When I started out as a home healthcare consultant, the last thing I ever expected is that I would become a culinary expert. Well, that is exactly what has happened, and for a very good reason. It turns out that in the new era of home health, one of the most common requests for services, besides personal care, is cooking. Unfortunately, cooking has also become one of the most common topics of complaint.
In my capacity as a home healthcare consultant, I’ve read hundreds of agency evaluations where clients go on and on about how fantastic their caregiver is and openly state how grateful they are to have such a loving and sweet person in their life. And then comes that final punch: she cannot cook to save her life.
Aides with adequate cooking skills are far and few between. Last year, when I was working with a client who runs a very successful home health agency, I heard what I believe is a very common complaint. A client’s daughter had asked the home care aide to broil her father a steak for dinner. Instead, the aide boiled the steak, which is how steaks are cooked in her native country. After some thought and discussion with the administrative staff, I decided it was time to develop a culinary arts program for the aides, particularly for those who live in, as they are almost always required to cook.
Drawing on my own skills as a cook, as well as the talents of an expert who heads the Culinary Arts Department of a Continuous Care Retirement Community in the Pacific Northwest, I set out to design a program for my client. The gentleman I worked with had years of experience running community-based kitchens, as well as a clear understanding of the type of person who is hired for a homecare department.
The Homecare Culinary Arts program we developed gives aides a full eight-hour day in a commercial kitchen with a professional dietitian and a chef. Aides spend the morning with the dietitian and the afternoon at the cook top and oven with the chef. Throughout the day, they learn about nutrition, diet, food buying, storage and preparation and, of course, cooking.
In addition, we developed a Kitchen Kit so that aides would have all the resources they needed to prepare and present meals in a safe and appealing way. The Kitchen Kit contains a three-ring binder, eighty laminated recipes, and two cutting boards (a green one for vegetables and fruit and a red one for meats and poultry). It also includes a container of commercial cleaner for the boards and other preparation surfaces, as well as gloves to wear while preparing food.
The aides who have completed this course report feeling much more confident about their cooking skills, and the agency has experienced a dramatic reduction in ‘cooking’ complaints. As an added bonus, the agency is now using their new Homecare Culinary Arts program as part of their marketing to attract new hires and, as a result, are seeing improved recruitment and retention rates. Best of all, now when a prospective client asks if an aide can cook, the agency manager can utter an enthusiastic, “Yes!” and absolutely mean it.