavy cream is 5.99L, half and half is 2.99L. I'll have to 7x the recipe too.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Last nights meal was bean salad, ham, scalloped potatoes, roasted asparagus, crescent rolls and a spring breeze cheesecake pie for dessert.

On Monday, I went to my other job and made the bean salad and the dessert. I got the bean salad recipe from my MIL. Its pretty basic. Canned beans( I used red and white kidney, chick peas, romano beans and green beans), onion, green pepper and celery. The liquid is water, sugar and vinegar. The longer it sits, the better it tastes.

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I also made the dessert. Its pretty low-brow, but the seniors loved it. I used ready made graham crusts. The filling is cream cheese, coolwhip( I know, I know), sugar, vanilla and sour cream. I made the same dessert for the diabetics using splenda instead of sugar. Each pie was cost around 7 dollars( pricey in terms of what I usually spend on dessert). 2 dollars for the crust, 2 dollars for the cream cheese( that was on sale, a bar of cream cheese is usually 3 dollars), 1 dollar for the sour cream, 1 dollar for the cool whip, 1 dollar for the berries.

I bought strawberries( from Plant City, FL) on sale for 1.99quart. I macerated them in some sugar( or splenda) and OJ.

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I made these two items ahead of time because I knew I'd be tired on Thursday. I wanted to make this meal low-stress for myself. My boss and I took a chocolate class in Ann Arbor, MI on Wednesday and we didnt get home until 1am. Anyway, I'm glad I made these things ahead of time because I could actually sit and relax for about an hour before the meal was served.

For the potatoes, I took Snowangels advice and used the recipe in the America's Test Kitchen family cookbook. I multiplied the recipe by 8 and left out the garlic. I used 40 russet potatoes that I sliced with the slicing blade of the cuisinart. First, you saute chopped onion with butter, then add some thyme. Then you add the potatoes, heavy cream and chicken stock. A couple weeks ago, I made stock using those leftover chicken carcassas and I froze the stock at my other job.

They cook until almost tender, then you dump everything into a pan and finish in the oven. You're supposed to sprinkle cheese on top for a nice crust, but I ended up stiring it in after it melted so everyone would get a little cheese. The seniors loved these. There wasnt any leftover at the end of the night( after the takeout meals).

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For a veg, I roasted asparagus. I seasoned with evoo, salt and pepper. I bought 11 bunches( 325grams each) for 1.49 each. I had 4 spears leftover. One table wanted more asparagus, but one table didnt finish theirs.

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I don't have much experience cooking ham. In fact, before I moved to Ontario, I never cooked a ham( I'm Jewish). Ham is a big thing here, everyone seems to really love it. Ham was on sale for 1.49lb before Easter. I bought 6 of these. I froze 3 for a summer meal( cold salad plate). I'm not familar with the term Toupie, but that is what these are called. These were around 6lbs each. I cooked them in one pan. I poured a 2L bottle of Ginger-ale over them and sealed the pan in foil. I'm not sure that the ginger ale did anything, but my MIL does it so I thought what the hay, I'll do it too.

I glazed them with a mixture of brown sugar and mustard. I was manually slicing them when one of the volunteers brought me an electric knife to use. I've never used an electric knife before and I thought it was strange. I didnt like the vibrations in my hand.

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This is one ham, split in half.

This was a very succesful meal. People actually came into the kitchen to tell me how good it was. I don't eat ham, so I'm not sure how it was, but everyone thought it was great. We had almost an entire ham leftover and the coordinator divided it up and sold each chunk for 2 bucks.

I'm filling in at another dining program( in my town) the second week in May. I'm going to make the same meal since it was so easy.

Edited by CaliPoutine (log)
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ooh, the last meal not only sounds good, but is photogenic, CP--congrats.

"I think complaining was my grandmother's second nature, and if she wasn't complaining there was something wrong with her. "

lcpn's comment is very true--I have a 97 year old MIL and a 79 year old mother--an awful lot of their conversation is complaints--it can be hurtful and also irritating, but I've come to the conclusion that it isn't meant--a lot of the time they are just talking to talk---more having a conversation than actually voicing a complaint--it might be the only thing they can think of to say at that moment and they just want to be heard--so try and think of it that way.

As for the seasoning, another issue for older people is too many flavors--I've been cooking for my mom this past week and i think she doesn't like all the things i generally put into a dish--her favorite meal so far was the simplest one i made --baked tilapia, brown rice and a kind of cucumber tomato salsa that I put on top of both.

I'm making her soup out of a chicken carcass and she vetoed 1/2 the things i wanted to put in--simpler is better for her.

keep on trucking, though--it's an inspirational task for your readers.

Zoe

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This is the dessert I'm making for the next meal. Oat and Honey Granola Pie.. Granola bars were on sale for 1.00 a box.

I'll be using a Canadian product for the crust(tenderflake frozen crusts).

I still have NO clue what the rest of the meal will be. I need some good salad ideas? Anyone?

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maybe some kind of a crunchy salad using the Japanese restaurant dressing recipe from Mark Bittman.

Do a google search for it--I don't want to post a link as it was originally in the New York Times, but it's everywhere on the net now.

It has a boatload of ginger which your posse probably wouldn't care for, but you could sub.

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Here's a salad idea that might or might not work, don't know how expensive broccoli and dried cranberries are up there. You blanch and shock broccoli florets, then chill them. Make a dressing of red wine vinegar, evoo and a little honey, thinly slice some red onion and soak that and some dried cranberries (or cherries, but I KNOW they're pricey!) in the dressing about 30 minutes before serving. Toss broccoli and greens (I use spring mix, romaine or bibb, you could even use spinach again) with dressing, onions and cranberries. You can toss in some toasted almonds or pecans if you want, don't know if budget or taste would allow.

I think what you're doing is a wonderful, albeit frustrating, thing, and I admire you very much. I deliver Meals on Wheels here in Nashville and sometimes the smell of the food in my car almost gags me. What makes me REALLY depressed is the thought that someday I may be the senior citizen receiving these barely-edible, over-processed, over-cooked meals---I hope there's someone like you around to brighten my culinary life! Keep up the good work.

Jana

I may be in Nashville but my heart's in Cornwall

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Here's a salad idea that might or might not work, don't know how expensive broccoli and dried cranberries are up there.  You blanch and shock broccoli florets, then chill them.  Make a dressing of red wine vinegar, evoo and a little honey, thinly slice some red onion and soak that and some dried cranberries (or cherries, but I KNOW they're pricey!) in the dressing about 30 minutes before serving.  Toss broccoli and greens (I use spring mix, romaine or bibb, you could even use spinach again) with dressing, onions and cranberries.  You can toss in some toasted almonds or pecans if you want, don't know if budget or taste would allow.

I think what you're doing is a wonderful, albeit frustrating, thing, and I admire you very much.  I deliver Meals on Wheels here in Nashville and sometimes the smell of the food in my car almost gags me.  What makes me REALLY depressed is the thought that someday I may be the senior citizen receiving these barely-edible, over-processed, over-cooked meals---I hope there's someone like you around to brighten my culinary life!  Keep up the good work.

Jana

Thanks, actually today, I was looking at broccoli salad recipes on Allrecipes.com.

I found one that uses grapes and celery. Both of those things are on sale( grapes 99cents lb), celery 99 cents until April 25th. I'll know this Friday if broccoli is on sale next week. I'm not sure about the nuts. I'll have to check with the co-ordinator.

Keep those salad recipes coming.

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