Cooking up a bit of home at Hospice Cape Breton

Cook Amanda Landry prepares chicken for a patient meal at Hospice Cape Breton. Photo by Lauren Gilbert.
Cook Amanda Landry prepares chicken for a patient meal at Hospice Cape Breton. Photo by Lauren Gilbert.

You could say cooking runs in the family for Amanda Landry. Her father, Robert Cromwell, was a cook at Cape Breton Regional Hospital, while her mother, Crystal Cromwell, was the cook at home when Landry and her five siblings were growing up.

So, it’s no surprise that Landry herself is a cook at Hospice Cape Breton, a stand-alone facility in Nova Scotia Health’s Eastern Zone that provides end-of-life care for palliative patients in a home-like setting.

Landry is the first full-time in-house cook at the hospice and started working there in August 2022. Before that, she worked at Cape Breton Regional Hospital for 16 years. She worked a variety of jobs in the hospital’s kitchen before deciding to earn her Red Seal in cooking. Landry was working in the kitchen’s Bake Shop when she saw the posting for the cook position at hospice and applied.

Going from an acute care setting to the hospice was an adjustment, said Landry. “At the hospital, you cooked for a larger number of people, you might have more dietary needs to be aware of when you’re preparing meals, and you might not have a lot of interaction with patients or families unless you were taking meal trays to patient rooms,” she said. “At the hospice, you have 10 patients so you can concentrate more on their needs and what they want. The atmosphere is very home-like so you get to know the families and patients and can joke around with them, make them smile and help them. The settings are different, but the patient is the priority at both places.”

One way Landry gets to know patients at the hospice is by interviewing them about food.

“We talk about their likes and dislikes, what they want to eat, and portion size because a lot of patients get overwhelmed with portions and think they need to eat everything on the plate,” she said. “We have a menu that they can pick and choose from, but I tell them we can veer off menu. If there’s something you like, that’s not there, let me know and I’ll make it for you.”

At the hospice, it’s about meeting the patient where they are and patients having what they want, when they want it, said Landry. Patients don’t always eat at the same time, nor do they eat the same meals. There are also times when Landry needs to be creative to meet the patient’s needs.

“It’s not just about the food’s nutritional properties, it’s about the taste, the look of the food or the texture,” she said. “Pureed dishes, for example, are of course about the texture, but for the patient it’s about the taste. A patient can’t have their food in a certain form, but you can still give them the taste and make it satisfying for them.”
Food can also bring comfort to patients when they need it most, said Landry.

“It helps them heal, helps them cope and makes them feel good,” she said. “It can also bring up memories that are healing or comforting for them. Many patients go off into their own world and say, ‘it’s just the way I remember it from when I was a kid’ or ‘it tastes just like my mother’s’ or ‘it’s made the same way I make it’. The connection food allows me to have with patients takes me to a different world, it takes me into their world.”

Whether she’s cooking up comfort food or dressing up for special food-themed days, like Italian Day, Landry enjoys bringing smiles to the patient, families, and staff.

“I feel like hospice chose me in a way by giving me a feeling of purpose,” she said. “The atmosphere brings a sense of peace and being in this job brings me a sense of fulfillment. Seeing a patient smile when you’re bringing them a meal you prepared for them that makes them happy, it makes your day just as much as it makes theirs. Essentially one day it will be their last meal and it’s fitting for them to have a meal they enjoy and brings comfort to them before they pass. Being part of the team that helps make the patient’s last days some of their better days, is both a blessing and a privilege and makes me feel like I’m in the right job for me.”