Senior nutrition: Making healthy options appealing

Larry Shifrin, director of dining services at The Fountains of West County
Larry Shifrin, director of dining services at The Fountains of West County

It's no secret that eating well is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. While sticking to a nutritious diet can increase the quality and longevity of life for anyone, it becomes increasingly important with age, as the risks increase for chronic health complications and physical and cognitive degeneration. Serving balanced and nutritious menu options at senior living facilities is an important part of keeping seniors healthy, and making great tasting food is important in keeping them happy.  

Senior living facilities face a number of operational challenges, and menu planning is a constant struggle for some. Overseeing multiple retirement communities, Pedestal Foods makes sure to focus on comprehensive meal planning and close collaboration with each location. Challenges often include meeting a variety of special dietary needs, pleasing different taste preferences and aversions, and keeping the range of offerings manageable for the kitchen and service staff. Mastering these challenges can elevate your dining operation from mediocrity to the elite.

The following are a few tips to keep in mind when building menus that will satisfy all of the aforementioned requirements: healthy, tasty and feasible.

Know your crowd

It's vital to know your audience and the tastes that they have become accustomed to throughout their lives. This can help reduce wasted, uneaten food and improve resident satisfaction. Take the various ethnic and social backgrounds of your residents into consideration and make an effort to accommodate them when possible. It's best to create an open dialogue with residents and listen to their feedback. We like to host occasional town hall meetings with the residents to hear what they think, and we rely on our servers to keep us in tune with residents' opinions on a daily basis.

Integrate comfort foods with healthier options

Some residents haven't cooked meals on their own in years, which can lead to skepticism of healthy options if they aren't familiar with the ingredients. An easy way to build healthy menus with this in mind is to mix comfort foods with low sodium options on the same plate. For example, residents may be more interested in a salad when it is offered alongside a grilled chicken gyro.

Present options thoughtfully

Sometimes it can be as simple as presenting menu items in a thoughtful way. For example, when we have farm fresh eggs or local produce, labeling them with those adjectives is an easy way to communicate quality and make those healthier options instantly more desirable to residents. Educating our residents about how certain foods support their health also helps in gaining their trust and appreciation for what is offered.

Work with a dietitian

As I plan menus, I work hand-in-hand with a dietitian who knows the residents. On-site dietitians can provide specific feedback regarding individual resident's nutritional needs to help guide meal planning.

It can be difficult to plan meals that will please a wide audience, especially within a senior living community with a variety of special needs. We master the challenge by creating open communication with residents about their preferences, working with facility management and staff, and knowing our kitchen's limits in order to keep residents happy and well-fed.  

Larry Shifrin is the director of dining services at The Fountains of West County, a retirement community that offers independent and assisted living. To learn more about healthy meal planning and Pedestal Foods, visit PedestalFoods.com


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