Meal times are bar none the most important activity of the day for seniors living in retirement and assisted living communities. Eating is an immensely enjoyable activity when you’re young (as evidenced by our 60% overweight population) and for the elderly, and is often the only enjoyable activity of the day. And while fattening home cooked dishes will always be on menus – just watch the uprising if they took away chicken fried steak from anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line – communities should still be striving for quality and freshness.
- Our seniors spent their whole lives deciding when and what they wanted to eat. Isn’t it only fair that they get to do that now? While many communities have limited meal times – and this is not necessarily bad, it’s certainly better to have an all day dining program in place. When is the last time someone told you that lunch was served at 11AM sharp? Our seniors aren’t children and they’re paying a lot of coin to live in these places. Communities should attempt to be as flexible as possible in their scheduling to be respectful of the decision-making ability of these folks, even if they come in at the same time. Every. Single. Day.
- It’s just as important to give seniors the choice of where to sit. Senior communities can be like high school with folks moving in and out of social circles. Wouldn’t you get sick of sitting next to the same person every day? What if you didn’t like them? Assigned seating should be reserved only for residents with very high care needs who need extra attention.
- Knowledgeable Food & Beverage Director. All the better if the chef is a nutritionist (and in some states it’s the law). Even if no need exists now, he or she should be able to tell you what they can and can not do in the event diets change for health reasons. Diabetes, chewing problems and diverticulitis, among many others – are fairly common ailments among an aging population and something to think about when considering a move.
- Quality and Quantity. Look to see how extensive the menu is. Residents should be given at least three options at every meal, one hearty, one healthy, and one light. Even home style dishes should be made with fresh ingredients and a minimum of salt, and served with fruits and vegetables that will be pleasing to any palate.
- Cleanliness and Atmosphere. Keeping the kitchen and dining room clean are incredibly important to help prevent the spread of illness within a more frail population prone to picking up every little bug. Check food safety inspections and be sure to walk all the way into the dining room (and in the kitchen if they allow it) to make sure staff looks clean and crisp, salt and pepper shakers free of any visible debris, table surfaces sanitized, and glasses and silverware spotless.
- Don’t forget to try the food. While every community claims to have the best around, make sure you ask to try it for yourself. Your taste buds don’t lie and it will give you a much better idea of what the community is really like as a whole.
Ms. Harrison has consulted with over 10 different distressed and startup senior living properties across the nation. Seniors Best Interests is a free-to-family service that advocates on behalf of seniors and their families when they begin searching for senior living communities.
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