Eating organic foods, more fresh produce and less processed food seems to be the current trend. Seniors are starting to rally to that table of fresh, homemade food, even after a lifetime of poor eating habits. People who are coming to live on retirement community campuses are demanding food choices that promote a heart healthy diet. It is important for food service to meet the needs and the wants of the people who live in the community.
Today’s social norms have pushed meal times to be fast paced, perhaps an inconvenience. Mealtime is a social time for seniors. It is a time when residents enjoy visiting with family and friends. The wait time and coffee after is spent visiting listening to hear the tales of the day. Quality of life is most visible at meal time. Retirement Communities’ food service keep asking the question: Is the food not only presented in an appetizing and appealing manner, but is it true to the needs and desires of the resident?
Many years ago when I started working in long-term care much of the food served was processed. There never was any fresh fruit or fresh salads. The vegetables were always cooked till they were soggy and the amount of salt in all the food was staggering. Every Resident Council and Care Plan meeting had food complaints and concerns. Dietary staff was simply charged with getting three meals a day out to the residents. There was the main dish, which was served to everyone. If someone said “I don’t like that,” the server would go back to the kitchen for the alternate most likely a sandwich, and that was the end of choices. Standalone nursing homes were especially prone to a dull plate. As retirement communities and assisted living communities started paying more attention, nursing facilities followed. Now Medicare pushes the care of residents in Skilled Nursing to a more resident-centered care and food service also needed to change. Food choices are important. Having healthy choices for residents has become a priority. New people moving onto the retirement community campus have become more vocal about having healthy food choices. Food committees have sprung up to help dietary services understand what is desired for the food choices.
Of course, expectations for improved food services and experiences present senior living communities with a variety of challenges. Residents may have religious; cultural or ethnic food needs or preferences. Food allergies have become more common. Making sure people get the right diet therapeutically and by preference takes a vigilant staff keenly aware that each person needs to be served the right foods. Also, the multitude of plates have to arrive at the table hot, tasty and appealing, all within the one hour of the mealtime window.
Sierra View Homes is working toward increasing healthy food choices for the people who dine here. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes are still served on occasion but it is more likely you will see a fish choice on the menu. Actually I can’t knock the Sierra View Minerva Meatloaf. It is many resident’s favorite dish which is a favorite of many residents. A salad bar gives a choice of fresh greens and fruit. Sierra View has a garden planted on campus for the community to harvest for their own meal planning.
Giving choices of healthy food for today’s seniors is of great importance to the quality of life at Sierra View and other retirement communities. Having good food choices goes a long way in the satisfaction of the community residents who are working hard to have a long and healthy life. So, like our residents, I take the fresh, organic made to order by our chef in our fine dining room. As the Italians’ say “Bon Appetite” the German’s say ”Mahlzeit”.