The Kitchen: The Heart of the Home

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Linda Bump, MPH, RD, LNHA, Consulting Staff, Action Pact

What possibilities can we create when we make the kitchen the heart of our home? We create Normal, Home and Community by honoring individual resident choice in dining. What better way is there to illustrate those possibilities than through stories? Here are just a sample of experiences and insights shared by pioneers on resident-directed dining in the white paper ” The Deep Seated Issue of Choice for Creating Home II: Dining.”

Normalcy is Possible: The Pioneer Network phrase, “rampant normalcy,” aptly defines the goal of continuing to provide a “normal” dining experience for the resident, whatever that might be. Steve Shields, in “Restoring Rampant Normalcy: the Power of Small Moments,” describes those small moments as, “the little choices and rituals that make up the fabric of our lives.”

“Our residents control the rhythms of their own lives now. First, meal schedules were expanded; now they’re being replaced by “continual dining,” meaning people eat what they want when they want. We still have the standard menu options, but there’s a meal being cooked somewhere in this place at any given hour – and anybody at all might be cooking it.” (Meadowlark Hills)

Community is Possible: Steve Lindsey, CEO of Garden Spot Village, sees the kitchen/dining room of a household as what Ray Oldenburg calls a “social condenser” in his book The Great Good Place(1989). Lindsey says this view helps us “to begin to draw out the integral role that this space has in the development of true community within a household.” ‘Social condensers,’ the places where citizens of a community or neighborhood meet to develop friendships, discuss issues and interact with others, have always been an important way in which the community developed and retained cohesion and a sense of identity, according to Oldenburg. They are distinctive informal gathering places, they make the person feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, they make life more colorful.

Home is Possible: Simply speaking, it is all about choice. It is as simple as asking, “What does the resident want? How did they do it at home? How can we do it here?” Asking those three simple questions, pushing away “the way things are done,” connecting with the resident and his or her preferences and letting choice rule, you realize the “the way things are done” is not the way you would have done them in your house. Now you are on your way to an individualized resident-directed dining experience.

Choice of what to eat, when to eat, where to eat, with whom to eat, how leisurely to eat. True choice, not token choice. Not the win-lose choice between a hot breakfast and sleeping to the rhythm of your day. Not simply the choice of hot or cold cereal, but also the raisins and brown sugar that make oatmeal a daily pleasure. For dining, true choice is exemplified in point-of-service choice, for how often do we know what foods will appeal most to us tomorrow, next week, in three weeks? Perhaps we know what we will want for a special celebratory meal or for breakfast if we are a creature of habit, but probably not for lunch and supper on Thursday of next week.

We know we have created a true dining experience in our homes when we hear stories like that of Mr. G, a resident at Neilson Place. A man with a rich history that includes a passion and love for cooking, Mr. G brought his talents to the nursing home. He frequently comes up with menu ideas and has treated the staff and residents to items such as grilled fruit-stuffed pork loin, stuffed hamburger on the grill, and Apricot-Glazed Cornish Hens.

This story shared by Pennybyrn at Maryfield sums it all up. Upon moving into the French Country House, a household staff member was conducting the initial tour of the house with a resident. When she got to the kitchen, the staff member began explaining how this was the residents’ kitchen and asked her to let us know what kind of things she would like to keep in her refrigerator so she could have them anytime. The resident asked, “Do you mean I can come to the refrigerator and get anything I want whenever I want?” When the staff member said, “Yes,” the resident replied, “This is heaven.”