Designing More Meaningful Interactions at Mealtimes for Teams and Residents

When all team members have the opportunity to share genuine connections with the residents they serve, relationships potentially grow stronger and the villages grow a little more closely knit.

Creating an environment where these opportunities naturally arise for all team members is a priority within Schlegel Villages, yet one group has always been a little more difficult to get involved. Those who prepare meals and maintain clean and orderly kitchens tend to be a little more removed from Village life, simply because of proximity. The large, industrial kitchens that prepare hundreds of meals and snacks every day for residents are tucked away in the basements of the villages, and many dietary team members might have little occasion for interaction beyond. 

Greater interaction between dietary team members and the residents they serve is a worthy goal within every village.
Greater interaction between dietary team members and the
residents they serve is a worthy goal within every village.  

At Aspen Lake, a slight change in design in the Belle River and Sandwich Town neighbourhoods is helping change this fact. In the fall of 2018, the serveries in both neighbourhoods were equipped with industrial dishwashers, meaning that instead of trucking dirty dishes to the basement, they can be cleaned and stored in the neighbourhood.

This means a dietary aide stays up on the neighbourhood, allowing for increased interaction with the residents, says Jill Estioko, director of Food and hospitality with Schlegel Villages. “The aide is also support to the rest of the team due to being stationed on the neighbourhood.”

As a result, residents are also more involved in mealtimes. Should they choose to, they can help clear tables after meals and in doing so, natural interactions between them and team members tend to occur  – picture a family meal where everyone pitches in to clear the table, wash the dishes and carry on the conversations that began while breaking bread together.

The vision for the near future is an extension of these connections to a time when residents can help prepare some aspects of their meals alongside team members who are certified in safe food handling. They might help prepare salads or bake the buns that go along with a pot of homemade soup for lunch, for example, and in doing so, the kitchen will truly become a part of the residents’ home, the way it should be. Other villages, such as University Gates and St. Clair, are also working on similar initiatives and have found great success. 

Aspen Lake’s assistant director of food services Dafina Prvulovik says the system is definitely working well, though there have been challenges in ensuring that dietary team members are able to share their time in the neighbourhoods well. After all, there must always be someone in the kitchen below and that workload must be shared equitably. Over time they have been experimenting with what works best and she’s confident they’ll find the right balance. The effort, she says, has certainly been worthwhile, for the interactions they envisioned in the beginning have been happening more and more, and two more neighbourhoods will soon be under the same system.

“The best part about it is staying in the dining room and having that closer contact with the residents,” Dafina says. “That is the most important thing.” Team members also grow more deeply entwined with their neighbourhood teams, she points out, and that’s better for all involved, for many hands make light the work.  

“It’s the coin with two sides and we will find the right balance,” Dafina says.