Women take away culinary secrets for meal planning

WESTFIELD-When meal planning monthly at the Westfield Senior Center, Joann Spear and Sandra Fisher take a unique approach – they are cooking for “family.”

“It makes me happy to hear feedback about the dishes we make and it keeps me striving to learn more and to keep everyone’s belly’s happy and full, with good wholesome food,” said Spear.

Sandra Fisher and Joann Spear of the Westfield Senior Center kitchen staff recently attended a culinary conference at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield – bringing back a wealth of new ideas and recipes to share with seniors.

Spear, kitchen manager, and Fisher, kitchen assistant, recently attended the Springfield Foodie Fest at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield with a mission in mind – to learn new healthy ideas and recipes to share with the city’s seniors.

“I think it’s important for everyone to have professional development days throughout the year,” said Spear, adding, “it keeps us excited and the wheels turning with new ideas.”

Fisher echoed those sentiments.

“Attending the conference is not only educational regarding nutritious meal offerings but as a cook it provides inspiration,” said Fisher.

Both women noted that healthy ideas and cooking alternatives gleaned from the conference included using long grain rice, quinoa, sweet potato, black beans and chick peas. Also, other lessons learned were suggestions of using yogurts instead of sour cream, honey to replace sugar, and incorporating apple cider vinegar into recipes as well as a variety of spices including turmeric and coriander.

“The conference helps hone one’s craft and keeps you excited and reminds you that you’re working toward one goal – doing something you love for a living,” said Spear.

Tina Gorman, director of the Westfield Council on Aging, noted that the purpose of the noon lunch program at the senior center is twofold.

“The meals are both hearty and affordable,” said Gorman, noting the nutritional benefit to older adults. “Most of the participants eat their lunch at the senior center as their main meal of the day.”

Gorman added that when seniors eat a hearty lunch, an evening meal can be on the lighter side.

“Lighter fare for supper can be simple to prepare such as a sandwich, cheese and crackers, cut-vegetables, soup or yogurt,” said Gorman.

Gorman cited the longitudinal Harvard Study of Adult Development that showcased the importance of seniors needing emotional connections.

“The other benefit to our lunch program is the social aspect,” said Gorman. “Older adults who enjoy close relationships eat better, exercise more, and smoke and drink less.”

The women all agree that the meal program offers a stimulating and supportive environment.

“Many friendships have been formed over a turkey dinner or our famous meatloaf,” said Gorman.

While seniors enjoy “made from scratch” favorites including shepherd’s pie, chicken with stuffing, spaghetti and meatballs and meatloaf, the women are eager to now try some twists on old favorites.

“Next week we will be offering a Southwest Shepherd’s Pie,” said Fisher, adding that seniors can also look forward to meals incorporating more fish including shrimp scampi in the months ahead.

For the summer months, the women are eager to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into the menus, including a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato), pasta primavera and a reuben casserole. Additionally, mini quiches are being planned as well as tri-color tortellini.

“We use top-notch spices for our meals,” said Spear, adding that all offerings are salt-free, baked on the premises, and never fried.

Gorman said she welcomes the new ideas that Spear and Fisher have brought back from the recent daylong conference.

“It’s important for the kitchen staff to remain excited about the work that they do with our participants,” said Gorman. “Getting new food ideas and recipes keeps the program vibrant.”

Gorman added that professional conferences for all of the Council on Aging staff help them to maximize the quality, quantity, and variety of services and programs that can be provided to seniors.

For two friends enjoying lunch on Monday afternoon at the senior center, the social aspect as well as the eggplant parmigiana was delightful.

“They do a wonderful job here,” said Arline Schultz. “The meals are very good and tasty and I like to be with people.”

Donna Vella, who started visiting the senior center last fall, concurred.

“I love the camaraderie here and the facility is marvelous,” said Vella. “The food is extemely good and very tasty.”

As Spear and Fisher move forward they know that persons including Schultz and Vella are waiting in line at noon for the day’s tasty offering. The cost of each meal is $3 which includes a beverage and dessert.

“We are always mindful we are cooking for family,” said Fisher.

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