“I just try to make them happy,” says Linda St. Pierre, the chef at the Harwich Senior Center.
Lunches are served on a varying schedule at the Harwich, Chatham and Orleans Senior Centers and chefs in all three towns know how to keep the senior diners happy and healthy.
St. Pierre has been cooking lunches and dinners at the Harwich Senior Center for 10 years now, and she knows many of the seniors by name as well as by their tastes. They loved the Maryland crab cakes she once made, and they love her baked haddock, taco boat, chicken fajita and big salads. If she experiments with something that doesn’t go over well, she doesn’t serve it again.
And of course, “they do like their chocolate ice cream.”
St. Pierre emphasizes low or no-salt recipes. She makes up for any loss in flavor with all-natural ingredients. She generally shies away from nuts in case anyone has a nut allergy. On occasion someone asks her if a certain spice is in a dish, but generally, perhaps because the diners know in advance what will be served, she encounters few issues with food allergies.
She plans menus for two months and tries not to repeat dishes during that time. She’s always paging through magazines and looking for new recipes to keep things interesting. “I try to give them balance—that might be their big meal,” she says of the lunches. On St. Patrick’s Day she will serve a traditional corned beef dinner with carrots and potatoes.
For St. Pierre, the payoff comes when the seniors she feeds say, “‘Ooh I love this soup. It was so good, I’m so full.’”
Lunch is served most weekdays at 11:30 a.m. at the Harwich Community Center on Oak Street. It costs $3 for residents and $4 for non-residents. Reservations are required by 11 a.m. the prior day and can be made by calling the council on aging office at 508-430-7550. The next luncheon will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 18. On the menu will be St. Pierre’s fried chicken with potato and a vegetable. In addition, supper is served on the first Monday of the month at 5 p.m. and generally includes entertainment. The next Supper Club will be held on Monday, March 2. Reservations are required.
Like Harwich, the Chatham Senior Center serves up healthy foods with a “healthy slant, but with treats and dessert,” says chef Heather Bailey. “Something that will give them pleasure.” Bailey owns the Optimal Kitchen, a “full service nutritional consulting firm.”
Bailey’s gourmet lunches are served every Monday at noon in the COA Café at the Chatham Senior Center at 193 Stony Hill Road. The Friends of the Chatham COA “heavily subsidizes lunches and pays for the chef,” says Executive Director Mandi Speakman.
Bailey calls the meals, which cost $7 or $9 and include a bread basket, entrée, beverage and dessert, “the bargain of the century.” She, too, watches the amount of salt she uses in her cooking. Bailey stresses a plant-based vegetable diet with plenty of fresh salads. Everything she cooks is from scratch.
“It’s a pretty big meal,” says Speakman. “We pair it with an interesting program.” The program is often given by local musicians.
On Monday, March 16, the room will be decorated for St. Patrick’s Day. Denya LeVine will perform Irish songs on the fiddle. A traditional corned beef and cabbage luncheon will be served. This creates “a whole experience,” Speakman says. The COA also sponsors occasional lunchtime programs such as on scams and frauds directed at older people.
As well as the hot meal, Bailey makes a soup that is packaged into pints to go for $4. It is available through the COA receptionist.
Menus are published each month in The Flash which is online at www.chathamcoa.com. Reservations can be made by calling 508-945-5190; transportation is available. Reserve Monday lunches on the prior Friday. Space is limited to 40.
Over in Orleans, a hot turkey dinner will be served on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. The Orleans Senior Center is at 150 Rock Harbor Rd.
Each week, lunches are served at noon on Mondays and Fridays. On Mondays, chef Michelle Costa prepares soup and sandwiches for $4. On Fridays, chef Tricia Lyon prepares “comfort kitchen” hot lunches for $6. Hot lunches include an entrée, sides and dessert. Reservations can be made by calling 508-255-6333 and transportation is available for Orleans residents.
The hot food served on Fridays is especially valuable “for people who live alone and may not cook for themselves,” says COA Executive Director Judi Wilson. Entrees range from pot roast to pork.
In preparing the food, the chefs are conscious of watching for too much sugar and salt. Interestingly, Wilson says, older adults do not seem to have as many allergy issues as younger adults, so food allergies are not much of a problem.
The Friends of the Orleans Council on Aging sponsors a fresh fish luncheon on one Friday each month. To be eligible for Friends Fish Friday, you must be an Orleans resident/taxpayer or a current Friends member. Luncheon menus are published online for the entire month at www.town.orleans.ma.us/council-on-aging.