Q&A: Feeding the Body and Spirit in Senior Living

April 2024

Q&A: Feeding the Body and Spirit in Senior Living

Chef Chris of Navigator GPO shares his favorite aspects of working in the senior living space, his go-to preparations and considerations for cooking excellent food, and the feedback that let him know he was making a difference.


Q: What does a typical day look like for you?


A: A typical day for me is connecting with multiple members and suppliers to talk about best fit products for our members. I travel quite a bit and demo products and recipes for our members.  I also train staff on cooking fundamentals.


Q: How do you balance nutritional requirements with taste and presentation?  What are some techniques or unique methods that you use to enhance the flavor and appeal of healthy meals for residents?


A: This has been fun for me. I preach great cooking techniques, nice clean flavors and contemporary plating. Being true to the basic cooking techniques goes a long way. I love smoking items in healthcare, as it’s a great way to add flavor without adding sodium or sugar, etc. Stews and braised items also work well, especially in the senior living space.


Q: What role does technology play in your everyday systems?


A: The nature of my work is now on a computer, so tech is everything. Most meetings are virtual and the use of social media has made our communication abilities shoot through the roof!


Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from when developing new recipes or menu ideas?


A: Revisiting the classics is perfect for senior living. A lot of ethnic flavors have been very popular lately as well.


Q: How do you stay updated on the latest nutritional guidelines and dietary trends in the senior living/healthcare industry?


A: I am a member of the Association of Nutrition & Foodservice Professionals ANFP, so a lot of my continuing education opportunities are a great way to stay updated. I’m also connected to a wide network of operators and dietitians that I speak to daily, so it’s become my life.


Q: What do you anticipate as some up-and-coming trends in the senior living/healthcare foodservice space over the next year?


A: Plant-based menu options are having a big surge right now. There has also been a big focus on clean, natural and local products. The Mediterranean diet model is more popular than ever. I anticipate all of these being our guiding light for the next couple years.


Q: Can you share one memory that stands out from your time cooking for residents?


A: This is what sold me on working in healthcare: One of my first few weeks working in a hospital, I brought in fresh, raw potatoes––no more dehydrated potatoes for mashed. I got into a conversation with a patient who had spent a lot of time in our hospital. As he showed me his plate from lunch, he began to cry because it was the first time in a long time that he had real mashed potatoes. He could tell the difference. He was so emotional and so appreciative that we took the time to make them real mashed potatoes.


Making good “real” food was something I hadn’t thought twice about in over 30 years of working in foodservice, but when I saw the difference I could make, and how it affected these people, it instantly gave me that feeling I used to have as a child when I first began cooking for people. This is why I enjoy working in healthcare.



Chef Chris Bio:

Culinary consultant Christopher Hinton has over 30 years of experience in culinary arts, spanning diverse sectors of the foodservice industry. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chris strives to constantly learn and innovate. He has enjoyed piloting multiple new programs with Compass Group in the past few years and received the “Hero of the Year 2021” Award from Compass Group, USA for his work with food waste reduction programs and feeding the food insecure in Charlotte, NC. In 2020, Chris was part of the team that was awarded “National Account of the Year” for Morrison Healthcare.


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