Serving Up Customized Meals for Healthier Living
Kavon and his housemates at Emma Court gather together for meals with a new interest in what is being served.
MOKA’s Emma Court home began using a new healthy meal planning service in November, and the menus have been well-received by the people who live in the home and employees. The dietary service, called My25, offers customized options, instead of a group approach, to specifically address the needs of individuals’ dietary health needs.
Kavon was a new admission in 2022 and has benefitted from an increased focus on his health, including healthy eating habits and a balanced diet. “It helped him to really have an appetite,” says Reana Waylee, Assistant Home Supervisor, adding that the other people in the home rarely leave food on their plates.
MOKA continues to look for ways to improve health outcomes of persons served, while providing nutritious and delicious meals for people in group home settings. Reana has worked at MOKA for seven years and says the people in the homes have more buy-in and choices with the new menu options.
“We know how it tastes when we prepare it because we prepare it and share the meal,” Reana says.
They all seem to like the food, enjoy mealtime, and some even help with shopping and food preparation.
“The people we support are being given the opportunity to choose what they actually love to eat,” Reana says.
All of the licensed residential homes are now using the subscription-based dietary service, and Clinical Coordinator DeeAnn Hands is optimistic it will pay off in the way of improved health outcomes. In particular, they can better manage diabetes, GERD, heart disease, and elevated lipids.
“It feels like with My25, we have a really good partnership and a full understanding of what the goals are for the people we serve, and a good way to track progress toward those goals,” DeeAnn says.
MOKA’s residential services team reviewed its dietary offerings, and previous menus did not address the common health concerns and chronic health conditions of the people living in the homes. The change also supports MOKA’s Diabetes Prevention Program and efforts to reduce diabetes and obesity.
The service tracks some important factors for health and provides positive feedback and recognition to those people or homes that are making progress toward reaching their health goals.
“They were really able to work with us to customize a menu, specific to each home, to target the health-care concerns of each person in that home,” DeeAnn says. “It provides us with some pretty consistent reports on things like weight and blood glucose levels and things that are indicators of someone’s health either improving or getting worse.”
Each home receives a new menu weekly, with recipe ingredients and instructions for a week’s worth of meals. The meals also take into consideration favorite foods and cultural/ethnic preferences while still working within a healthy diet. Menus can be changed and customized quickly when a person’s needs change.
In fact, changes can be made within a few days. “It’s a pretty dynamic process to support the people we serve,” DeeAnn notes.
By following a specific menu, the meal planning service also helps reduce food and labor costs. It takes the guesswork out of what to cook for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and reduces the time employees spend shopping. They can access additional resources online while preparing the meals or to learn more about cooking for someone with diabetes or other health conditions.
“We’ve focused much more on the staff to get the training to prepare that meal, including online,” DeeAnn says. “If they need help in preparing a particular menu item, they can go there and see a 5- to 10-minute tutorial to make sure it’s ending up the way it should in the end.”
My25 has partnered with Walmart to offer menus and shopping lists online, which can be customized for each home, so the home’s shopper can put in an order and pick it up at the store.
“We’re having a staff person spend less time in a grocery store and more time in the home,” DeeAnn says. “We’re always grateful for cost savings, but it was more the quality of the food and the improvement in the health care that we were looking for.”
And the people living in the homes are actively involved in planning the menu, including providing feedback on which meals they like and which ones they don’t. Each meal can be customized based on dietary needs or preferences. For instance, they all might eat tacos but with different shells – flour, corn, or whole wheat – or opt for whole or skim milk.
An added bonus is each home can plan meals around their schedule or special celebrations – like birthdays and holidays. If the people in the home have a scheduled evening activity, they can make that a crockpot meal or skip it if they decided to have a pizza night.
“That’s also been able to involve the people in the home in reviewing the menus and the shopping list, to make sure people’s personal preferences are honored and that they’re part of that whole menu development,” DeeAnn says. “People are much more likely to accept a change in menu or diet if they are part of making that change.”
The service includes educational opportunities, special incentives such as chef’s hats, aprons, and magnets, and certificates and celebrations to encourage participation. For the Supported Living Programs (SLP), people served also have access to nutritional tools and resources to help create their own menus, which support their independence while gently guiding them toward healthy food choices.
“They also had some pretty good incentive programs for the people in the home,” DeeAnn adds. “If they participate in exercise or dietary changes, take more responsibility for making their own food and moving away from that fast food mentality to home cooked and better and more nutritious meals, then they also reward them and recognize their efforts.”
Story by Marla Miller. Photos by Lara Parent.