Phase 6: Develop and Implement Oasis Meal Program
Establishing the meal program at each of the expansion sites was perhaps the most challenging of all activities; in conducting the needs assessment with each site, this was the pillar where sites have great variation in suggestions. We identified two important aspects of the nutrition pillar: ensuring Oasis members receive adequate nutrition, and promoting opportunities to dine communally and foster social interaction. Site-to-site this was described in many ways. Some groups wanted to go out to eat, some preferred formal catering, and others wanted to focus on cooking or pot lucks. The result was a lot of trial and error at each site for the first year. You may feel your options for this programming pillar are limited; however, we hope that this section illuminates some of the creative ways to incorporate nutrition into Oasis programming.
Complete building renovations and repairs for meal service
None of the sites required renovations or repairs related to the meal program. Fortunately, each common room was able to support the gathering of a group for communal dining. While there was enough space for the groups to gather and eat, most of the Oasis rooms did not have the space to store formal meal equipment like chafing dishes, serving dishes, etc. Each of the sites also had access to a sink and refrigerator in their common rooms; some even had a small kitchenette to a full-sized kitchen to support the meals. The research team worked with Public Health and Safety to ensure that the existing spaces could support meals (visit your local Public Health for more information). As you will see, the variety in the meal offerings greatly depended on the existing space that each Oasis group had. Should you wish to incorporate renovations in your meal program preparations, it is necessary to discuss this with the property owner.
Initiate communal meal program
Perhaps the most critical barrier to developing the communal meal program at each site was cost. In consultation, most Oasis members described a $10.00/meal cap for a weekly or twice-weekly meal. In exploring local catering options, we found this to be a difficult price to match without a meal subsidy. One site had a resident in their local community who happily agreed to cater a regular meal at this cost, but they were not able to provide meals once a week to the group and ultimately could not continue with the demand. Pricing was especially difficult in terms of catering because the numbers were fairly small compared to what a formal catering company would typically see – one meal for 15 people once a week was difficult for more formal catering companies to commit to. One building in Kingston got creative and reached out to local restaurants, not caterers, to set up an 8-week rotation of suppliers. The restaurants were happy to support since it was infrequent enough that they had the capacity to support the meals. However, most places were unable to deliver, so members relied on the coordinator to pick-up the food and serve it to the group each week.
Another challenge in this set-up was ensuring that the meals were nutritious. This particular site was more concerned in social dining and felt they received adequate nutrition the other days of the week, so having fish and chips once every two months was okay. The coordinator worked with the group to choose the healthiest options, for example substituting grilled fish for regular fish and salad options for the chips. One Greek restaurant offered two well-balanced options a month that included a variety of meats, rice or potatoes, and large quantities of salad, which the group really enjoyed. After trialling a number of restaurants, the coordinator distributed a feedback survey for those participating in the meal program. This feedback was critical as the meal program developed over time. An example of a survey can be found in Appendix 6a.
Potlucks were a popular option at some of the sites who did not want to pay for meals, but members typically held these monthly as a social convening or party (i.e. birthday celebration). At one site, a monthly potluck was a way the group bonded over shared cultures and trying new foods. Some Oasis groups held “Bring your own lunch” events to focus more on the social aspects of dining as a group. After further consultation, and with support from students in the Queen’s University Occupational Therapy program, a few of the sites moved toward the format of a “community kitchen”. This idea was suggested after two of the Oasis sites hosted local dietitians who gave food demonstrations, showing the group how to incorporate inexpensive and healthful foods into their daily diets by putting together a fun recipe for all to enjoy.
Chopping onions at the Quinte West Oasis community kitchen, January 2020
Either monthly or week-to-week, the sites would meet and pick out a recipe for each week of the month. The menus depended on each group’s dietary concerns and largely, their budget. Some groups would prepare a three-course meal, while others focused on soups or stews for smaller appetites. The coordinator would help price out the menu options and break down into individual costs. The members would bring money and the coordinator would go to purchase supplies. In most cases, members were allowed to pay money or opt to bring some of the ingredients, depending on their personal preference. Then, the members would convene in the communal space and would assist in preparing the ingredients, cooking the meal, and enjoying it together. The occupational therapy students or coordinator would distribute a copy of the recipe along with some notes about the nutritional benefit of it. See Appendix 6b for an example of a community kitchen sign-up package developed by the occupational therapy students.
At our Quinte West site, members who were unable to support the cooking process were still able to purchase portions of the meals, which would then be delivered to their home by other members. We saw great success in this method; over time, roles naturally emerged amongst members. Those who enjoyed cooking supported the preparation, while those who did not helped by setting the table or cleaning up afterward. For those with a more limited budget, an option to either pay for the meal or bring ingredients was helpful both to the members and to the assembly of the recipe.
The community kitchen model is a good starting point for the meal program, as long as there is interest from some of the members to actually prepare the food. In cases where space is very limited, members could be responsible for picking up and prepping an ingredient for the meal. Those who do not want to assist could contribute money to support purchasing the ingredients. For example, someone could chop carrots and veg, someone could bring broth, and someone could cut and cook chicken for a quick chicken soup. Each site was equipped with a slow-cooker that did not take up space and could safely run while monitored by the coordinators. In some locations, ovens and stoves were also available for use. This program was also a fun way to address some dietary concerns that members had: incorporating more plant-based meals, supporting low-sodium or diabetic diets, among others. We suggest connecting with students, community volunteers, organizations, dietitians or others with nutritional expertise who can support the development of recipes and provide information about nutritional benefits.
While ideally each Oasis site would receive a formally catered nutritious meal on-site, we recognize that there are many components to this format: space, cost, capacity. Group cooking became an alternative that provided members with a lost-cost and healthful meal a few times a week with take-aways to allow them to incorporate into their daily living. It was also a fun-filled way to pass a morning or afternoon together!
Phase 6 Key Take-Aways:
If you are not able to renovate your space, think creatively about how your current space could support a meal program – while those with large spaces and ample storage may be able to support fully catered meals, that may not always be the case
Be sure the meal program is accessible to members: consider costs, dietary concerns, overall nutrition, etc.
Though we offer some suggestions – potlucks, catering, community kitchens – that were successful at the sites, it is important to note that there may be other food programs that suit your own site better. Be sure to work together with your group to co-develop a program that works best for them
The meal program at your site may take some time to develop; keep members engaged by distributing regular feedback surveys to see what could be improved