By Ariana Estes

Meal planning can be an overwhelming experience for even the most organized households. Picking meals that everyone will like and are quick to make can make the frozen food section very tempting. Now imagine juggling multiple dietary restrictions, different levels of cooking skills and specific budgeting on top of those basic meal planning demands. That’s the challenge faced by Lutheran Family Services of Virginia’s Bedford Group Homes.

It’s been five years since new menus were created for LFSVA’s group homes, but thanks to a grant from Bedford Community Health Foundation, the residents can expect refreshed meal plans. The grant will support the cost of hiring a registered dietician to help update the menu that will span a time frame of six to eight weeks.

“This project is challenging because within one house there can be several different needs as far as meal preparation and dietary restrictions are concerned. We want to offer variety and choice and have the individuals be involved in preparing their meals, while also offering healthy and nutritious meals. We need to do all of this while remaining budget-conscience due to the rising cost of food and household supplies,” says Debbie Rosser, regional manager of group homes.

LFSVA serves individuals from their mid-twenties into their seventies who have unique food preferences and dietary requirements. Over half of current residents require a modified diet such as soft or puree diet, low-sodium, or diabetic choices. Meals also need to ensure individuals are meeting their nutrition and caloric intake needs.

The dietician’s first step will be meeting with regional managers and supervisors of each home to determine the needs of the individuals. Once the menus are created, direct support professional staff will have an opportunity to give their input. Time will also be spent in each home to help with meal preparation and review other ways to incorporate variety into their everyday menus.

“The funding for a registered dietician will allow our staff to work more efficiently during meal planning and preparations. Additionally, they will have the ability to reach out to the dietitian on a consult basis as needs may change with the individuals,” says Mary Wilson, grants and community engagement coordinator.

The project doesn’t end when the menus are turned over to the group homes. Each home will have monthly check-ins to collect feedback and troubleshoot any problems staff may be having with meal preparations.

“This grant will have a long-term impact by providing the ability to create menus that we can truly say are person-centered, customizable and meet the needs of the individuals we serve,” says Rosser.