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Enhancing Food Choices

Nutrition & Food Services

Christensen to help make menu program a success

Story and Photo by Erin Martinez

Tracey Christensen is on a mission to enhance the new food choices now served in small hospitals and long-term care facilities operated by Alberta Health Services.

As the manager of Provincial Culinary Teams—a role she's been in since April 2011—Christensen travels to sites across the province to assist food services staff in customizing meal preparation for their residents and patients.

"She's here to ensure staff have access to the resources, information and training needed to make the menu program a success," says Susan McKay, vice-president, Nutrition and Food Services.

In her role, Christensen focuses on getting resources and equipment to sites, helping staff with their work routines, troubleshooting food preparation with staff and sharing best practices.

"I've already visited 22 sites across the province," Christensen says. "Staff are very welcoming; they just want to do the best job they can and they know I'm here to help them do exactly that."

Christensen is quick to praise the skills and knowledge of cooks across AHS.

"There are amazing cooks here at AHS," she says. "It would be great to create more opportunity to share best practices with each other. If one cook in the North Zone is having trouble with a recipe, maybe another cook in the South Zone can help, and so on."

Christensen started her career working as a prep cook in a Calgary restaurant. The part-time, after-school job soon turned into her passion.

She then attended the Chef Training program at Lethbridge Community College and eventually earned her red seal journeyman certificate. In 1994, she was hired as the retail food supervisor at Chinook Regional Hospital, and later took on the role of Patient Food Services supervisor.

While at Chinook, she was exposed to the nutritional aspects of food and continued her education by completing the Nutrition and Diet Therapy course and becoming an active member of Canadian Society of Nutrition Management (CSNM).

Over her career, Christensen has focused on how to understand customers' needs and wants, keep up on food trends, train staff, investigate and compare food costs and create new food specials.

To help guide her work, Christensen uses information from patient and resident satisfaction surveys on facilities' food services, which AHS conducts every six months.

The results of the last survey, completed in June 2011, revealed that over half (85 per cent) of AHS facilities located across the province have an 85 per cent or greater patient satisfaction rate.

Christensen adds that she wants to throw some fun into creating new menu choices and set up an Iron Chef- or Hell's Kitchen-like contest for the food services staff.

"Our cooks will have the opportunity to try new recipes and products, and also perfect them so we continue to offer a variety of high quality, nutritious meals to our patients and residents."

For Christensen, taking this role was a no-brainer.

"It takes the best of what I love—culinary and health care—and combines them into one world for me."