December 2019 LeadingAge Catalyst

LeadingAge Catalyst | December 17, 2019 | by Gene Mitchell

Learn about the LeadingAge Catalyst for December 2019: The Eaton Healthy Program by Eaton Senior Communities, Lakewood, CO.

December 2019 LeadingAge Catalyst

Eaton Senior Communities, Lakewood, CO

Eaton Healthy Program 1
Eaton President & CEO David Smart, left, Executive Vice President Diana Delgado, and Director of Culinary Services Jason Klueckman serve meals from the Eaton Healthy food truck at a low-income housing community.

Excellence in Community Service (and Dining)

The great recession of 2007-2009 left Mary Ann Mulligan thinking about food.

Mulligan, executive director at Eaton Senior Communities, Lakewood, CO, found herself unemployed a decade ago, when the nonprofit she had worked for was forced to shut its doors.

“While I was looking for employment,” Mulligan says, “I had an idea for a food truck. One of my friends’ ex-husband […] had just purchased some farms up in Longmont, CO, with the intention of converting them to organic farming.

“My intention was to [find] high-end restaurants in the metro area that would partner with me, so I could use their kitchens, on a quarterly basis, to provide a simple meal of soup and bread to individuals in need in downtown Denver,” she adds. “That was the premise. And then I got hired here at Eaton, and put the food truck idea on the back burner.”

Later, Mulligan says, she realized her idea could be adopted by Eaton Senior Communities, and suggested as much to CEO David Smart.

“Mary Ann sent me this email,” says Smart, laughing, “about a food truck and a farm somewhere, and I read it and thought, well, that's ridiculous. But then I thought, well, maybe there's something to it, so I'll just leave it in my inbox. And I kept coming back to it, probably for a couple of months. Mary Ann, I think, probably forgot about it.”

Eventually, Eaton staff brainstormed about the idea, and the “Eaton Healthy” program was born. For its creativity and commitment to improving the lives of low-income residents in the Denver Metro area, LeadingAge recognizes Eaton Senior Communities as the LeadingAge Catalyst for December 2019.

The Program Gets in Gear

For its first 12 months, Eaton Healthy was in the business of visiting 15 senior housing communities that did not have meal programs, offering low-cost meals to elders facing food insecurity. Meals never cost more than $7.50, and the concept was “comfort food with a twist.”

Eaton Healthy Program 2
Jason Klueckman, Eaton director of culinary services, with Eaton
resident Dawn Gantzler.

Eaton Chef Jason Klueckman was tasked with creating the menu.

“We wanted to bring the residents some classic homestyle meals,” says Klueckman, “like shepherd's pie, fish and chips, or meatloaf. But I wanted to make those healthy options. So I started creating new recipes around those classics. For instance, there is mac and cheese, but instead of using your standard pasta, I found a quinoa pasta. For the meatloaf, we use quinoa instead of breadcrumbs, and a lean cut of meat. It is about making those meals super healthy, but keeping the integrity of that classic homestyle taste.”

Eaton Senior Communities created a for-profit to run the program, with the idea that the food truck would be at least a break-even venture, says Smart. The truck was taken to breweries and special events to supplement the revenue.

Eventually, Smart says, it became clear the original concept was unworkable.

“At the properties we were going to, it would be real busy the first week or two, and then it would clearly drop off because people got their checks, and they spent their money at the beginning [of the month] and they didn't have anything left at the end,” says Smart.

Financial losses, combined with difficulty hiring and retaining staff, led Eaton to put the program on hiatus, and it even leased the truck to another user for a summer.

The Concept Gets a Tune-Up

Eaton Healthy was relaunched in January 2019 as a philanthropic venture.

“We know these senior communities don't have meal plans, and so [Eaton Healthy] became a way to just adopt a place for a day, and take them a free meal,” says Smart.

Partnerships are now helping to flesh out the concept. GoFarm, an organization that operates mobile farmers’ markets (May-October) and has a history of visiting Eaton Senior Communities, now joins Eaton Healthy on its visits. Residents can use SNAP benefits to buy food from GoFarm, which will also “double-up” residents’ food by matching the benefits dollar-for-dollar.

“They're a very dedicated group, getting fresh produce to individuals who might live in grocery deserts,” Mulligan says.

Another organization, Benefits in Action, also joins the visits and helps residents apply for and use health care benefits for which they are eligible.

Eaton is also pursuing a partnership with We Don’t Waste, a “food recovery” nonprofit that redistributes donated food, as a source of produce and proteins for the food truck.

Eaton Senior Communities covers the cost of the program, and its foundation contributed $15,000. Smart estimates that Eaton Healthy delivers 70-100 meals per month. Most of the cooking is done by Klueckman’s staff in Eaton’s main kitchen—the food is kept hot on the truck but very little of the cooking is done there. Eaton managers volunteer their time to help as servers and “runners,” who deliver meals to residents who can’t come down to the parking lot. The volunteers typically set up a separate table to offer side salads, desserts, and beverages.

Eaton Healthy Program 3
Eaton Healthy site visits are done in conjunction with 2
other nonprofits: GoFarm, provider of a mobile
farmers’ market, and Benefits in Action, which helps
residents access health benefits for which they are

In 2019, Eaton Healthy did 8 events and fed 470 people. Smart says the goal for 2020 is to do at least one event per month, and ultimately, 2 per month. He also wants to involve Eaton residents and board members as volunteers.

Kate West, director of community development, sees 2 other benefits of the project: “One is socialization for the communities. When the food truck comes, and the farmers market opens, it’s a chance for the residents of that community to really have some enjoyable time and share a meal. The other thing that’s been really great for staff is that this is a really big morale-booster for our leadership team—to get out there and have that sense of giving back.”

The housing communities Eaton Healthy visits are typically either HUD sites or low-income tax credit properties.

“Some of those HUD properties have a service coordinator,” says Diana Delgado, Eaton’s executive vice president. “We’re part of the Colorado chapter of the American Association of Service Coordinators, so our service coordinator knows the other [ones] at these properties and that's how we've been able to establish relationships. Service providers really get excited about that because it reduces their workload.”

Smart says most recipients are “very low-income, similar to our residents, whose average income is about $16,000 a year.” One of the sites also houses a lot of veterans, and people with addiction issues, he says.

Mulligan also notes that some residents served are formerly homeless.

West is looking for other sources of partnership and support: “Large companies, such as Pinkard Construction, have expressed interest in serving on the food trucks, and maybe looking at sponsorship opportunities to increase our number of visits. We're also on the radar of the members of the Lakewood Council to End Hunger, which is a mayoral initiative in our city. We may gain support from them as well.”

Mission Drives Outreach

“I like to say that we have a culture of curiosity,” says Delgado. “We're always looking for new and creative ways to not only serve our residents but figure out how to reach into the community beyond our walls, and this [is] just a very creative way to be out there and serving people in need.”

“It really does make your day,” says Smart. “[The residents] are just so grateful and happy, and it just fills you up.”

Chef Klueckman’s “Comfort Food With a Twist”

Chef Jason Klueckman wants to share a couple of his favorite recipes with his LeadingAge peers.

Eaton Healthy Shepherd's Pie

(8 servings)

For the cauliflower mash:
1 pound fresh cauliflower
1/4 cup fat-free half-and-half
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk


For the meat filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 large carrot, peeled and diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground turkey
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 cup frozen Italian blend vegetables


Cut cauliflower into 1/2-inch chunks. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10-15 minutes. Place the half-and-half and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 35 seconds. Drain the cauliflower in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the cauliflower and then add the half-and-half, butter, salt, and pepper, and continue to mash until smooth. Stir in the yolk until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

While the cauliflower is cooking, prepare the filling. Place the olive oil into a 12-inch sauté pan and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion, bell pepper, and carrots, and sauté just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add in the meat mixture, salt, and pepper, and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the beef broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire, Italian seasoning, and mixed vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer slowly 10-12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Spread meat mixture evenly into a glass baking dish. Top with the mashed cauliflower, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up, and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the cauliflower begins to brown.

Jalapeno Bacon Quinoa Mac & Cheese

(8 servings)

2 cups cooked quinoa
1 pound quinoa pasta, cooked
2-1/2 cups 2% milk
1-1/4 cups cottage cheese (low-fat)
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 jalapeno, diced
1 onion, diced
1 pound turkey bacon, cut small
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
3/4 pound white cheddar, shredded
3/4 pound Havarti, shredded
salt & pepper to taste
seasoned panko crumbs for topping


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use blender to blend milk, cottage cheese, cornstarch, paprika, and mustard. Add blended mixture and cheeses to a large sauce pot. Heat slowly, stirring frequently, until melted and thick. Sauté jalapenos, onion, garlic, and bacon, stir in quinoa and pasta, and then fold in the cheese sauce. Place mixture into a casserole dish, top with panko crumbs, and bake until heated through.

Gene Mitchell is editor of LeadingAge magazine.