Good food is all that more sweet when shared with friends and family. 

And at Canterbury – the dining room really is the epicentre of fun, socialization, satisfied tummies and warm hearts. 

Anywhere where residents can gather together over a meal, is where you’ll find a buzz of chatter, laughter, and sweet smiles that often flows over into the atrium and the Cherub Café at Canterbury’s Court. In fact – over there an afternoon of tea and coffee with a little music and entertainment added in, usually leads to all out dancing!     

For resident family member Cathy Berlin, whose father moved into Canterbury just over a year ago. The food, fun and socialization is what she appreciates most about Canterbury. 

“I remember the first time I came to tour Canterbury - there were people up dancing in the atrium! There was entertainment and socializing over food and coffee and that was totally amazing. Just to see the folks happily socializing, being up and active and having fun! And that was a lovely thing to see,” she says.

Geraldine Nelson lives at Canterbury and she couldn’t agree more!

“We are really enjoying life here at Canterbury Court,’’ says Geraldine. “We have met some amazing people. And at our age everyone has had such an interesting life. I’m really enjoying the flexible meal times downstairs – dinner is always excellent and I always sit with someone new! I think mealtimes are indeed my favourite times. The opportunity to meet new people over a beautifully prepared meal – I have really enjoyed that!”

That’s music to Executive Chef Ajay Lala’s ears!

Executive Chef Ajay Lala works incredibly hard with his entire dietary team to ensure that Canterbury’s residents not only love every bite they take in his dining room, but that it is good for them too.

“With over 200 residents who all have different dietary needs, it’s a big responsibility,” says Chef Lala. “At the end of the day – we have to look at the nutritional values that their food brings to the pallet. We oversee that they are getting nutritional meals, natural vitamins, minerals and natural salts. Less sodium, sugar and processed foods, and nutrient dense vegetables and fruit. That is really important,” says Chef Lala. 

Good nutrition is so important as people age, that in Alberta, all senior care living centres must have their menus approved by a Registered Dietician. Chef Ajay Lala prepares his menus with resident input and their dietary needs in mind. He then works closely with the Canterbury Health Services team to ensure each resident’s individual dietary needs are met. He then sends his menus off to Registered Dietician, Marie-Anne Nason, RD. She ensures that the menu complies with the nutritional requirements of the Canada Food Guide.

“We rely on Marie-Anne alot. She signs off on our menus and we follow it strictly. She will indicate what should be served and not served and it is a lot of label reading as the menu is developed. Throughout the menu planning process, the nutritional content of the menu items are considered. Sugars, salt, preservatives, and the effects that could have on the residents, says Chef Lala. 

Registered Dietician, Marie-Anne Nason, reviews menus for many different seniors care facilities.

“Canterbury’s menu is reflective of an upscale retirement residence. Our goal is to ensure a senior’s daily intake is nutrient dense and well balanced. My job is to make sure the food alternatives are there. So for example, and I see this often - if for breakfast they are serving bacon, and then lunch is a ham sandwich with the alternative being a corned beef brisket and for dinner there is a pizza - well the amount of sodium there is huge. If someone is on a low sodium diet they need to have access to healthier foods. If they are serving apple pie and sugar is a huge concern - are there fresh apples available as an alternative? At Canterbury there is never any issue with this. They have an a-la-carte menu and the alternatives are endless. Residents always have access to the healthy alternatives they need. It’s just awesome there,” says Marie-Anne Nason, RD.

To make the work of Canterbury’s dietary team even more challenging, is the requirement to provide modified diets that come from working with an older population. Seniors may have food allergies, type-2 diabetes is common in the population, there are a lot of seniors who have depleted throat glands and swallowing issues, and chewing can be a problem and therefore are on liquid or pureed diets.  

“Our staff are all trained and certain individuals are specifically trained to do modified diets,” says Chef Ajay. “One of the ways we can meet all the varied dietary needs is to predominantly scratch cook. We aren’t opening packages and don’t just heat and serve packaged foods like a lot of other seniors care facilities. We are incredibly fortunate to have 4 Red Seal Chefs in the kitchen, scratch cooking and working right off recipes,” says Chef Lala. 

“All that scratch cooking is so important,” says Marie-Anne Nason, RD. “With the Canada Food Guideline’s push to reduce processed foods in diets and controlling the amount of sodium, it is more difficult to do if you aren’t making meals from scratch. Canterbury does that so well,” she says. 

Having spent much of his career working in fine dining where butter, heavy cream and higher fat meals could be prepared freely, taking on the role of Executive Chef at a seniors care facility was definitely a new challenge for Chef Lala. 

“It was a huge learning curve for me. I had to look at food and preparation of food in a different light. We have to look at all the micronutrients they are getting. Watch the sodium and sugar and reduce anything processed to ensure our seniors have healthy diets. I look at everything differently now and I am constantly analyzing what is in the food, trying to source the very best natural products,” says Chef Lala.

And Canterbury is leading the way in the industry - working with food suppliers and manufacturers and pushing the boundaries of what is available not just for Canterbury but for all seniors care facilities. 

“When you come from the hospitality industry – it is a dog eat dog world – collaboration doesn’t exist. But one of the unique things in seniors care - is the more we share with each other, the greater the benefit for all the residents we serve. We do alot of brainstorming with other facilities to see what everyone is doing, and the foodservice industry is learning a lot of what the industry of care facilities needs. They are broadening what they offer. It’s great to effect that kind of change. It only benefits our residents,” says Chef Lala.

At the end of the day --  the key ingredient for residents is that food brings everyone together - it creates a love language between staff and seniors and allows for mixing and mingling of residents. At Canterbury the most important additive to food is joy!  

“Food has to be tasty,” says Marie-Ann Nason, RD. “The menu has to be fun and exciting! Food is so important to quality of life - for people of all ages and it extends past what’s just on the plate. Food has to be fun!”