A common question we get from family members and future residents is “how’s the food here?”   Whether it’s for rehabilitation services or long term care at Prescott Valley Good Samaritan Society or lunches at Windsong Villas Senior Living, Maryann St. Jean, supervisor of nutrition and food services, makes sure the meals residents eat each day are nutritious but also remind them of home.

But unlike cooking at home, St. Jean and her staff have to prepare around 76 meals three times each day, as well as offer them in five different formats.  Along with the standard meal, they create renal diets for folks with kidney issues, puree food for swallowing deficits, cut up meals into bite size pieces or offer special tube-feeding diets.

While Maryann is new to Good Samaritan, she has spent her career working at senior and assisted living facilities, after taking culinary arts at her high school vocational tech program.  She started as a dishwasher at a local nursing home kitchen and worked quickly into a supervisory role.  But that doesn’t mean she takes a hands-off approach.  “I work alongside my staff.  I don’t expect them to do anything I’m not going to do.”

When she’s not in the kitchen getting the next meal going, she likes to spend time meeting the residents and patients at Prescott Valley Samaritan.  She finds out who they are and what they like to eat.  One of the residents, who is Italian, said she missed eating spaghetti and meatballs.  Maryann talked with the nutritionist who creates the facility meal plans and she put it on the menu.   Not only was the resident thrilled to see one of her favorites being served, she was touched that it happened so quickly.

“If you have a family recipe you want to see on the menu, we’ll try it,” Maryann said.  “I want to bring a piece of their home into our facility.  It means so much. They deserve to have what’s important to them.”  She is thinking about picking one day a month to highlight a long-term resident’s favorite dish.

This year for Thanksgiving, the team created a special dinner for residents and family.  They had three carving stations – one for the long-term care residents, one for the rehab patients and one next door at Windsong Villas Senior Living.  Maryann and the kitchen staff put together a beautiful spread, served on fancy table cloths and glassware, complete with carved melon bowls filled with fruit and all the holiday trimmings.  And they surprised the facility staff with their own Thanksgiving meal in the employee dining lounge.

One resident came up to her to thank her and shared she had lived there for 12 years and never had a holiday as special as this one. “Some of the families and residents were in tears,” she said. “It was just awesome to see their faces. Our staff was so proud of what they pulled off.  It made my Thanksgiving fabulous.”   

She says she works hard to encourage and remind the staff to see the way things look through the residents’ eyes and to focus on the service and presentation, making time to take each dish out individually, starting with the soup and ending with the dessert, instead of bringing it all out at once, which might be easier, but can feel overwhelming to the resident. It’s important and a sign of respect, she said.   “You look at the person when they are done eating, and you see the gratitude.”