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Meal Planning
How to Know if the Food's Good

What's the first question that comes to mind when looking for an assisted living facility?

"Is the food any good?"

It's the first thing people want to know - no matter where the food's served up; in a new restaurant or residential care home. People want food to taste good. Period.

For residents in senior housing, food takes priority even over other amenities. Quality food offers nourishment and nutrition are an older person's defense to chronic illness and declining health. But if it doesn't taste good, it doesn't get eaten. And if it doesn't get eaten, where's the nourishment?

Food for Thought

Look for assisted living communities that hire a cooking staff and chef with aspiring tastes and trying new flavors from around the world. Chefs who bring in local vendors who specialize in organic and fresh produce and support objectives related to health, wellness, sustainability and community involvement create the memorable meals.

Premier chefs guide residents through cooking topics, preparation techniques, tips for exploring new types of cuisine, and nutritional benefits of healthier ingredients.

Questions to Ask about Meals in Assisted Living Facilities

Food is Top Priority for Residents
Food is Top Priority for Residents

One of the easiest ways is to ask the people who eat it every day. Don't stop there. Ask the professional staff too, specifically about the meal service.

Meals Matter: Good Questions to ask about Meals in Assisted Living Facilities

  • Who handles preparing the meals here?
  • How often are they served?
  • Are specialized diets for conditions like diabetes, obesity and celiac disease available?
  • Are any types of cultural or ethnic cuisines offered?
  • Are residents involved in menu planning?
  • Do residents help with meal preparation and have access to the kitchen?
  • Are snacks/beverages available between meals?
  • Are extra helpings available?
  • Can substitutions be made?
  • Are meals brought to the room or served in a dining hall?

It's a fact that eating healthier leads to an active lifestyle.

Foods to Watch

Start with the menu offerings. Assisted living food services work directly with a resident's health and wellness plan. Make sure the facility generates good nutrition into their dining program.

Flavorful, nutritious and satisfying food begins with fresh ingredients. It's better if the kitchen cooks-from-scratch all the meals and follow recipes designed to use fresh and seasonal ingredients. When they do, residents eat great tasting meals that are nutritious.

Freshly roasted meats, homemade salad dressings, and organically grown vegetables are a few examples of how tasty and nutritious foods are when prepared correctly.

Other healthy alternatives are low-fat cheeses, home-made low-fat calorie salad dressings, condiments, turkey bacon, low-carbohydrate bread, and fruit or a small side salad in place of potato chips.

Instead of cakes, cookies and cupcakes for dessert, are healthy choices like fresh fruit, yogurt parfait, Jell-O and puddings served?

Vegetarian menus are a top choice for nutritional foods. Vegetarian meals go beyond salads and pasta. Chefs know the secret to preparing creative non-meat entrees that combine hearty protein, whole grains, and unsaturated fat. They're tasty too.

Benefits of Fresh Food

  • Improves flavor
  • Improves nutrition
  • Reduces use of supplements
  • Improves health and wellness

These types of healthy food alternatives are an excellent way to fight obesity and chronic illness.

The Truth about Food Tastes

Food and older adult taste buds

Older people complain about how food tastes. Do you know why?

It's in the buds - your taste buds. They change over time and affect the flavor of foods. And for older adults same foods don't taste the way it did some time ago. As the body ages, so do the taste buds. Adults have over 6,000 taste buds; elderly people have only 2,000 to 3,000.

It doesn't mean that the flavor of foods diminish forever, and you'll never enjoy food again.

On the contrary, it means that food needs more seasoning than it's getting. Put down the salt shaker, because there are other things that can increase the savory nature of food. Lessen salt intake by using other ingredients such as cayenne pepper, rosemary, garlic, and more. The stronger a seasoning, the more likely you will be able to sense it and enjoy your food again.

An informal study done by a chef in Germany noted that seniors were more likely to react favorably to aromatic foods and cheeses. Aged cheese, especially those very sharp appeal to most adults and were high on the list of most enjoyed foods.

The good thing about adding more seasonings is that many of the herbs and spices used to create savory dishes are beneficial to the body. Garlic offers anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-microbial functions in the body. The traditional bulb is the high blood purifier and is chock full of strong taste so needed for seniors. Rosemary is also great for treating and preventing influenza. Cinnamon and cayenne pepper have properties that help both glucose levels and arthritis symptoms.

The body needs some salt for regular functioning, but salt is a restriction for many elderly people, and they need to follow a sodium freestyle of meals. It is essential to add salt carefully to food if you or someone you love has a sodium restricted diet. Only add salt to home prepared foods - vegetables, meats, and avoid adding any salt at all to prepackaged food.

Well-seasoned foods eliminate dull meal-times and skipping meals altogether, which leads to eating the wrong foods and weight loss.

Eat often, Eat less Dilemma

Eat Three Square Meals a Day
Eat Three Square Meals a Day

Smaller meals that are eaten more often could be better in the long run but when you do, it could mean less nutrition and more calories if you don't carefully plan out the meals.

Dr. Andrew Weil, Founder, and Director, The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine suggests that eating many small meals has two adverse effects:

Those extra meals aren't vegetable-intensive, home-cooked ones. They are "energy bars" (a euphemism for candy bars), and snack mixes. In other words, high-glycemic-load processed snacks. When told to "eat many small meals," what people do is eat all the time, making them compulsive over-eaters. It's no coincidence that obesity rates began to rise after the "eat less more often" widespread endorsements.

The other major culprit was the government's scientifically shaky "low-fat" dietary recommendation that led to rampant overconsumption of carbohydrates. Dr. Weil says, "In my travels around the world, I am often struck by how rarely I see people eating in their cars, or while strolling down the street, or otherwise outside the traditional time and space boundaries of a meal. In the U.S., these behaviors are ubiquitous."

Dr. Weil suggests returning to the once-common practice of eating three square meals a day without snacking. He believes people would be healthier for it. Read the article on Fasting by Dr. Weil.

Cook Meals You Love in Your Assisted living Kitchen

There's no reason to abandon your love of cooking! If you live in an apartment style assisted living facility and are still able to cook on a daily basis - don't give up cooking because you are only cooking for yourself.

Almost every recipe minimizes to one serving. Even if you are unable to reduce the ingredients to your desired serving, portion the finished meal into single servings and freeze the extras. A zip top plastic bag can hold one meal. Stack these meals in your freezer for the times you do not want to cook.

Freezing Meals and Meal Ideas

Freeze freshly made sauces in ice-cube trays and thaw one cube at a time. Do the same with broth. Purchase sectioned plates from most $1 type stores that travel from the freezer to the microwave. Imagine - homemade frozen dinners for fraction of the cost!

  1. Breakfast and lunch are easy to reduce portions into a single serving. Even meals made 'from scratch' are simple to reduce. A single breakfast sandwich, a single egg with a slice of bacon (turkey or traditional) or two pancakes and a sausage link; depending on your tastes - a serving of last night's leftovers will work, too!
  2. Lunch is just as simple. A few leaves of your favorite lettuce type, one baby carrot chopped, a few black olives, sliced tomato, a great lite salad. Just two tablespoons of each ingredient will give you a hearty salad. A single serving of pasta cooks quickly and enjoyed with butter and herbs. A fresh and tasty lunch is homemade bruschetta: a crusty, toasted Italian bread, drizzled with olive oil and covered with chopped tomatoes, Italian herbs, and onions to taste. One slice equals one serving.
  • Eat for the Health of it
  • Build a healthy plate
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt
  • Eat the right amount of calories for you
  • Be physically active

Improving what you eat and being active reduces the risks of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and obesity.

Carol Marak
Carol Marak

After seven years of helping her aging parents, Carol Marak has become a dedicated senior care writer. Since 2007, she has been doing the research to find answers to common concerns: housing, aging and health, staying safe and independent, and planning long-term.