One of the most-loved perks about living at a premier LifeCare retirement community like Woodlands in Huntington, West Virginia, is the dining experience. Getting to savor an array of mouth-watering dishes from chef-crafted menus eliminates the need to cook for yourself, while keeping you fueled and energized for your next adventure.
What makes the dining experience at Woodlands extra special is something that can also be found in all other parts of our community: the sense of warmth, friendliness and hospitality. Here you’ll find homestyle comfort from more than just the meals!
On that note, our director of food services, Ron Smith, and our kitchen manager and executive chef, Bret Bledsoe, can frequently be found in our dining room and bistro, taking the time to say hello and making sure everything tastes just right.
We got a chance to catch up with Ron and Bret to hear what questions they frequently get about the dining at Woodlands, and they gave us some great answers. Let’s dig in!
1) Simply, how does dining work at Woodlands? Is there a meal plan?
As a part of our robust monthly service package, everyone at Woodlands receives a monthly meal plan that includes enough credits for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Plus, there is flexibility to the plan, so if it’s the middle of the afternoon and you’re craving a hot cup of soup or a freshly prepared sandwich, plenty of made-to-order options exist.
Some of your neighbors at Woodlands opt to cook meals in their own homes on occasion (as all of our residences include fully equipped kitchens), but most of the time you’ll find friends gathering and enjoying a meal at our wonderful on-campus restaurants.
2) Restaurants? What are those like?
Woodlands offers an elegantly casual dining room, which offers restaurant-style table service from friendly staff members who you’ll get to know in short order (and they’ll remember your name). In addition to many friendly faces, you’ll find breakfast, lunch and dinner served hot in the main dining room every day.
Woodlands also has a bistro, which is great for lunch and grab-and-go items. The bistro is also where Ron, Bret and their teams prepare and offer some more contemporary dishes.
“We developed the bistro as a different lunchtime option,” Ron said. “It gives us an opportunity to offer some on-trend foods like noodle bowls, flatbreads and custom pastas and sandwiches. It lets us get a little more adventurous and creative, to see what people like before we bring similar concepts to our menus in the dining room.”
3) Speaking of menu choices, what’s on the menu at Woodlands?
Ron and Bret developed the current menus at Woodlands based on what they have learned to be residents’ favorite meals, so you’re sure to find something you’ll crave. You’ll find everything from classics like spaghetti and meat sauce or a New York strip steak and a loaded baked potato to special-occasion dishes like chicken cordon bleu or veal Oscar. Of course, that’s all in addition to the recipes being previewed and perfected in our bistro.
Additionally, if you like to dine on the lighter side, Woodlands has you covered. Our menus always feature cool and refreshing salads (with or without meat, like chicken, shrimp or fish), vegetable-based main courses and proteins that are grilled rather than fried.
Ron and Bret make sure to incorporate seasonal flavors, too. Ron explained that the summer and spring menus typically include fare with lighter sauces and dressings, complemented by an abundance of fresh seasonal produce. In the fall and winter, you’ll typically find savory dishes, flavorful roasts, hearty chilis (made with Ron’s award-winning recipes) and scrumptious soups.
4) What do you think makes the menus at Woodlands so special? And can you accommodate my nutritional needs?
Woodlands uses an innovative menu system that brings a hearty serving of variety to the dining experience.
“The system is called NetIMPAC,” Bret said. “Every resident has a profile in the system, which crafts them a personalized menu. So, for example, if you need to eat a reduced-sodium diet, certain dishes won’t appear on the menu. It makes eating right super easy, and makes it a personalized experience.”
“NetIMPAC has worked really well so far since we adopted it in 2019,” Ron added. “It ensures that our kitchen staff have the ingredients and direction they need to create consistently delicious meals. Because consistency in quality and flavor is key.”
As for the meal variety, Ron’s and Bret’s cookbooks run impressively deep. Ron said that the database includes more than 40,000 recipes, which he and Bret have pulled from (and put their own spin on) to create 39 custom cookbooks for Woodlands.
Think you’ll be eating the same few dishes over and over? Think again!
5) What if I don’t want to eat in the dining room? Do you deliver?
Yes! You can choose to have the same meals that are served in our dining room or bistro delivered right to your front door.
6) Can residents make special requests and submit feedback on the menu?
Absolutely! Ron and Bret said that they regularly make additions (or subtractions) to the menus based on what they hear from residents, whether via comment cards or during bimonthly meetings with the resident council’s food committee.
“As a chef, you’re always trying to produce food with the element of hospitality behind it, so listening to the residents’ preferences is just one way we do that,” Ron shared.
7) Buying local is important to me. Do you use locally sourced ingredients?
Yes, many of them. Ron explained that he works with local farms and vendors whenever possible, such as one local gentleman who has a 40-acre farm that supplies lots of fresh, seasonal ingredients to Woodlands. Those seasonal ingredients are just a few of the staples that end up in our scratch-made soups, desserts, pastries, sauces and stocks.
Ron said that he also uses a local purveyor, S.S. Logan Packing Co., for many meat products, as well as partners with a local dairy for the milk that is brought to campus.
8) Why am I suddenly getting hungry?
That’s the point! Ron and Bret really care about crafting quality meals for every member of our community, and that’s part of why our dining experience is such a highly regarded part of living here.
When asked about his philosophy and approach toward cooking here at Woodlands, Bret said: “I learned a long time ago that as a chef, I’m cooking for the residents, not for myself. We’re cooking in their home, which we take seriously. And it’s like a family here. These people know my daughter’s name and see her when she visits. We work in a beautiful location with some really nice people.”
Now that you’ve gotten a taste—an appetizer, if we may—of the dining experience at Woodlands, we invite you to come by for a meal and taste Ron and Bret’s fresh, quality cooking for yourself. Call us today at 304-697-1620 to coordinate your own personalized and private tour, or click here to get in touch.