Historically, meal service in the senior living industry has fallen short. Fresh, great-tasting, made-from-scratch cuisine – coupled with a five-star resident dining experience – has been the exception, not the rule.
But today paints a different picture. An industry transformation is in the works, with a focus on offering maximum nutrition, mealtime flexibility, and a memorable social experience.
Changing the dining culture
Senior living communities are taking a new view of dining. It’s no longer a sidebar to the resident experience. It’s at the core – a key ingredient for health, vitality, and quality of life.
A community at the forefront of the personalized mealtime trend is StoneGate Senior Living, a leading provider of senior living services in Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. StoneGate revitalized its dining experience in 2007. Cheryl Korbuly, a registered dietitian nutritionist, licensed dietitian, and vice president of nutrition services at StoneGate, describes mealtime as “a premier experience built on resident choice, restaurant-style dining, and stellar customer service.
“Our goal is to meet each resident’s personal food choices and tastes while providing a pleasurable dining ambiance. Diners choose their selections from a full menu of well-balanced options. Meal orders are taken tableside and delivered in courses.”
Catering to choice
Key to the improved dining experience is choice. Flexible times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner give residents the freedom to adopt a mealtime that meets their unique preferences.
Choice extends also to a variety of nutritious, freshly prepared, and visually appealing food options. At StoneGate communities, for example, the base menu is “Heart Healthy,” featuring meals with less fat and sodium. Selections range from abundant fruits and vegetables, including always-available fresh salads, to reduced-fat dairy options and whole-grain breads, cereals, and side dishes.
“Along with heart-healthy selections, our residents can select their favorite traditional dishes, many of which have a tie to their past,” Korbuly notes.
Popular menu items range from eggs to order for breakfast to homestyle meatloaf for lunch and grilled salmon for dinner. Communities with large ethnic populations offer menu options that follow cultural traditions. Nutrition Services team members talk regularly with residents to discuss and incorporate menu enhancements, along with favorite recipes and special requests.
Caring for residents with dietary restrictions
When planning meals for seniors, considerations such as altered taste, difficulty chewing and/or swallowing, medication side effects, and nutrient requirements are key. Another factor is providing special diets to help manage chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, which affect four out of five older adults. Heart Healthy meals, featuring herbs and spices as primary seasonings, are staples for therapeutic diets.
“Diets modified in texture don’t sacrifice on flavor – or fun,” Korbuly says. “For example, seniors who have difficulty chewing or swallowing may require foods that are modified in texture. StoneGate communities accommodate this need by providing pureed foods that look good, taste great, and maximize nutrients. “Beyond Puree™” was created to enhance the quality of life for residents requiring the puree food texture, because we all eat with our eyes.”
Considering additional options
Along with enjoying meals in the dining room, residents also have the choice of eating in the leisure of their room. “The in-room dining experience offers flexible dining times, choice of menu items, and the opportunity to receive personalized service while dining in-room,” Korbuly explains. A hot mobile food cart travels from room to room, ensuring food is served fresh and at a palatable temperature. For in-between-meal cravings, snack service is offered three times daily.
Residents in memory care facilities are engaged in family-style dining, where bowls and platters of food are passed around the table. “Our goal for those with memory challenges is to recreate familiar smells and sounds, along with a welcoming ambiance that creates a sense of belonging,” Korbuly says. “We evaluate each resident’s needs and custom-tailor the experience to help them feel at home.”
Creating a recipe for success
Central to the resident dining experience is instilling a shared mindset among Nutrition Services staff. “We continuously educate our Nutrition Services team on how to be proactive in providing a ‘WOW!’ experience for everyone we serve – at the table and beyond,” Korbuly says. “Our residents deserve nothing but the best.”