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Disrupted global supply chains have brought woes upon U.S. service industries. Labor shortages, clogged ports, and inflation have all played a factor. Senior living providers feel the effects of the mangled supply chain, especially in culinary services.

Shortages are expected to stay with us well into 2022. As a result, senior living culinary operators are getting creative, proving it’s possible to provide meals to residents without sacrificing taste or nutritional quality.

“This crisis has allowed us to become more creative and innovative. Operators know they are dealing with supply chain challenges, but they’re getting to the point where they understand how to operate with them,” says Amanda Goldman, MS, RD, LD, FAND, healthcare industry sales strategist at Gordon Food Service.

Here’s how your senior living culinary team can adapt to food supply chain challenges and
strategically prepare for a new year.

Get Creative, Stay Flexible
The pandemic brought a significant shift in resident dining. Many communities pivot back and
forth from communal dining to in-room dining––making it essential for culinary teams to stay
agile and innovative.

Mobile Carts
Collaborate with the activities department to make in-room dining an experience. Themed meals, mocktail carts, and coffee carts can bring smiles to residents' faces while meeting their nutritional needs.

Menu Substitutions
Knowing your options ahead of time can make meal substitutions less of a headache. In
collaboration with your supplier, make a list of possible substitutions, so you have ingredients on hand in advance. Here are a few common recommended substitutions:

  • Corn for potatoes
  • Pancake for waffle
  • Dark meat chicken for white meat chicken
  • Frozen soup for canned soup
  • English muffin for sandwich bread

“When making these substitutions, it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes so that nutritional
requirements are still met,” notes Goldman. “And if you’re in skilled nursing care, all of these
substitutions need to be logged and approved by the registered dietitian.”

Don’t Forget Policies and Procedures
Among the busyness of the day, culinary team members may overlook standard policies and
procedures. These action items, like filling out a substitution log and temping food, keep residents safe and ensure you’re in compliance.

When substituting an ingredient, your culinary staff should follow the recipe when preparing the
menu item. Doing so preserves the integrity of taste and nutritional quality. Additionally, taste
the food before serving it.

“Taste your product before it goes out to residents,” says Goldman. “It’s a really easy quality
assurance tactic.”

Also, double-check that your staff uses the proper serving utensil sizes to prevent food waste.
Goldman recommends managers dust off their emergency menus and keep track of their in-
house inventory. The pandemic and recent natural disasters have shown us that having a safety stock is more important than ever.

Communicate Clearly with Staff
Menu substitutions can throw off residents and staff when the culinary team doesn’t clearly
communicate them. To curb complaints and ease concerns, relay these changes in advance
through multiple channels. When care team members are aware of a menu change, it can
increase resident and staff satisfaction.

Census fluctuates frequently, especially in an acute care setting. However, senior living
operators can minimize food waste by leadership regularly conveying the community census.
Plus, culinary managers can efficiently utilize their staff.

“It’s about going back to the basics. Retrain and remind your team members during your weekly department meetings. Remind them of substitutions, policies, and procedures, and make sure they have an accurate census for the day,” says Goldman.

Lean on Your Supplier
Supply chain disruptions mean that culinary teams must adjust their operational practices to
cope with shortages and longer lead times on orders. Goldman says this is when culinary
managers should lean on their distributors.

“Collaborating together and having regular business planning sessions can help get your needs
met,” says Goldman. “Ordering in advance and getting menus planned ahead of time really

Group purchasing organizations (GPOs) can often offer senior living communities’ substitutions
they may not have thought of themselves.

“We communicate substitutions at a similar price point. Some operators may not realize they
have access to a certain product or be aware of a simple recipe they can make to replace an
item,” says Jen Bruning, Director of Nutrition and Brand Innovation at Incite Strategic Partners.

Focus Forward
Senior living culinary teams have shown incredible agility while navigating the ill effects of the
COVID-19 pandemic. Goldman says she sees senior living operators looking forward to 2022,
poised to enhance the dining experience for residents.

“Clearly, we still have to work through the supply chain challenges. But many teams I’ve spoken with are looking at sustainability and menu innovation. They are looking at things they had on their list prior to the pandemic. They are coming back to the front burner.
It’s nice to hear operators are getting their creative juices flowing again. They are doing
whatever they can do strategically to elevate their dining programs and increase resident
satisfaction. At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do.”