Learning to prioritize healthy food is an important aspect of the treatment and recovery from a mental health disorder. So is rekindling the social aspects of eating, and at Sanford Behavioral Health we provide farm fresh options and a “family style” environment. Stimulating conversation and comradery occur around our dining tables.
Today we talk with Sanford Executive Chef, Peter Claus about his take on the excitement, challenges and benefits of feeding folks who have not prioritized food in a long while. Peter, who comes from a background of serving large client populations, says life at Sanford is less chaotic and more consistent than his previous positions.
When I was growing up, eating was an event. It was an opportunity for the family to work together and produce a delicious meal. To communicate – talk about our day. I try to create that same atmosphere in the dining rooms at Sanford.
Peter Claus, Executive Chef Sanford Behavioral Health
Nutrition for the Recovering Body and Mind
Tips from Chef Peter:
- Avoid processed foods and emphasize fruits, whole grains and veggies
- Avoid added sugar
- Eat intuitively – learn when you are hungry and what your body really wants to eat
- Create a new sense of “comfort food” – a warming pot-roast and a simple salad
- Go online to West Michigan’s Farm Link, a farm co-op, or find other nutrition dense sources for your products
- Create a “happy” environment to eat in!
Limelight Interview: Peter Claus, Executive Chef
(S) Let’s start with, how did you get to Sanford and where did you work before coming here?
(Peter) I was the manager of food services for a 200+ student residential job training facility. Three meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, plus special events! I also provided on-site work-based learning opportunities for residents in the Culinary Arts program. Before that, I was the chef/manager with daily operations for multiple café/catering accounts for a national food service company. I am happy to be at Sanford because it’s a more intimate environment – less chaos and more consistency in what is expected.
(S) Any theories or maxims about food?
(Peter) Absolutely – I emphasize fruits, whole grains and veggies and minimize added sugars. But I like adding our interpretation of “comfort food” – maybe a simple salad and a pot roast on a chilly day, for example. I grew up where eating with the family was an event. We serve buffet style or family style at Sanford. And it’s deconstructive – with separate bowls and lots of options. I have conversations with our patients all the time to ask what foods their bodies are craving. Intuitive eating – knowing what you want – is important in recovery.
Chef Peter says, “People are happy when they eat!”
(S) How do you personalize food choices for such a large group of individuals?
(Peter) When patients arrive at Sanford, they fill out a form with dietary restrictions and particular nutritional needs. We do allow snack items (the clients choose themselves), but we steer clear of sugary snacks and unhealthy fats. Those foods can serve as a replacement for drugs and alcohol and should be avoided.
We work with Farm Link, a co-op that promotes local growers and farmers. My philosophy is to eat as many raw foods, locally produced foods, and nutrient dense foods as possible. And because we serve buffet style, we give our clients choices at every meal, so personalization is pretty easy to accomplish. Even with large groups.
(S) You are not a therapist, but you do see people in recovery every day. What do you think is the key to successful outcomes in recovery?
(Peter) I have experience with substance use disorder in my family. I have seen what addiction can do firsthand. It’s important to change the toxic environment that the person with a substance use disorder is in. Next, create a safe and consistent environment in which to recover. Nutrition for the recovering body and mind is part of the mix. You can see the physical and mental health changes almost immediately. I see it at Sanford too – people are in better moods and look healthier within a short period of time.
(S) What are the pitfalls to successful recovery?
(Peter) Spending time in toxic situations or with toxic family members!
(S) What is the fun part of your job as chef?
(Peter) Working with the staff at Sanford. EVERYONE is friendly and upbeat. And I also like being a small part of our patient’s recovery – changing a life for the better.
(S) The challenging part?
(Peter) Keeping things fun for us in the kitchen! Coming up with ever better and more exciting dishes. But I love my job. And the comradery. I like working with Sanford Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders, the House Managers and dietitians… And I never get that Sunday afternoon feeling. I can’t wait to get back to work on Monday morning.
(S) What makes Sanford unique?
(Peter) The beauty of the physical environment. And the kindness and professionalism of the staff.
(S) Do you have a motto?
(Peter) Treat people the way you would like to be treated.
What is your favorite journey?
(Peter) I think the journey is the reward. We used the quote “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” at our wedding!
(S) Anything else you’d like to say about food, Chef Peter?
(Peter) Food is entertainment for me. My wife and I take pictures of our food. We explore the local restaurants – always looking for the new and different. And we try to recreate the food we love.
(S) Do you have a favorite Grand Rapids restaurant? A favorite dish?
(Peter) I love the eggs benedict at the Cherie Inn. I have tried and tried to recreate them!
Thanks Chef Peter.