Rebecca Leaf, Director of Business Development
Your senior living community’s dining menus are a lot more powerful than you realize. They can boost residents’ immune systems (which is critically important during a pandemic), improve resident satisfaction, attract new seniors to your community, and even save you money.
How? It starts with collaboration between your chefs and dietitians. Together, they can make simple ingredient changes to your recipes that improve palatability, support a healthy immune system, and, most importantly, delight your residents.
Let’s look at what some of those enhancing ingredients are and how you can incorporate them into your menu.
Sufficient and Diversified Fiber
Prebiotic fibers feed the good bacteria in your stomach. And those bacteria are critical because, according to Yufang Lin, M.D., of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, 80 percent of your body’s immune system resides in your gut.
Increasing the amount and variety of prebiotic fiber you eat can boost your ability to fight off infections. A healthy immune system is always critical for seniors, but it’s even more important right now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Below is a table that can serve as a guide for incorporating the different types of fiber into your senior dining menu:
|Fiber Types||Food Source|
(dissolves in water and turns into a gel during digestion, slowing digestion and the absorption of sugar)
black beans, Brussels sprouts, avocado, sweet potatoes, broccoli, turnips, kidney beans, figs, carrots, flax seeds, hazelnuts, oats
(a type of soluble fiber that's beneficial fuel for the good bacteria in the gut)
|agave, banana, onion, garlic, chicory, jicama, lentils, chickpeas, green beans, lima beans|
(does not dissolve in water and is left intact as food moves through the digestive tract, acting as roughage to promote bowel movements)
amaranth, cauliflower, green peas, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, apples
(natural chemicals found in plants that fight against inflammation in your gut)
spices (cloves, star anise, curry powder, ginger, cumin, cinnamon), dried herbs (peppermint, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil), dark berries, black and green olives, and many more
The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. These are the nutrients your body uses the most. It’s important to give seniors the right balance of macronutrients because they serve as the building blocks and fuel of the immune system.
When building your menu, try to incorporate a carbohydrate, a fat, and a protein in every meal or snack you provide your residents. For example:
• Instead of providing pasta with veggie tomato sauce (two carbohydrates), add grass-fed beef to the sauce (protein and fat) to make it more balanced
• Instead of providing just avocado (fat) on toast (carbohydrate), add a fried egg on top (protein) to make it more balanced
The immune system works by creating free radicals that attack infections in the body and prevent disease. While these free radicals are a vital part of the metabolism process, they can also build up in our cells and cause damage. That’s where antioxidants come into play.
Antioxidants help to balance these free radicals by protecting your healthy cells from potential damage. Incorporating foods rich in antioxidants into the diet can help the immune system. The densest food sources of antioxidants include:
• Dark chocolate
Sourcing to Preserve Micronutrients
Our immune system’s cells require certain micronutrients — vitamins and minerals — to do their job. They only need a small amount, but your body can’t produce them on its own. So, you need to get them from the food you eat.
The ingredients listed in the above sections contain these vitamins and minerals. However, the number of micronutrients present depends on how fresh the food is.
Sourcing local, whole ingredients is an excellent way to ensure the food you give seniors has a higher amount of vitamins and minerals. And more of those micronutrients means better support for your residents’ immune system. Plus, a senior dining menu filled with fresh ingredients is not only healthier but tastes better, too.
A Senior Dining Menu That Satisfies Residents and Saves You Money
Food has the power to bring people together, generate excitement, and create memories. Building a menu that’s delicious and healthy will organically attract new residents to your community. After all, people love to talk about food. If you can provide a menu that’s worth talking about, your potential for word-of-mouth growth will skyrocket.
A healthy menu also presents some financial benefits. Resident referrals from healthcare facilities need a comfortable place to recover, and food plays an essential role in recovery.
It can also help reduce how often residents are readmitted to the hospital or healthcare facility. Decreasing those readmissions lowers the risk of financial penalty for your community and reduces costs associated with resident turnover.
In short, the right menu can better satisfy your residents, attract new residents to your community, and save you money. And yes, this type of menu requires an investment, but it’s an investment worth making.