Enhancing Nursing Home Dining

My civic-minded in-laws created a dining companion program at their Continuing Care Retirement Community. Couples invite singles who sign up for the program to share a meal with them, fostering a flow between community members and helping to bridge the divide that often develops between the two groups once a spouse is lost.

As my in-laws know, meals are one of the most enjoyable aspects of life for many people, nursing home residents included, and it’s important not to neglect the social dimension even when the focus is on dietary needs.
Here are some things I’ve noticed make for a pleasant nursing home dining experience, plus others I hope to see:

  • Hot food served hot, and cold food served cold
  • At least a four-week food rotation, so each meal is repeated infrequently
  • Separate dining areas (or seatings) for residents more able to dine independently
  • Table service similar to a restaurant, with care taken in serving the food
  • Flowers on the tables (plastic or silk works fine)
  • Dining music
  • Residents who speak only one language seated with residents who speak their language
  • Residents on chopped or pureed diets seated with others on similar diets (reduces food envy)
  • Seating flexibility so friends can join each other at will
  • Dietary department-approved spices and condiments available to those who’d like them
  • A place for people who are being tube-fed to hang out and socialize during mealtimes
  • Is this one a total pipe-dream? A drizzle of contrasting color puree to enhance the appearance of pureed meals
Please add your suggestions in the Comments section below.

9 thoughts on “Enhancing Nursing Home Dining”

  1. My grandma's nursing home has an 'event room' that can be rented out. This meant she was able to host family for her 89th birthday party at 'her home'.

    She appreciated being in control (the nursing home is much better trained to deal with her slightly-slower-with-new-information manner then most restaurants), she was happy not to be dependent on others for a ride and she was especially relieved not to have to rely on her daughter for one more thing.

    And her friends could attend and meet the family!

  2. Thank you for the suggestions. It is important to remember that variety is th spice of life, no matter how old we are. Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.

  3. Dr. El,
    I like all of your suggestions, particularly flexible seating. I would also like to add having a couple of alternates to the regular menu and how about wait staff dressed liked wait staff and not like dietary workers?

    Contrasting color for pureed meals? Surely your joking!

  4. I understand the concept of having separate dining for individuals who need specific assistance with feeding.

    However, some communities don't allow or encourage residents with walkers, wheelchairs or those needing some assistance to dine in the "independent" dining room.

  5. Maike, how wonderful that your grandmother had the opportunity to host her own party, at her own place. When family members meet together at the nursing home, it can break a barrier for some relatives who might hesitate to visit on their own.

    Paul, if I had to eat the same food every third week for the rest of my life, that alone would induce depression. For those who like consistency, there's always baked chicken. the standard back-up meal at every nursing home.

    Sue, good ideas. It doesn't take much to transform a dietary worker or aide into a waiter or waitress. An apron and a smile would do it. Transforming a day room into a dining room is simple too. Tablecloths make a world of difference very quickly. Regarding the contrasting color drizzle for puree, I'm serious about making foods more appealing in their presentation.

    Steve, in nursing homes almost everybody is in a wheelchair, with a few people using walkers, so there's not that kind of segregation.

  6. Just read these posts. In my mom's nursing home the food is, well, pretty mediocre, made worse by being lukewarm to cool by the time (hot) foods are served.
    The dining room is kept very cheery, with small decorations for the season or holiday, but it is run to make maximum use of limited staff ( everybody at once), and there isn't much available for a private family get-together (i have been given the use of the social worker's office). On the other hand, by sitting w/my mom at her table, I got to know her tablemates, and got a clearer idea of the whole place. Not bad, except for the food! I suspect that the problem may be a combination of tight-fisted purchasing, a grouchy cook, and lack of imagination

  7. Anonymous, I'm hoping for a reality TV show that takes place in nursing home kitchens, where a top chef completely recharges the way food is purchased, prepared, presented, and served.

    • Thanks, Tiffany, for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you’re finding the website helpful. With regard to the reality show — some day, perhaps.


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