COA steps up meals using local products, scratch cooking

Dave Lein, Editor

Photo by Dave Lein

Overseeing the kitchen at the Antrim County Commission on Aging are (from left): Food Service Coordinator Jan Clark, primary cook Nickole Jimenez, COA Director Judy Parliament, assistant cook Donna Harvey and kitchen assistant JoAnna Smith.


BELLAIRE – Often, the best-kept secrets deserve exposure.

Such is the case with Antrim County’s Commission on Aging food service department. While some may imagine groups of senior citizens gathering for breakfast or lunch over a boxed meal of rubbery food warmed up minutes prior, that is far from the truth.

And while “good” food has been available through the COA for some time, it recently got even better. Much better.

That change resulted from a group effort led by Food Service Coordinator Jan Clark, cook Nickole Jimenez, COA Director Judy Parliament and activities/events director Beth Lacy.

“It didn’t happen overnight, but we have transitioned rather quickly,” said Clark, who came on board at the COA earlier this year, along with recent hire Jimenez, a graduate of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute.

Together with their crew, and Parliament’s approval, new ideas were discussed and formal plans set in motion.

A sampling of those new ideas that have been implemented over the last four or so months include cooking “pretty much everything from scratch,” according to Clark, and utilizing additional healthy products from local producers.

“It truly is a farm to table initiative,” Clark said. “We are partners with King Orchards for fresh fruits and vegetables, get our honey locally and our very popular cherry butter from Rocky Top Farms – just to name a few; there are many. And we are always looking for new opportunities to use local farm products.”

According to Clark, the cost for using local products verses commercial items is negligible compared to what it was a decade or more ago when schools were advocating for a similar program, but often found it cost prohibitive.

That’s not the case at the COA, and the food service staff has enjoyed breaking out of the bulk-ordered frozen box.

“I have really enjoyed the opportunities here,” said Jimenez. “I am allowed to get creative, talk with people and get their input – rather than the same old blah food and routine. Jan and I work well together and complement each other – and it’s nice to able to use and share the skills I learned in culinary school.

“People really appreciate the little things, like our homemade BBQ sauce and coleslaw,” she added.

But for Clark and her staff, the key changes go beyond the kitchen.

“We’ve gotten quite a few compliments from people about how much better the food tastes, that it’s healthy and that they actually feel better,” Clark stated. “I can’t tell you how many people have said ‘those are real mashed potatoes! That’s wonderful.’

“Additionally, we’ve seen much less waste and people are cleaning their plates,” she added. “Plus our numbers are growing, so the word must be getting around.”

However, the improved meals are not just being served at the COA’s Cayuga Street Café (as it was officially christened about a year ago), but are also the same meals delivered to the agency’s satellite centers in Elk Rapids, Mancelona and Central Lake, and through its popular Meals on Wheels program.

Read the full story in our regular edition of The Review. To subscribe to the paper for just $34 a year, which includes access to our full online e-edition, please go to the subscription page on this website at:



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