Eat, Drink, Savor: Local service cooks healthy meals in-home for seniors

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Very few seniors may be lucky enough to afford a personal chef to cater to their advanced nutritional and culinary needs, but they can come close to the experience with Chefs for Seniors, which sends a chef to a client’s home with all the ingredients and materials needed to prepare a week’s worth of healthy food.

And, according to local chef Michael Pakes, eating well, and paying attention to healthy foods become more critical as we age. 

“We can start with one sobering statistic,” he said. “45% of seniors who check into an emergency room are malnourished. Good nutrition is important for everyone, but it becomes more vital for seniors.”

According to the Alliance for Aging Research (AAR), older adults are more likely to suffer from conditions such as cancer and diabetes, which can have an impact on appetite, making nutritious eating more difficult to maintain. The AAR estimates the healthcare costs of malnutrition in US seniors at more than $51 billion each year.

“As we age, the body slows down, and its processes are not as efficient,” Pakes said. “We all require nutrition, especially for maintaining muscle growth. At Chefs for Seniors, we tailor our plans so our seniors are getting whole, healthy and tasty foods, which encourages them to eat and stay well.”

There are several warning signs that caregivers, friends, and family members might notice in a senior that call attention to poor eating habits.

“You might notice your loved one isn’t eating very much food during the day,” he said. “Or they’re losing weight or muscle tone. Maybe their balance is a little off, or they are just not as strong as they used to be. Those are definitely signs that they could use some help with food.”

With the Chefs for Seniors program, Pakes discusses food needs with his clients and their own personal preferences, then brings the ingredients to their homes and cooks the meals in their kitchen. He then packages the food into individual meals that can be refrigerated or frozen until they are needed. 

After considering individual needs, Pakes creates his menus with an eye toward flavor and nutritional value rather than just piling on calories.

“The USDA recommends at least 1,800 calories a day for seniors,” he said. “We take that into consideration when we are creating the meals, but we don’t count them. We just try and make sure that seniors are getting enough healthy food in the servings for each meal.”

The custom menus can also take into account foods that may trigger medical problems. “Sodium can be an issue with some people,” he said, “and I have clients who are lactose or gluten intolerant. We deal with clients with diabetes and other medical issues. So we tailor our meals to address all kinds of different conditions.”

One of the great advantages of living in San Benito County, according to Pakes, is having easy access to amazing varieties of fresh produce and other ingredients.

“We try to use local foods as much as we can,” he said. “And that is possible because of the myriad of produce stands and places like Suncoast Bakery that’s out on South Side Road. There are stands in Tres Pinos where you can get fresh eggs in the morning, which is awesome.” 

We’re starting to see that that old food pyramid needs to be kind of turned upside down, Pakes said, and access to local farm-grown foods helps him with the nutritional balance of his meals. 

“The majority of our food needs to come from whole vegetables and fats and proteins,” he said. “We stay away from processed foods and sugars as much as possible. We like to pick great healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados and use vegetables like cauliflower and asparagus that people enjoy.”

Pakes recently took part in the Twin Oaks Cannery Club Teaching Kitchen series, where he prepared two simple vegetable dishes, cucumber salad with sour cream and German red cabbage with cloves, for an appreciative audience of community residents.

Michael Pakes cooking in the Twin Oaks Teaching Kitchen. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Michael Pakes cooking in the Twin Oaks Teaching Kitchen. Photo by Robert Eliason.

“The preparation was easy,” said Susan Garza, “Which is just the way I like making my food.  The cabbage was very tasty, and the cucumbers were refreshing and light. I think they were great.”

Resident Loretta Kaiser said that she has attended the classes before and was impressed enough with the dishes he made for them that day to look into using Pakes’ services.

“The flavors were interesting,” she said, “because I’ve never had the cabbage with the cloves and just the little hint really enhanced the dish. And the cucumber salad was perfection.”

Club manager Mariah Avilez Giunta said that the series of classes on healthy cooking for seniors has been very popular among residents.

“They love the idea that they can learn to meal prep with healthy seasonal and locally sourced foods,” she said. “And with so many sources to draw from, like Pinnacle Farms and Bertuccio’s, they are learning that healthy foods can be quick to make and flavorful as well.”

She said that Pakes’ in-home cooking services exemplified what she called the four pillars of the club: social engagement, lifelong learning, being rooted in Hollister, and wellness, and is a boon to those who may lapse into malnutrition because they do not feel motivated to cook for themselves.

“It is like having a personal chef who makes things that you love already,” she said. “You get exciting dishes that keep that love of being a foodie alive. People who use his services rave about his flavors and it inspires them to live healthier and to live better.”

Two simple vegetable dishes from Chefs for Seniors

Cucumber Salad

  • 2 English cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Directions:
  1. Peel the cucumbers if desired and thinly slice them with a mandoline slicer. The thinner the better! Put them in a large salad bowl.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, sugar, and dill. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour dressing over cucumber slices and toss until combined. Cover and let chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  4. Serve with a slotted spoon.

German Red Cabbage 

  • 5 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup sliced green apples
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves


  1. Gather all ingredients.
  2. Place cabbage, apples, sugar, and butter into a large pot. Pour in vinegar and water, then add salt, pepper, and cloves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  3. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the cabbage is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

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BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.

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