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Nourishing Connection: Older Adult Center Serves Up Healthy Meals 

By Anna Gardner

The Older Adult Center's five-person kitchen team.

It’s 11:30 a.m. on a weekday, and members of the Henry Street Settlement Older Adult Center are lining up for lunch. A rotating menu features dishes ranging from Salisbury steak and seasonal steamed vegetables to fish tacos and elote (grilled Mexican corn) salad. The meals are cooked in large batches and served to more than 100 members daily. 

 “Just because it’s low-cost food doesn’t mean you can’t figure out a way to make it quality food,” says Damien Johnson, the food service coordinator at the Older Adult Center. He started his culinary career in the military, studying at the U.S. Army Quartermaster School in Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia, in 2001. Since then, he’s worked at a nursing home and charter and private schools, and has done corporate catering for companies including Netflix and Facebook. Damien, who joined the team in February 2024, has often found himself challenging misconceptions about congregate-style meals being tasteless or unhealthy. “I never serve people food I wouldn’t eat,” says Damien, who focuses on cooking as much as he can from scratch with fresh ingredients. 

The Older Adult Center’s small industrial kitchen sits between the front and back rooms of the center. Cook Kimberlee Caylo likens it to cooking Thanksgiving dinner for your extended family—six days a week. Kimberlee has been cooking for the center for three years and is passionate about food politics. “Why do we believe that people at a certain income level shouldn’t have good food?” she asks. “I’m really into getting better food for this community.” 

Kimberlee mixes up salad dressing in a large bowl.

Kimberlee Caylo says cooking for the Older Adult Center is like making a Thanksgiving meal for your extended family.

The kitchen team follows standards and nutritional guidelines set by NYC Aging, the agency that oversees all 300 older adult centers in the city. Each meal must meet the National Institutes of Health’s nutritional intake recommendations and adhere to not one, but four dietary guidelines across the city, state, and federal levels. Additionally, since July 2023, one plant-based entrée per week is required to be served. Change like this can be a challenge, but the kitchen team keeps things creative and always offers a salad bar if members would like to opt for something else to eat.  

Jasmine Corchado, program director of the Older Adult Center, says Damien has brought new energy to the team, which means a lot to members who rely on these meals. “We have seniors who come every day and wouldn’t otherwise have food,” Jasmine says, either because they are unable to cook for themselves or struggle to afford groceries. On top of nutrition, meals provide essential socialization for older adults who are often isolated. While the center encourages a small contribution of $1.50 per meal, no one is ever turned away for lack of funds.  

Damien stands inside the kitchen's walk-in fridge.

Damien Johnson says his team prioritizes cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients.

Having logged two months on the job, Damien is excited for his team to keep innovating and improving the center’s offerings. He says a recent high point was introducing hors d’oeuvres at the center’s monthly birthday party. The spread included pigs in a blanket, assorted empanadas, barbecued meatballs, and virgin piña coladas—a huge hit! 

Click here to learn more about the Older Adult Center

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