Whether you are from the North or the South, it’s a common activity to eat together with friends and family. No matter the style or cost of food, although necessary for life, most people choose to eat together as a type of celebration or pleasure. Why should it be any different in an assisted living facility? The key is to answer the question that we have all asked, “What do you want to eat for dinner?” We make a choice every time we eat a meal or a snack in our day to day lives. Residents in assisted living facilities should have that same option.
Understanding each facility has variables, what experience are you offering? Is it just an experience that provides food for the residents to eat to live or is it an experience that they can look forward to as part of living?
One of the biggest risk factors for the elderly is unintended weight loss. There are people that need to lose some pounds, but generally speaking. When residents lose unplanned weight, they are at higher risk for fall resulting in fractures, infections, depression and other medical concerns. So, do the residents lose weight frequently in your facility?
A few of the basic requirements for dining in an assisted living facility according to CHAPTER 58A-5 are:
- The residents’ nutritional needs must be met by offering a variety of meals adapted to the food habits, preferences, and physical abilities of the residents, and must be prepared through the use of standardized recipes. For facilities with a licensed capacity of 16 or fewer residents, standardized recipes are not required. Unless a resident chooses to eat less, the facility must serve the standard minimum portions of food according to the Dietary Reference Intakes.
- Eating – Helping residents with or by cutting food, pouring beverages, or feeding residents who are unable to feed themselves.
- “Food Service” means the storage, preparation, service, and clean-up of food intended for consumption in a facility either by facility staff or through a formal agreement that meals will be regularly catered by a third party.
- Food must be served attractively at safe and palatable temperatures. All residents must be encouraged to eat at tables in the dining areas. There must be a supply of eating-ware sufficient for all residents, including adaptive equipment if needed by any resident, must be on hand.
There is not a regulation that determines if you offer restaurant-style dining or more of a home-style dining experience. It does say, though, that it must be attractive. Would the meals your facility serve be considered attractive?
The key is that it is an experience. Many people, when they live by themselves, do not cook or consume the complete meals they consumed when they were with family. So, this is an opportunity to provide quality living by providing a place the residents can enjoy their eating experience.
When paying for care, people believe that 66% of what they are purchasing is the meals. When in reality, the meals only cost approximately 30% of the expense to care for a resident. So people expect if the dining is a wonderful experience then they are getting more of what they paid for. When you walk into a restaurant and you are greeted with a smile and warm bread while you wait, it makes the experience more appealing. What if assisted living facilities offered warm bread while the meal was being served? It is a good time to review the dining experience.
Residents focus on meals prior to moving into an assisted living facility. One of their concerns is that they will have to just eat whatever is served to them. It is such an opportunity to take those fears away.
Start with the staff. Provide examples for the staff to be served a quality experience during a staff meeting. It might just be ham sandwiches, but it can be done with style. Then look at your dining rooms. Do they offer beautiful linens and dinnerware? Teach the staff how to properly set a table. Is there soft music that is appropriate for the residents you serve? In some cases, residents will not want music playing as it could be a distraction for them to focus if they have dementia or some type of related disease, but it can be introduced slowly. With respect to the resident’s choices and preferences, make your dining program a place the residents look forward to.
There is no question that serving food in a way that makes all residents satisfied 100% of the time may not be possible, but it can be a source of pleasure and not just eating to live.