While the experience of having a meal may have little impact on many adults, for those living in a congregate senior living environment, meals can be important events, and must be treated as such. Factors like number of dining companions, autonomy related to food, and tray meal delivery service have a significant impact on residents’ overall happiness.
The Importance of Mealtimes
Older adults face particular challenges related to identity and autonomy. All persons desire a sense of self and self-worth, and, to that end, deserve dignity and respect. Mealtimes are a great occasion to reinforce an elderly person’s belief that he or she matters, has a purpose, and is inherently important. A study by Canadian researchers on certain families in which one member is experiencing dementia explored the use of mealtimes to honor identity, stay connected, and adapt to and accept an evolving life. The researchers took a more interactive “person-centered”—rather than “condition-centered”—approach to the meal, which produced positive results. Another new strategy some nursing home dining services are embracing is to tweak certain recipes so that utensils are no longer necessary (turning a fruit salad into a smoothie, for example). Not having to be fed by someone else helps a resident retain her dignity and independence.
Quality of Food And Its Importance in The Nursing Home
It’s self-explanatory why great food service would lead to customer satisfaction. But what about health? Would culinary improvements have a noticeable impact on residents’ medical condition? A 2016 US News & World Report article claims they do, particularly when it leads to greater menu choice for residents. According to registered dietitian nutritionist Brenda Richardson, who advises various assisted-living facilities across the nation, “When you truly provide food and nutrition and dining that’s much more specific to that particular person … then we’re actually seeing better outcomes in regards to health care.”
Going Fresh, Going LocalIn a new quest for nutrition, hundreds of nursing homes are embracing a “slow food” mentality— eating more seasonal vegetables, sourcing local produce, hiring experienced chefs who cook virtually everything from scratch. A recent NPR article profiled the Bethlehem Woods retirement community in La Grange Park, IL, which employs a dining service that pledges to use cage-free eggs, source local food, ensure meat is free of hormones and antibiotics, keep frozen foods to a minimum, and make sauces and stocks in-house.