Senior meal site staff receive medically tailored meals training

Joey Buttendorf NEK Agency on Aging

Staff from area senior nutrition programs attend a training workshop to learn more about the development of medically tailored meals. Chef Joey Buttendorf is pictured leading a class about the creative use of food ingredients to provide appealing and cost-effective meals for people managing heart, circulatory, or kidney health challenges. 

Vermont Business Magazine Staff from 14 Northeast Kingdom senior meal nutrition programs recently attended a one-day training session to learn about methods to produce medically tailored meals to support people with heart, circulatory, and kidney health challenges. 

The training session was funded by a grant from Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) as part of the NEK Prosper! Healthy Cents Fund. The training was led by Herb Will, Director of Nutrition, NEK Council on Aging; registered dietitian Alicia Armstrong RDN LD CDCES; and former New England Culinary Institute Chef Joey Buttendorf. 

Also in attendance was Annie Hutchinson, State Unit on Aging Operations Team Leader for the Vermont Department of Aging and Independent Living (DAIL).

“Food as Medicine” has become an established nationwide goal with passage of the Dignity in Aging Act of 2019 which revised the Older Americans Act (OAA) to expand health promotion and disease prevention,” said Will. “Enacted in 2020, this revision included the phrase, “person-centered” and called for the equitable adjustment of meals for cultural considerations and preferences along with medically tailored meals.” 

The Older Americans Act, reauthorized every three years, is the legislation that supports the programs and services of the Area Agencies of Aging for Vermont, including the nutrition program that provides congregate and home-delivered meals. 

“We believe that each person we serve should have access to the right foods to support their needs,” said Will. “All of the menus for our meal site partners are reviewed by a registered dietitian and in keeping with these established goals, we propose to transform our nutrition program by serving seniors with higher quality, nutritious meals to aid in health management.” 

The training started with a presentation by registered dietitian Alicia Armstrong, RDN LD CDCES of current federal and state nutrition and meal preparation requirements and an explanation of medically tailored meals and nutritional guidelines. 

The group moved into the kitchen as Chef Joey introduced creative ways to use ingredients and cooking methods to alter the flavor of foods without adding sugar, salt, or fats. Chef Buttendorf created a flavorful lunch of chicken marsala, herb rice, quinoa, and tossed salad that used zero salt and sugar, and almost zero fat. 

“I thought Chef Joey was awesome!” said Cathy Baker, Assistant at the Danville Senior Action Center.  “Her positive energy was infectious!  I learned a lot and felt that she is able to really help all the meal sites to be more efficient and less stressed about nutrition requirements, product availability and cost, while accommodating senior frailties.”

The need for medically tailored meals will certainly grow as Vermonters age. Vermont has the fourth highest senior population in the nation, experiencing a sharp increase in the past ten years. In 2030, over 30% of the population in Vermont will be 60 and older. One in four Americans is over 60, and statistically, 80% of older adults have at least one chronic condition while 68% suffer with two or more. 

“The NEK Prosper! Healthy Cents Fund was developed in 2020 to support innovative interventions that create healthy and thriving communities and address health inequity,” shared Diana Gibbs, Vice President of Marketing and Community Health Improvement at NVRH. “As we consider the needs of our community, especially older adults, the review committee recognized the sustainable impact that the NEK Council on Aging’s “Food as Medicine” initiative would have in building meal site capacity to provide nutritious and disease-specific meals for area residents. We look forward to further evolution of the program to support disease management for our aging population.”

“Our 14 partner, non-profit meal sites are staffed by local cooks preparing meals for folks in rural areas. These cooks have a broad range of experience and are active in their communities. Providing health-supportive training is an important opportunity to make their service even more valuable for members of their communities. We appreciate the support from NVRH and NEK Prosper! to host the training,” said Will.

This initiative is made possible by the NEK Prosper! Healthy Cents Fund, supported by Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, as a commitment to community health with the vision that all people in Caledonia and Southern Essex Counties will be Well-Housed, Well-Nourished, Physically Healthy, Mentally Healthy, Financially Secure.

Source: 2.29.2024. St. Johnsbury, VT – Northeast Kingdom Council on Aging Vermont Business Magazine