Cooking for Seniors

Filed under: Business Strategies , Tags: , , , — Author: Caron Golden , February 1, 2016

Dad at dinner 3-28-14

Why do seniors use personal chefs? For some, it’s no different than any other client. They don’t cook or don’t have the time or interest. Or, they have a specific health issue they need nutrition assistance with.

A senior client explained to her personal chef that while she and her husband could well afford to dine out every night at fine dining restaurant it meant she would have to dress for dinner, put on make-up, style her hair and drive to and from the restaurant, which meant no cocktail before dinner for the driver.

She and her husband had traveled extensively and were excellent cooks themselves who chose to continue to dine adventurously, but chose only to dine out on occasion. Her request to the personal chef was for a program where they could “dine out” at home.

Other senior clients request personal chef service because they want to eat healthy delicious meals without having to see the inside of their grocery store any time soon, and to have as little kitchen and meal preparation time as possible getting in the way of their busy, active, retirement lifestyle.

The security of knowing their meals are prepared in accordance to their wants and needs from all fresh ingredients by a scratch cook is important to many senior clients who choose to stay healthy and active well into their senior years.

That may not sound any different from your other clients, so how do senior clients differ from them?

For many seniors, it’s a necessity if they want to remain in their homes as they age. They need to develop a support system to provide services that would otherwise only be offered at a senior living facility. Cleaning services, yard services, shopping services, and a custom-designed, palate-specific meal program prepared from fresh ingredients can make aging in place a pleasant experience. As people age, their ability to experience flavor diminishes, so personal chefs are able to infuse flavors their clients can discern and enjoy.

Additionally, as our population ages, special medical challenges become a reason senior clients seek out the services of personal chefs, many of whom are former nutritionists and dietitians who chose to leave the health care industry to attend culinary school in order to obtain a skill set to be used to serve clients with special medical challenges.

Mom and me at Trish's lunch 3-12

One twist here is the increasing incidence of children of seniors seeking personal chefs for their parents.   More often than not, the children of the senior clients do not live in the city where their parents live, and are seeking support services to sustain their aging parents.

However, this situation comes with its own set of special challenges. It’s wonderful of the children, but it can cause the parents to feel a loss of independence akin to having their children come to their home and take away their car keys. We have found that unless the parents are in agreement and amenable to using the service and are willing to meet with the personal chef and provide information for a complete assessment of their needs, the relationship may be brief. If the senior clients do not actually invite the personal chef into their home to provide service, the relationship will not work.

Once you have been retained to cook for seniors, how do you make sure you’re meeting their needs? Well, let’s look at some of the things we’ve learned over the years.

Oftentimes, senior clients prefer entrees that are less crunchy or al dente and more on the soft or creamy side due to possible dentition issues. Clients may also request smaller portions.

Flor's lentils

Sense memory can enhance a senior client’s enjoyment of a dish. It is good policy to encourage clients to request and supply favorite family recipes. These may be dishes they’ve prepared and enjoyed for years but can no longer prepare themselves. Having you make them still allows them to experience that deep emotion connection through food, which can be deeply satisfying for the client.

Photo from Linda Berns

Photo from Linda Berns

Senior clients can be more time intensive for the personal chef since the cook date can sometimes be considered by the client to be an “event,” and they may wish to spend time visiting with you in the kitchen.

We know that one of your goals in the day-to-day operation of your business is to be efficient. To avoid being trapped into a chat-intensive cook date, it is important to develop and suggest a plan of some sort to which both parties can agree. One personal chef suggested they arrive 15 minutes early on each cook date so they could have a cup of coffee and a 15-minute visit with the clients prior to officially starting the cook date. I describe this additional service as my senior client’s “upscale meals on wheels service,” during which the personal chef can sit for a brief visit and check to ensure the client was making sense, that all clothing buttons were buttoned correctly and there were no visible bruises or injuries to be seen.

The personal chef also offered to take a break at lunchtime and serve a salad or soup and sandwich to the clients with another short visit before continuing and completing the cook date service.

The key is to be kind but firm. Explain to the client that on a professional cook date, the kitchen is the personal chef’s “office,” and that in order to avoid distractions that might result in a delicious entrée being ruined, or worse yet, a distraction that results in an injury, it is important for the personal chef to have the kitchen to themselves. In this case, the clients agreed and the relationship remained deeply satisfying for all parties for more than 10 years.

Here are some additional tips for working with seniors:

  • If adult children hire you on behalf of their parents, discuss with them the possibility that their parent/s may be resistant to the gift, and consequently will not be made happy no matter what you do. Make sure that the children resolve with their parents whatever objections the parents have prior to meeting with the parents for the first time so that your relationship with them has a good chance of blooming into regular client status. At that point, make sure that the senior client knows you are working for them and focus on what they want.
  • Determine what medications and or medical situations you’ll be dealing with so any food/medication incompatibilities can be addressed.
  • It may also be appropriate to meet with the potential client’s primary care physician or special medical situation educator or advisor  to ensure that appropriate medical/nutritional care plans are being followed and supported.

Cooking for seniors can be deeply satisfying. You’re helping to facilitate people staying in their own homes and eating delicious, nutritious meals that they might not otherwise be able to enjoy. You’re offering them the dignity of control over their lives. And, even if it is limited, you’re providing some companionship. For many of our personal chefs, it’s a way to honor their own parents and grandparents.

Are you cooking for seniors? What other advice to you have for colleagues?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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