On one plate sits a breaded tenderloin sandwich and an ear of sweet corn — food near and dear to Iowans' hearts (and stomachs).
On another plate are the same Iowa staples, but made into crepes.
It's the work of chefs at Watermark Retirement Communities who, through their Thrive Dining program, offer healthy, safe and delicious dining alternatives for residents with cognitive or physical ailments that can make eating a challenge.
The menu service was recently introduced at Watermark communities in Ankeny, Waukee and Pella, where trained chefs start with traditional dishes like beef Wellington or grilled salmon and transform them into hors d’oeuvre-style gourmet meals, eaten by hand in one or two bites.
“We are pleased to offer this innovative, quality-of-life enhancing Thrive Dining meal service to our residents and neighbors," David Barnes, president and CEO of Watermark Retirement Communities said. "We strive to create extraordinary communities where our residents thrive, and to be positive contributors to our neighbors.”
Officials from Watermark — which manages over 50 retirement communities across the U.S., including the three in Iowa — say they're the first senior living and care group in Iowa to offer the program, which is based on the Grind Dining concept. It eliminates the need for silverware and limits choking hazards while offering variety and nutrition to seniors.
Dishes are ground up and combined by Watermark's chefs, but retain their taste, texture, nutrition and flavor, and are artfully arranged on a plate with fresh fruit, steamed vegetables and dipping sauces.
"The great thing about Thrive Dining is that it's a meal in one bite," said Watermark executive chef Linda Siriphan, 32, "it helps with the digestion because it's ground up, not puréed. And it's easier to swallow."
Siriphan, her staff and chefs from other Watermark communities underwent a two-week training program to learn how to implement this style of cooking into their menus.
"I think it's a great idea, and I wish they would do it for more meals," said Sherri Gatchel of Ames, whose mother Joanna, 86, suffers from Alzheimer's and has lived at the Ankeny Watermark facility, Vintage Hills at Prairie Trail, for two years.
Judith Kitten's parents also live at Vintage Hills and recently attended a tasting of Thrive Dining meals, even though neither require the special menu.
"I just think the concept of little protein-packed bites is wonderful," Kitten said. "It's a terrific concept for those who are either unable to cut their meat up, and for people in memory care, a lot of them just forget to use a knife and a fork."
Kitten said it is nice to have Thrive Dining as an option for her parents going forward. "And my dad loves it because he's an appetizer guy. He loves all that finger food and all the sauces for dipping."
Siriphan said she was excited to be a part of something that allows Iowa seniors to dine with dignity.
"It feels great to see food that you and I can eat with forks, knives and spoons and see it converted to something one of our elderly residents can eat," Siriphan said. "To see someone be able to pick this food up and put it in their mouth and to see them satisfied with it because not only are they able to eat, but it tastes good, that makes me feel good."