When dealing with stubborn nursing home residents, stuck in their ways, refusing to eat differently, Salem Home Diet Manager Joyce Weinbrenner does not make demands; she does not fight.
Instead, she works around a resident, or patient’s, diet to suit their tastes but still meet a physician’s prescribed dietary conditions.
“You learn early that good customer service is making patients and residents comfortable,” Weinbrenner said. “Sometimes you just have to give them what they want.”
One resident at Salem Home loves fast food. Burgers, fires, chicken strips, and fried fish sandwiches have been staples of his diet for years, and that is what he is willing to eat.
Weinbrenner and her staff of 14 people in the nursing home kitchen work to make the man’s favorite foods a little healthier. They grill burgers themselves, reducing some of the fat content. They bake chicken strips and fish.
More than diet management, Weinbrenner said her task at Salem Home is culture change. While simple exercise is a part of this change, modifying a person’s habits starts at the dinner table.
“That’s what you have control over,” Weinbrenner said.
One woman at Salem has been successful on a weight management diet. Cutting down her portions significantly — one piece of pie is really one tenth of a normal piece — the resident has lost 25 pounds.
“If you eat regularly and eat good foods, you’ll get more energy,” Weinbrenner said of the added benefits to a healthy diet. “It reduces stress levels.”
Regularly meeting one-one-one with residents and patients is an important part of Weinbrenner’s job. While a dietitian based out of McPherson oversees Weinbrenner’s program and meets with her regularly, Weinbrenner is the diet manager of Salem Home and Hillsboro Community Hospital.
She also meets with a residents’ council once a month where they discuss Salem Home’s food options.
Weinbrenner often works around diabetic, renal, and heart healthy diets. For diabetics it is about limiting sugars, substituting a low fat syrup and Splenda. For patients suffering from kidney disease, it is about limiting fluid and protein intake. For heart healthy diets it is about limiting fats, which can be as simple as serving mashed potatoes without gravy.
Weinbrenner and her staff do not create recipes, those are set for the home, but she does craft menus.
“At the end of the day, it makes you feel good that you’ve done something to help other people,” Weinbrenner said.
The lessons Weinbrenner learned in nearly 30 years as a diet manager with Salem Home can apply to everyone.
She suggests keeping a journal to monitor caloric intake. She advises people to eat regularly, including breakfast, a meal many people skip. At the home, residents have a choice between eating six small meals a day at the high end or eating the normal three meals a day on the opposite spectrum. She said people should drink more water and substitute it for other drinks.
Most of all she suggested trying to make the foods people enjoy healthier.
“As you go through life it’s all about choices,” Weinbrenner said. “It’s that way with everything we do in life.”