By Larry Abrams, Executive Vice President, Culinary, Senior Living
As decreased abilities and increased dietary restrictions become more prevalent in the aging population, mealtimes can become uncomfortable or even a struggle, especially for those who have difficulty eating or using utensils. This can cause a cycle of poor nutrition, and studies have found that one in four seniors suffer from malnutrition. This silent epidemic has resulted in heightened concern within the senior living industry as meeting benchmarks for meal consumption is a high priority. This challenge can be addressed by utilizing a method that involves both art and science to provide seniors who have dietary restrictions or swallowing or memory care disorders with a more dignified approach to dining.
Tackling Dietary Restrictions for Individuals with Swallowing Difficulties
Seniors who have difficulty swallowing and consume diets consisting solely of soft foods may find that their meals do not look or taste like the dishes the other residents are being served. This can not only cause social embarrassment, but also can make the food look less appealing, especially if it is not plated well or in an attractive manner.
To combat this issue, facilities can take a different approach to pureed foods by using fresh ingredients rather than frozen meals or processed items. For example, if the evening meal consists of pork chops, broccoli, and sweet potatoes, dining services can simply puree the same items to serve individuals with swallowing difficulties. To enhance the appearance of meals served in pureed form, the use of food molds and piping bags can have a huge impact. Molds and piping tools shape the pureed foods to create a plate that looks similar to what is being served to other individuals in the dining room. As a result of molds, an HHS senior living partner has seen a 60 percent increase in meal consumption. Not only is this impacting the health of the residents, but is also helping support nursing to meet consumption benchmarks and better market the facility to residents and their family members.
Changing the Approach to Finger Foods for Memory Care Residents
Many individuals who suffer from memory disorders also have complications that limit their ability to use utensils. That’s where finger foods can come in. However, if a kitchen staff does not have a specific program for memory care residents, the finger foods they provide may be limited to items such as chicken tenders or french fries. A dedicated memory care dining program can directly impact the nutrition individuals receive while allowing them the independence to dine on their own. Consider that you are serving the residents without memory care complications a chef salad. Using the same ingredients, create a chef salad in a wrap form so that residents can actually pick it up without the need for utensils. For memory care, it is about rethinking how real food can be styled and created in a way that best serves the audience.
Using both a scientific and artistic approach to dining services, senior living facilities can combat malnutrition and provide better outcomes for their residents. Employing the use of molds for pureed foods, exploring ways to plate items, and developing creative finger food options draws light on how the presentation of food can affect food consumption and provide seniors with a dignified dining experience.