Menu Planning Tips Resized

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in the U.S., its impacts have reached every aspect of our lives and is affecting all areas of long-term care.  Rising prices, labor challenges, and food/supply shortages are all adding insult to the injuries already sustained.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2021 food price outlook, the average price of all food increased 2.2% from May 2020 to May 2021. The USDA predicts that it will only get worse through the rest of the year.  These are the projected price increases during the remainder of 2021 for wholesale food products:

  • Flour: 9%-12%.
  • Fruits and vegetables: 10%-13%.
  • Beef: 10%-13%.
  • Pork: 14%-17%.
  • Poultry: 15%-18%.
  • Fats and oils: 31%-34%.
  • Wheat: 35%-38%.
  • Soybeans: 58%-61%.

Food is still one of the most anticipated things for residents and an important factor in providing quality care.  The difficulties of food shortages, increased food prices, and labor challenges have put managers in challenging situations where creative thinking is crucial. Here are some tips to help get you thinking outside of the box:

  • Identify high-cost versus low-cost foods-Review food prices. All seemingly like foods are not created equal: pudding pie costs less than cream pie; cod costs less than salmon.  Review prices of different cuts of meat, poultry, and fish.  Use seasonal fruits and vegetables.  You may need to substitute a higher cost food with some lower priced menu items.  Make sure substitutions are with a product of equal nutritional value.  Consider using one product and low-cost items several ways.  For example, use chicken tenders in a wrap, in an entrée salad, or as a stand-alone item. Incorporate lower cost products such as ground turkey and/or pork with ground beef in dishes such as casseroles and meatloaf. These changes will help increase the variety of food choices while allowing decreased costs.
  • Consider simplifying your menu– Look through menus and recipes to see if they can be streamlined. Focus on removing high labor items to lessen the stress on your kitchen staff. Check with your registered dietitian when making changes to assure proper substitutions are being made.  Relying on more heat and serve and convenience items when staffing is limited is an option.
  • Have a backup plan-Identify your top items and potential substitutions so that if one of these items becomes unavailable due to supply shortages, there is a plan in place for what to serve instead. Be flexible with the menu, indicate “potatoes” instead of “ranch fries” or “vegetable of the day” instead of “green beans”.  Check inventory on hand and if there are excesses, the menu may be adjusted to use what is available.
  • Communication is key-Let residents, families, and staff know if you are making menu changes. Residents will be much happier and understanding if they are aware of what is going on and what is being done to help protect them. Be sure to communicate any product and menu changes to your distributor.
  • Cross-train your staff-With a cross-trained staff, when employees call in sick or do not show up for their shift, you can do some staff reshuffling and avoid a catastrophe. Consider having everyone in the kitchen obtain a sanitation certificate.  Staff outside of the kitchen may also be cross-trained in the kitchen as long as they have received food handler training or a sanitation certificate.  Help everyone gain knowledge, feel important and be able to step into positions, assist and/or pick up hours when needed.

Being able to adapt quickly to changes is vital during this time.  It may seem like an impossible task but achieving resident satisfaction and meeting nutritional needs is possible, even in times of crisis.  Work with your facility RD as an added resource to help get you through these unprecedented challenges.




Food Price Outlook:

Tips for Managing Supply Chain and Labor Challenges: