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Going Light Without Losing Tradition: Pennswood Village’s Dining Services Shows How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

Posted on November 21, 2014 in Community Highlight
Mary Cooley

Mary Cooley

Pennswood Village’s culinary crew knows how to create beautiful, healthy and tasty plates for residents. All it takes is one look at Pennswood’s Facebook page to see that the Newtown, Pennsylvania, community’s Dining Services team takes feasts—and creating delicious treats—seriously. The community’s planned Thanksgiving meal will be no exception.

Mary Cooley, Pennswood’s director of dining services and registered dietitian, explained how her staff creates and plans a Thanksgiving meal that promises to be both scrumptious and nourishing.


Pennswood chefs are busy preparing Curried Pumpkin Soup and Chicken Vegetable Soup from scratch. Always conscious of the varied dietary needs of residents, chefs use low-sodium broth, and herbs and spices to enhance flavors instead of extra salt. They also offer gluten-free options for residents and guests with gluten intolerances.

While salads are generally healthy, they can quickly become unhealthy with extra toppings. Pennswood chefs are cognizant of that tendency, and have planned to include a salad with candied pecans on the menu that offers some sweet flavors without added calories and fat.

“When you do a candied pecan traditionally, it’s in a sugar glaze and there’s some fat incorporated,” explained Mary. “Our chef came up with an idea where he lightly whisks together  egg whites and a little bit of sugar to coat the pecans,  and then bakes them at a high temperature. You still get the nice glazing and crunchiness, but it’s not laden with the heavy sugar glazing.”

The salad dressings are another area Pennswood Village lightens up the meal; vinaigrettes are made from scratch (using an olive oil or canola oil base) but the real flavor comes from the mixed flavored vinegars.


Chef Steve

Chef Steve

The entrees this Thanksgiving include roast turkey with stuffing, gravy and jellied cranberry sauce; baked brook trout stuffed with crab meat, and Portobello mushroom quiche with roasted shallots. While the turkey option is fairly traditional, the gravy tends to be lighter than most, as the fat is skimmed off the drippings before the drippings are used to make the gravy.

The crab-stuffed brook trout entrée is an example of how Pennswood’s pre-planning helps cut down on calories. Instead of planning to make trout with Crab Imperial—a dish that requires a lot of cream and very little vegetables—the crab-stuffed option uses just a little bit of light mayonnaise and features lightly sautéed vegetables to compliment the crab meat.

“Some of our residents enjoy vegetarian meals, and when family members come in, they appreciate the variety,” said Mary. “We’re finding we always try to come up with something that’s a little different and innovative.” This is how the Portobello mushroom quiche ended up on the Thanksgiving menu.


Desserts can be a time to indulge, but Pennswood also provides an opportunity to stay health-conscious by taking a few simple steps. First, when making apple pies, they don’t use canned apple pie filling; they start with frozen or water-packed apple slices, which cut down on the amount of sugar in the pies. They also feature “no sugar added” options. For Thanksgiving, Pennswood’s pastry chef has created a “no sugar added” pumpkin chiffon pie.

Pennswood Village’s Thanksgiving menu is a great example of how making small changes in recipes can make Thanksgiving a healthy cooking endeavor! What are you doing to stay healthy this holiday season?