Evaluating Mealtime Before You Choose a Senior Community


When you’re evaluating an assisted living community or nursing home for yourself or a loved one, you’ll undoubtedly consider a number of factors, including the size and quality of the rooms, the quality of the care, and the programs offered. But have you considered the mealtime experience?

Studies show that residents in long-term care facilities tend to lose weight quickly following the move and change in lifestyle. Ten percent of residents lose 5 percent of their body weight within a month. This is not necessarily a positive change, either. Other research shows that as many as 85 percent of nursing home residents are undernourished. This is one reason why considering the dining experiences and nutrition plans of an assisted living community or nursing home is crucial. Positive experiences during mealtimes contribute to seniors’ overall well-being, can reduce depression symptoms, and can lead to a longer, happier life.

Of course, there are many quality nursing homes and senior communities that offer residents nutritious, restaurant-quality food in a nurturing environment. It helps to know what to look for in terms of a positive dining experience when you choose an assisted living or nursing home community.

Flexible Mealtimes
One way to ensure seniors are getting enough to eat is to give them an opportunity to eat whenever they are hungry. This could mean looking for an assisted living community which includes a small kitchen in each resident’s room, where they can heat up a can of soup or even bake cookies with or without help.

Some senior communities offer a number of different breakfast, lunch and dinner times. This gives residents the opportunity to choose not only when they eat, but to choose (to some extent) their mealtime companions. Making sure that seniors are comfortable in their environment and enjoying the company of those around them is an important part of mealtime success.
At the very least, seniors should have some high protein, calorie- and nutrient-dense, tasty snacks available to them 24/7, giving them the power to choose to eat when they are hungry, just as they would at home.

Comfortable Dining Arrangements
The dining areas in some senior communities look like five-star restaurants while others are more like high school cafeterias. Of course, budget will be a driving factor in the overall atmosphere and quality of the senior community’s décor, but any environment can be joyful and pleasant, regardless of budget.

Is staff attentive to the seniors? Is the overall dining environment pleasant and happy, with plenty of conversation going on? Do seniors make it a point to talk to each other, and does staff help to encourage conversation?

Even in a more functional, versus decorative, dining hall, the staff can create a fun experience and maintain a positive environment.

Proper Nutrition
Seniors should always be offered a selection of nutrient-dense, high-protein foods. Of course, special diets should be available for those who may need heart-healthy, low-sodium or diabetic meal plans. Assisted living communities and nursing homes may grapple with the dilemma of feeding seniors doctor- and dietician-approved meals, vs. making sure they get enough to eat by feeding them what they want. Some senior care facilities take an extreme view in either direction, giving seniors, especially those with Alzheimer’s, freedom to choose everything on their plate, regardless of its nutritional value, while others adhere to strict nutritional guidelines. That’s not to say either approach is right or wrong, but you will want to choose a senior community where the philosophy is in line with your own about what’s best for the aging senior in your care, and you certainly want to know that at least some of the food options are healthy and nutritious.

A Variety of Food Options
Even nutritious food can be fun. In a best case scenario, the assisted living community or nursing home will offer a variety of cuisines from different cultures, perhaps hosting food-centric events like taco nights, ice cream sundae bars, or food related to specific holidays like St. Patrick’s Day. They might even let residents share their own family recipes and even participate in cooking and food prep.

Getting enough of the right foods to eat is an important aspect of thriving in the later stages of life. Seniors gain an advantage if they are in a nursing home or assisted living community that places a high value on the food that is served and the way it is presented in a comfortable, welcoming environment with the flexibility adults deserve.
SeniorLiving.Net is a free service for families to use that are looking for senior care or senior living for a loved one. Call (877) 345-1706 to speak to your local Care Advisor about senior care providers in your local area.