Right now, residents eating in their rooms for meals are isolated. They may be feeling sad and scared, creating anxiety and depression.

Now more than ever, good nutrition that supports a healthy immune system is important. And don’t even get me started on drinking enough fluid to keep hydrated. Dehydrated cells cannot process the nutrients the body needs to build immunity cells to protect against illness. Good hydration and nutrition are the best way to be proactive against COVID-19.  

In post-acute and skilled nursing, we have the honor of taking care of this beloved, highly susceptible population. Even when communal dining reopens, residents will be eating socially distanced. Providers need to promote good nutrition to support them.

Here are some ideas on how to engage during these isolating, anxiety-ridden times to celebrate with food and nutrition. 

First, be safe. Follow the minimum county, state and federal regulations for Food and Nutrition Services. Have the Food Service supervisor or executive chef work with the registered dietitian nutritionist to provide new and exciting food choices. Also remember that staff may be feeling isolated and scared, too. Let’s not just make more hard work. Keep it simple, silly.  Be compliant with regulations so all staff can feel confident their work demonstrates expertise and provides safe food.

Try Wow Wednesdays. Talk about it Monday and Tuesday and serve the “wow” food item on Wednesday. Talk about it again on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Why one day and not everyday? One day makes it special and something to look forward to each week.

Cherry Garcia cookies

Give residents and staff something to talk about that is not  COVID! Have a flop on the wow item? That’s OK! Admit it and never serve it again.

A “Wow Wednesday” food item:

  1. Uses a recipe with nutritional analysis
  2. Indicates what diets the item is appropriate for use
  3. Has the RDN date and signature of approval
  4. May be a whole meal, a main entrée or salad, a dessert, or a suggestion from a resident

Some successful examples I’ve seen from our post-acute teams include a blueberry cheese blintz at breakfast; faux, poached pears in lavender sauce with blueberries and mint; tricolored chicken tortellini; Mediterranean side salad; strawberry lemonade cupcakes; “Panda-demic” orange chicken bowl served in a “Panda bowl; fruit pizza; and Cherry Garcia cookies.

A colorful chicken tortellini

Let the staff partake. Fund “wow” experiences and food choices for staff from an administrator appreciation budget. Why? Meaningful quality of life is about creating shared experiences. Imagine the certified nurse assistant or nurse walking into the resident room. “It’s Wow Wednesday, Mrs. Taylor. Let’s see if you enjoy the Wow Wednesday item as much as I did.”

Cooks, diet aides, residents and all staff have fun coming up with creative ideas across our facilities. We share pictures, and yes, it also can become a little competitive. This promotes good nutrition and provides a shared experience.  

Leaders emerge in the time of need. Let your food and nutrition staff shine, and everyone will benefit.  

Cindy Dahl, RDN, NHA is senior resource registered dietitian nutritionist for Plum Healthcare in California.