Pleasing The Eating Disorder Food Palate

On the menu for dinner tonight, we have a classic Baked Italian Panko-Breaded Chicken Parmesan with homemade Marinara served over Whole Wheat Penne with a side of Slow Roasted Rosemary Eggplant and Red Onion.  We need a gluten free version of pasta, however, I prefer a baked polenta and a gluten free cornmeal breaded chicken.  We also need a dairy free, gluten free version of the meal with a dislike of onions, so again no gluten (polenta and cornmeal chicken), no cheese (will add olives to balance fat) and no onions in the marinara so a separate homemade marinara will be made. We have a patient who is vegan, has a soy allergy and strongly dislikes tomatoes who will need a seared garlic cannellini patty covered in almond cheese and  topped with a dollop of vegan pesto (traditionally made with basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper; no parmesan in this version).   Our diabetic patient has a nut and tomato allergy, so his carefully calculated pasta cannot have marinara or pesto.  His plate will have the whole wheat past with olive oil, roasted garlic, and fresh basil with black olives along with the eggplant and onions.  The list goes on and on with each individual meal plan and nutritional count calculated to meet the changing needs of an eating disorder in recovery all under the umbrella of the same menu, depth, and appeal. Behind the scenes in the kitchen of our eating disorder treatment center, it is a daily challenge finding balance between appeal and nourishment.  Appeal is a delicate word to an eating disorder palate and it progresses through stages as recovery takes form.  Nourishment is individualized and customized on each patient’s meal plan and plate.  Standard in any medical facility, but far from hospital food, Rosewood’s focus is to allow each patient to find pleasure in balanced eating again.  Providing a changing seasonal rotation menu, we utilize local ingredients, seasonal cooking techniques, and wholesome balance that is unique to each individual’s needs and desires, however, as noted previously, one dinner feeding fifty patients can have up to thirty eight different versions, which is quite the feat to accomplish and requires a trained staff savvy in being versatile with ingredients. The first phase we tend to see reflected in a meal plan is heavily laden with medical restoration from malnourishment, multiple intolerances/ allergies along with noted dislikes and above all avoidance of fear foods which can include fat, sugar, salt, dairy and carbs; the fast food American diet in an handbasket.  These fear foods often prove to be a great challenge for the patient when reintroduced to a diet, mentally, and sometimes physically as bodies readjust.  When food groups are removed from diets over a period of time to avoid calories, taste is also removed.  In order to make up for the loss of flavor, low calorie condiments are used in heavy excess, primarily hot sauce and peppers, which also carry the benefit of high vitamin C and trace amounts of stimulation.  During stage one, these taste-bud stimulators must take a back seat to nourishment and anxiety runs in extremes when these are kept at a minimum.  Stimulants such as coffee and tea are often tapered off during this initial phase as well.  In the kitchen, the goal at this point is simply re-nourish with compassion. As anxiety begins to lessen, phase two allows for more reintroduction of combination foods and fear foods from the kitchen such as soups, casseroles, pastas, and desserts as well as foods initially listed as intolerances or trauma foods.  Surprisingly, soups are very difficult to make appealing to many patients due to the food groups not being able to be separated, which allows for easier restriction of selected groups.  Mid-western or southern casseroles are a high fear food, traditionally made with a cream-based soup and difficult to separate, however at this stage, taste buds are stimulated and comfort foods are beginning to show signs of comfort again.  Restrictive diets are often more open to reintroduction.  A patient who came in gluten free, dairy free, peanut free with dislikes of beef, dairy, and onions will often be willing to try these foods one at a time as they continue fighting through recovery and the culinary staff is relieved. The final culinary phase to be observed is inspiration and participation.  Education in wholesome balanced cooking and even a little enjoyment plays a vital role to cope at home in the kitchen and daily provision.  The practice within the community and the cooking classes can be a catalyst, using quality ingredients to showcase and inspire the excitement of taste buds in recovery.  We have taste buds to guide us to better nutrition and it is our aim in stage three to evoke the natural drive to be nourished with comforting appeal, however, each road to recovery has its’ own pace in the kitchen.  The challenges are great from this side of the plate, but the rewards of survival and a finer tuned food palate are even greater.  The late Julia Child reminds us, “In matters of taste, remember nutrition. In matters of nutrition, remember taste.” This recipe is brought to you by Rachel Tribby, Executive Le Cordon Bleu Chef, Rosewood Ranch. Check out Chef Rachel’s Pinterest Recipe Page!