New dietician cooking up positive feedback at the Care Center

One local menu is getting rave reviews, but some may be surprised to learn where the new menu is being offered. Amanda Kuck (pronounced “Cook”) was hired three months ago as dietician for the Care Center and North Big Horn Hospital. Since she was hired, Kuck has made it her goal to make the meals at the Care Center something its residents now look forward to.

Kuck is the first full-time dietician the Care Center has had on staff. She has a nine-year track record in the food service industry, with about 2½
of those years as a dietician.

Kuck received her training at Johnson and Wales University in Denver, where she earned her associate’s degree in culinary arts and her bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition.

Amanda Kuck
Amanda Kuck

She previously worked at Clermont Park, a Christian senior community in Denver with more than 300 residents in its independent living community, 70 long-term care patients and 15 rehab patients.  At New Horizons Care Center she plans meals for around 75 residents and 10-12 patients in the hospital. Her goal is to make those meals as delicious and nutritious as possible, taking into consideration the plethora of special dietary needs of the population she now serves.

“When I first came here I made the residents on special diets my main focus,” she explained. “I didn’t want anyone to feel singled out. I think people at a certain age should be able to eat anything they want and to eat however much they want to eat.”

Kuck said she bases the menu for the Care Center on a 2,200-calorie diet with a nutritional balance of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat. She said she makes these calculations based on the entire menu for the day, including all meals, breakfast through dinner.

“This way, if you are on a special diet, you will still be able to eat what your friend is eating,” said Kuck. “I think it’s important to look forward to meals and not to feel left out.”

Kuck said where there used to be color coded menus at the Care Center, based on an individual medical condition, like cardiac, diabetic, etc., now there is one menu that is suitable for all.

Kuck said taking the needs of everyone into consideration is no small feat. “You have to be really careful when it comes to diabetics,” explained Kuck. “That’s the most important group to pay attention to. You can always adjust for other special needs, but with insulin it’s tricky.”

Each resident or patient receives an individual meal but also has the option of ordering off a special menu with nine other choices on it, so if they don’t like what’s being served that day, they have an option of something more palatable to their tastes.

Kuck said she keeps track of off-the-menu choices and deletes items that are not popular.

“We keep track of how many people order the entre itself compared to how many order off the alternative menu,” explained Kuck.

She added that the most meals are scheduled on a four-week cycle so that residents don’t tire of a repetitive menu. The breakfast menu is on a weekly cycle.

“If it’s not a popular item, I’ll take it off the next rotation, replacing it with a more popular item,” Kuck said.

She said the menu choices for hospitalized patients are stricter, since acute care patients have more individualized and specialized needs.

So far, she’s getting kudos, especially from the Care Center residents who were hesitant to try different foods at first but she said now seem to look forward to it.

“People are liking the variety,” she said. “Where before they were having spaghetti on Tuesday and maybe again on Thursday, now I’ve made it where we don’t repeat an entre at all within four weeks.  That way they always get a large variety like Mexican, Chinese and, of course, regular American home style cooking.”

Kuck admits it is a bit more difficult for the kitchen staff to prepare these kinds of meals, but she said they are adjusting well to the change. She said she “redid” the job descriptions of most of her staff, so that no one person feels the entire burden of the change.

“It’s hard to be able to satisfy everyone, especially when it comes to food,” said Kuck, who added that the smaller population here in Lovell is much easier to deal with than the much larger population she served in Denver.

Kuck also offers cooking classes twice a month to residents at the Care Center. The classes include nutrition education. She said she hopes to offer similar classes to the community some day.

Some of the favorites are on the breakfast menu, especially waffles.  Biscuits and gravy are another favorite. Kuck said many are enjoying what she calls “the new meatloaf,” which she said has a “bit of a kick to it” due to added spice. She said the favorites by far are the soups, which are mostly homemade.

“We’re trying to use more whole foods and spices instead of just salting everything to get it to taste good,” Kuck said.

Kuck said she gives everything a taste test every day before it goes out, modifying recipe when necessary.

“Food is a big part of their day. It should taste good and be fun,” she said, regarding the Care Center residents.

Kuck said there is more she’d like to try in the future, including adding refrigeration units for employees and visiting families that offer healthy snacks. She would also like to see a “room service” feature added for hospital patients at some point in the future.

“I think when you’re not feeling well, it’s hard to eat certain things at certain times,” she said. “It would be nice to be able to order when you feel like eating and to eat what you feel like eating.”

By Patti Carpenter