There are many factors to consider when choosing a senior living facility for your loved one, such as staff-to-resident ratio, recreational activities, room size, and whether or not they provide the services your loved one needs.
One key factor that should not be overlooked is the dining hall. Aside from the fact that sharing mealtime with other residents is an integral part of your loved one’s socialization, he or she will be eating quite frequently in the dining hall and it is crucial to ensure the facility offers healthy options that promote heart and brain health.
When you tour a facility, be sure to test out the dining hall (most will offer a meal as part of the tour) and while doing so, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are the meal options healthy? The menu should offer several healthy choices that include lean protein, such as fish, chicken, and pork; leafy, green vegetables; whole grains; and low-fat dairy. The menu should also include regional cuisine items that are both familial and made with fresh ingredients.
- Does the menu offer variety? Eating at the same location day in and day out doesn’t mean the menu should remain the same. Offering variety entices residents to explore new tastes and broaden their culinary horizons.
- Is staff present during meals? Staff members should be present to provide assistance, answer questions, or just connect on a more personal level with residents.
- Are there consistent items on the menu? As we age, change is not always welcome, so it’s important to have some consistent items on the menu that are “tried and true.”
- Do the chefs use fresh ingredients? Unprocessed, fresh foods carry essential vitamins and nutrients our loved ones need as they age. They also taste better.
- How does the kitchen accommodate dietary restrictions? Diabetes, celiac disease, high blood pressure—all of these health issues affect the foods we should eat and avoid. Make sure that the kitchen is flexible enough to meet your loved one’s specific dietary needs.
- Are there flexible dining times? It’s not uncommon for senior living facilities to offer flexible dining options for those who don’t like to eat at the same time every day or for those residents who are dining with outside visitors. Inquire if this in an option and how flexible the schedule can be, because there may be certain parameters to keep in mind.
- How does the menu change for different levels of assistance? Meals prepared for seniors who require very little assistance will vary from those prepared for seniors with swallowing or dexterity issues. It’s important that the dining hall can accommodate residents of all levels of health and that the food quality does not diminish as the need for services increases.
Your loved one will be spending a great deal of time in the dining hall, so be sure to take the time to thoroughly review the options and services offered as part of your decision-making process. After all, good nutrition is a key component in making sure your loved one has what they need to stay happy and healthy as they age.