DISHED: A Discussion with Gordon Food Service

This article is sponsored by Gordon Food Service. This article is based on a Senior Housing News DISHED conference Q&A with Amanda Goldman, Healthcare Industry Sales Strategist at Gordon Food Service. The Q&A took place on June 1, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Senior Housing News: We’re going to get started here and talk about cultural diversity and celebrating traditions. I’d like to introduce Amanda Goldman. Amanda is with Gordon Food Service.

Amanda Goldman: I’ve been with Gordon Food Service for a little over two years, and focus on our healthcare and senior living segments. GFS is the largest privately-held broadline foodservice distributor in North America. For 125 years, we have been committed to delivering quality and service to our customers. We are based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and have 16 distribution centers in the United States, and 8 in Canada.


Talk to us a little bit about how food and nutrition is impacting senior living today, especially as we exit the pandemic here and find whatever course is the new normal.

I am actually an operator as well as a registered dietitian by background. Health, wellness, food and nutrition have always been really important to me. If you think about coming out of the pandemic as you just referenced, there’s been a lot of focus on how food and diet help to play a role in decreasing the risk of chronic disease, or also help to manage that. And really, you can do that in a delicious way.

I think it’s something that’s really been brought to the forefront recently. It’s always been important, but now there’s a little bit more of an emphasis there. I think there’s a nice way that we can help to bridge the gap by adding in some unique menu items, along with menu innovations. We can also help in the wellness space too, and then assist to elevate the dining experience for our residents even more.


Impacting that resident experience goes a long way. Talk to us about how you’re incorporating some cultural traditions and how you’re looking at those new innovations that you’re bringing to market.

I believe food is really essential to what we do. I think everyone in the audience, I’m assuming that anytime you get together with your family or your friends, your time is probably centered around food. It’s really near and dear to our hearts. We each bring our own food memories, and different sights & smells can really invoke a lot of really positive memories. I think if you are able to bring different cultural aspects to dining, that it can really be helpful to bridge the gap of enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Also, many of our organizations have goals within the DEI space, and dining directors and programs can truly help to lead that work.

There was a recent OnShift Workforce 360 survey that talked about how approximately 89% of organizations were really wanting to have a high focus, or somewhat of a priority with enhancing their diversity, equity, and inclusion work, so I really feel that food and nutrition, dining services, culinary services, or whatever you may call that area or that department, should help to be leading the work in a given organization and within a given community. It gives those food service and culinary directors a really great opportunity to do so.

Along those lines of diversity, equity, and inclusion or DEI, talk to us about how you’re seeing some of your clients and customers incorporating that into the menu selections and choices that they’re making.

I think it’s really always been there, but, again, it’s probably a little bit more elevated right now. I think a lot of that started at the onset of the pandemic, when nobody was traveling. Obviously, residents aren’t necessarily traveling around the world, but their family members were. Chefs are starting to implement these great ideas, both in the acute care space, as well as in the senior living space. We now see lots of different menu items incorporated from all over the globe. You saw executive chefs and culinary directors starting global passport programs where they would focus on one type of cuisine for a given month, or a given week, or a given meal.

I think that’s really how it started. If you talk to a lot of operators which we do at Gordon Food Service, they received a lot of positive responses from their innovations. Whether they were focusing on Italy, or whether they were focusing on Tunisia or Spain as examples, it was just a great way to enhance menu offerings for their residents. Adding global menu items gives residents a taste of something different, and maybe a taste of something that they had not been exposed to before.

What are some simple strategies to elevate that dining experience using these components of diversity, equity, and inclusion?

I think adding in different theme days is a simple strategy. For instance, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine is something that is a passion of mine. Many people don’t realize that there are about 22 countries in the Mediterranean basin. People generally think about Italy, they think about Greece, and not really anywhere else. But there’s Tunisia, Spain, Israel & others, and there’s all these different opportunities in different countries where you can incorporate global types of menus.

You can easily focus on a special meal such as Sunday brunch, and add unique menu items or a fun, cool beverage with maybe a little something extra in there. You can do this from all different types of cuisines. One thing that we are actually working on is developing some different toolkits for our customers, working with our executive chefs and our culinary specialists. The upcoming toolkits will have recipes and include at least one entrée, a side, and an appetizer, dessert and/or beverage. It’s a practical tool for our customers and we could say, “Here’s your toolkit for Greece”, or some other country. The operators will not have to recreate the wheel. If they want to tweak the recipes and be more creative, the chefs can do that, but they do not need to do so.

I think there are a lot of senior living communities now that are doing an amazing job with their dining programs, and some have highly trained chefs. Food and nutrition departments are having a lot of labor issues as well, just like other disciplines. Currently, there are a lot of opportunities for training, and cooks are often being elevated in their roles and being asked to do more. Sometimes, if we can give them the tools and some different ideas, that’s really helpful to those team members. We are really working to develop a lot of resources that provide those types of solutions for operators.

Another area that I want to mention that’s not necessarily related to DE&I, but related to elevating the dining experience, is really from an operations perspective. And that’s going back to basics as an operator, and including performance improvement tactics in the food and nutrition services department. Completing regular tray accuracy checks if you’re still serving residents in their rooms, and completing similar checks in the dining room is so important. Also, completing meal rounds with your residents to identify preferences and potential concerns or requests is really critical too. Those are the types of things that we know that we need to do, but they don’t always happen on a consistent basis. When operators implement those tactics, they will help to elevate the dining experience as well for their residents.

Talk to us about how you look at it from or here doing wellness and dining all the same time. How does that factor into play? Is it dining first and wellness second, or wellness first and dining second?

I’m going to say 50/50, and I’m going to be a bit neutral here. I’m saying that because, again, I’m a dietitian and ice cream is my absolute favorite food (laughs), so I believe all foods can fit into a well-balanced diet. I think we eat with our eyes and our sense of smell, so it’s important that we eat what we like, but also focus on new & different foods, and ones that are healthy too.

I think again, what we were talking about at the start of this conversation with a focus on health and wellness, it’s important to add different food items, menu items that are more culturally based as well. Several different cultures have a lot of fresh healthy foods by nature, and they may focus on foods in their natural state, they may focus on increased use of fruits and vegetables. I mentioned the Mediterranean diet earlier, that’s been the number one ranked healthy lifestyle type of eating for five years in a row now by U.S. News and World Report.

Also, there was some discussion earlier today about local foods. Farm fresh foods and local items are easy ways to incorporate healthy items onto a menu. They can also be part of a culturally diverse menu. It’s for all of these reasons and more, that I think that wellness and healthy dining go together.

Looking ahead at the next six to 12 months, where are you seeing the most innovation in senior living dining, and what’s ahead?

Whether you incorporate some cool new items in your pub or your coffee kiosk or your fine dining, I really think it’s simply all about finding out what our residents want to eat. It’s important to speak with their families too, and maybe finding out what their favorite recipes from way back were and incorporating those. Maybe even offering a teaching kitchen event, so you can involve them in the cooking process too.

That’s also really helpful for memory care as well. We have a resource around teaching kitchens and cooking up memories. Over the last couple of years, so many residents have been eating in their rooms and there has been increased isolation, which in turn may increase someone’s risk of weight loss and potentially developing malnutrition. Anything that we can do to provide an excellent dining experience is beneficial, and that includes delicious foods made from unique ingredients. Creative menu ideas can also be driven from restaurants as that is where many trends start in foodservice. Both healthcare and senior dining menus will soon incorporate many of these culturally diverse trends if they don’t already.

We’ve done a lot of coverage over the years on the MIND Diet back to the Mediterranean aspect. I want you to put your RD hat on. What would you tell providers and operators out there today that you think is missing at least from a diet and nutrition standpoint in senior living?

As we just mentioned, in terms of adding more fresh foods, and including more local foods can definitely make a difference. Also, a lot of the time, dining team members might simply need some more elevated training. Preparing new items can be a bit intimidating. One of the nice elements about the Mediterranean Diet and the MIND diet is that many of the menu items are more simplistic by nature with less ingredients – It’s all about the fresh preparation, the flavor combinations, and loading up on fruits & vegetables.

Back to referencing resources, the toolkits that GFS is developing will be very helpful to our customers. Also, Pineapple Academy provides some great resources too in terms of training team members. We are all in this together, and anything we can do to help elevate the dining experience for all of our residents is a win!

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