As decreased abilities and increased dietary restrictions become more prevalent in the aging population, mealtimes can become uncomfortable and difficult. This can cause a cycle of poor nutrition, and studies have found that one in four seniors suffers from malnutrition.
This silent epidemic has resulted in heightened concern for senior dining. Senior living communities can address these challenges by using a method that involves both creativity and nutrition to provide a more dignified approach to dining for seniors who have dietary restrictions, swallowing difficulty, or memory disorders. These innovative food and dining trends in senior living facilities are making a big impact.
Dysphagia or Swallowing Difficulty
Seniors who have difficulty swallowing and consume diets consisting solely of soft foods may find that their meals don’t look or taste like the other residents’ dishes.
To combat this issue, facilities can take a different approach to pureed foods by using fresh ingredients rather than frozen or processed items. To enhance the appearance of meals served in pureed form, kitchen staff can use food molds and piping tools to shape the pureed foods to create a plate that looks similar to what other residents receive.
This combination of fresh ingredients and a traditional “food-like” appearance incorporates dignity back into the meal and encourages socialization in common dining areas. As a result of these practices, one HHS senior living partner has seen a 60% increase in meal consumption.
“It’s two-fold — from a social aspect, it brings residents out of their rooms and into the dining area. When they’re in the dining room, the residents’ food looks the same as others do, which boosts morale and creates a more dignified experience,” says Area Vice President of Culinary Operations, Lance Sanson.
Many individuals who suffer from memory disorders may have complications that limit their ability to use utensils. That’s where finger foods can come in. Eliminating the use for utensils creates an easier dining experience for the resident. However, if a kitchen staff does not have a specific program for memory care residents, the finger foods they provide may be limited.
A dedicated memory care dining program can directly impact the nutrition residents receive while allowing them the independence to dine on their own. For this, much like pureed meals, it’s all about rethinking how real food can be styled and created in a way that best serves the specific resident.
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. Programs like these help attract residents, provide peace of mind to loved ones, and create a more dignified dining experience for seniors.
Sanson says, “We have to make every meal special. It always needs to be perfect.”
Learn more about HHS' dining services for senior living.