Thursday, March 7, 2013

What’s on the Menu?—What to expect from a Senior Facility

By Bob Gregory

There are lots of items you need to consider when choosing an Assisted Living Facility such as the type of care provided, the amenities, activities, safety, location, size etc., but what about what’s on the menu?  Whether you are choosing for yourself or an elderly parent, you need to keep in mind that the Assisted Living Facility will be “home” and you should enjoy being at “home” and that includes having good food to eat!  Meal plans vary from facility to facility but they can range from no meals for residents who can shop and cook for themselves all the way to three meals and snacks for residents who are not capable of shopping and cooking for themselves or just don’t want to do so.

As background, menus in an Assisted Living Facility must be created and signed off on by a Registered Dietician and conform to the current food guide pyramid.  Residents must be provided three meals daily, snacks and access to food preparation areas between meals.  Meals must be balanced properly and special diets must be able to be met if continued residency is to be maintained in the living environment. All dietary requirements are regulated by the State and not the Federal Government.  A Certified Dietary Manager is required to oversee the Food Service Departments of Assisted Living Facilities.  This certification is taught by the Restaurant Board and the test is administered by the Department of Health.

There are three major considerations when you inquire about menus:

  1. General nutrition for the average individual with no special needs.  For residents who do not need a special diet for medical or religious purposes, you will want to make sure the facility serves food you or your elderly parent likes.  Look for variety on the menu and be sure and ask if the facility accepts residents’ input when planning the menu.  Be sure and visit during each meal time so you can observe the presentation of the food and be sure and sample.  Most facilities hire professional chefs and are proud of the food they serve!
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    1 4408524731_d0b4e27c4f_o (Photo credit: US Army Africa)
  2. Medically required diets.  Be sure the facility can handle special dietary needs for medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, celiac disease, and food sensitivities, just to mention a few.  If the facility accepts you or your elderly parent as a resident in need of a special diet, then they are required to prepare the diet.  Don’t be surprised if some facilities do not accept residents who need long term special diets for medical reasons.  This is uncommon but it can occur.
  3. Religious observance diets.  If you or your elderly parent adheres to religious dietary requirements, be sure and discuss with the facility to assure they will accommodate the needs.  There are no special requirements to do so, but most will.  You may also want to consider a facility that caters specifically to your religious group.  These facilities are available and may be more suited for dietary needs as well as common interests.

The recent struggle facing the Healthcare Industry, especially Assisted Living Facilities, is to provide a variety of options of visually appealing foods with better quality and presentation than that which has been historically found in Healthcare Facilities.  Further, facilities need to provide this service on a limited budget to keep rents low enough to compete, depending on the market in which they are located.  Tomorrow’s Assisted Living customer has very different expectations than those customers served today.  The expectations of quality, experience and customer service are much higher at affordable rates.  However, customers should expect to pay for additional services and amenities required or requested.

In summary, make sure you include “what’s on the menu?” as one of the questions you ask when interviewing prospective facilities for yourself or an elderly parent.  Also, make sure you sample the food and even ask for a tour of the kitchen to observe preparation.  Finally, ask the current residents what they think of the food and the menu selection.
If you find you need an Assisted Living Facility, Nursing Home or any other type of Senior Facility, I hope you will consider       

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We look forward to reading yours.

Bob Gregory is an advocate for Seniors and is one of the founders
of At, we are dedicated to helping families get the Elder Care help they need without having to provide their personal information! If find you need an assisted living facility or other type of senior facility, please consider

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