Salmon with Avocado & Tomato. Diced Chicken with Penne & Vegetables.  Arugula & Kale Salad.

No. These aren’t menu listings from a trendy health food restaurant. These are a few items from the new meal plan at Laura Baker Services Association (LBSA).

In the summer of 2017 LBSA assembled a staff team to develop a plan for improved healthy eating practices across the organization. The group created a vision statement to help guide the development of its Healthy Eating Initiative: “We encourage the adoption and use of healthy food practices, focusing on nutrient-rich, whole foods.” Then came the hard part – Where do we start? How do we implement?

At first, Registered Dietician, Charla Spitzack and LBSA Dietary Manager, Eileen Anderson had their doubts. Converting to an entirely new healthy menu meant a lot of time and effort developing base recipes, conducting nutritional analysis on those recipes, integrating the new meal plans with specific dietary requirements of individual residents and training kitchen staff. And even if all of this planning and preparation was successfully completed, there were no guarantees that anyone would eat the food.

Thanks to a grant from Northfield Hospital & Clinics and over a year of planning, a completely new healthy menu plan was launched in July 2018 for clients on our Oak Street campus. The 105 new meal plans rotated every five weeks for a year. The rotation featured reduced simple sugars, reduced sodium, reduced preservatives, and more fruits, salads and fiber.

The initial feedback from clients and staff has been overwhelmingly positive. Initially, staff planned to track meal compliance; they were uncertain of how clients would react to the new food plans. “We realized after a short while we didn’t need to keep track anymore because everyone was eating the new menu,” Program Director, Nicole Laudont explained. “Overall, everyone seems to really like the change.”

Implementing an entirely new menu has not come without challenges. Preparing meals requires more “scratch” cooking and meal preparation. This means additional hours for the LBSA kitchen crew. In addition, more than half of the residents on the Oak Street campus have specialty diets adding another layer of complexity for dietary staff to manage. “The job of dietary manager is more challenging than most people realize,” Charla says about Eileen’s role at LBSA. “Staffing, training, juggling client diets, working with family and staff and managing special events. It’s a lot.”

While new menu plans were being rolled out on the Oak Street campus, LBSA’s 6 Community Services (CS) homes also began examining their cooking and eating practices. Unlike LBSA’s Oak Street campus where all meals are prepared in a commercial kitchen by dietary staff, shopping and meal preparation in the CS homes is done by the direct support staff and residents themselves. Northfield Hospital & Clinic’s dietitians provided training to key CS support staff on healthy approaches to eating. In addition, LBSA staff, interns and students from a Carleton public health class developed additional training and materials including a Healthy Eating Guide for CS staff and residents that includes nutrition information and healthy eating best practices.

Because each CS home operates independently, The Healthy Eating Initiative is being integrated on a house by house basis. Each community home sets their own healthy eating goals balancing client choice and satisfaction, with healthier eating options. Goals include eating more fresh vegetables, cooking less processed foods, more from “scratch” meals and reducing use of unhealthy snacks. Regardless of the goal, every home has the same end in mind: to encourage healthier eating habits.

Staff have been pleasantly surprised by clients’ adoption of a healthier eating lifestyle, and many clients have lost weight and increased their overall activity. LBSA is excited about the positive health impacts we’ve seen already and are grateful for our partners Northfield Hospital & Clinics, Reinhart Foodservice, Charla Spitzack and Carleton College who have made our progress to this point possible.

On a quiet summer evening the ladies at Lincoln House are in the front yard having dinner to honor Clare and Ellen, two outgoing St. Olaf students/staff members. After eating a round of vegan, tofu chocolate cupcakes, they raise a glass of fruit & vegetable smoothie. Tonya salutes, “To the two best workers ever!”