Requirements bringing changes to menus

LINCOLN – The Alcona County Commission on Aging is revising its menus and recipes to comply with federal and state nutrition requirements by the end of the year.

This means every recipe will have to be analyzed for its nutrition content, then changed if it fails to meet state requirements for senior citizens, Suzan Krey, executive director of the Alcona commission, said.

The commission will track 14 separate nutritional values, such as calories, fats, iron and other items routinely listed on grocery store food product labels, she said.

“I’ve been avoiding it, because it does change the way we cook,” Krey said.

Senior centers in Alcona County serve an average of 800 meals a week, or 42,000 a year, including meals delivered to home-bound residents. Although they rival local restaurants, the job is a bit harder because they must meet federal mandates coming down through the Michigan Commission on Aging.

Krey said she also worries that some clients won’t like the way some of their favorite dishes taste once the recipes are changed.

In her monthly newsletter, Krey told seniors “it will take us some time to learn how to do this and there will be menu changes to accomplish this. We ask for your help and understanding in implementing this new standard.”

The food also must be purchased from Gordon Food Service, she said. Before, Krey used to shop at businesses that provided the cheapest ingredients.

The food supplier also provides a computer software program that can measure the nutritional content of ingredients, recipes and portions.

Krey said two of her cooks will attend the software training session in Gaylord, and she has been at meetings with other area directors to learn more about the requirements.

Although nutrition labels do not have to be attached to servings of food, they must be spelled out on the menus Krey sends to the Michigan Council on Aging for approval. The deadline for compliance is January 1, 2015, she said.

“Overall it would be a good thing, but it’s just going to take a lot of time and money for us to get there,” she said. “Our meals will be more healthy, but the bad part is it’s hard to do and we will be doing less home cooking, losing some flavor.”

However, fundraisers, such as a homemade soup, bread and pie dinner Sunday at the senior center in Lincoln, are exempt from the analysis, she said.

In Alpena, Executive Director Grace Marshall and her staff served around 100,000 meals at the senior center last year and have been complying with the nutrition requirements for a while.

This year, they hope to meet additional state and federal requirements for things like fiber , sugar and calcium levels, Marshall said Tuesday.

“I think it’s going to give us more flexibility on what we can provide in our menus,” Marshall said. “It is something that is going to be positive in the long run.”

Marshall said compared to Alcona County, she has a larger staff, and key employees are versed in the Gordon Food Service software.

“We do menu planning, put it into the computer system, and a program does the analysis,” she said.

But a certain amount of prep work had to be done in advance.

“You have to get your serving sizes and ingredients lined up, but once all of that is there, it’s a matter of negotiating through the software to get the information,” she said.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.