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Dining & Food in Assisted Living

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Food & Dining in Assisted Living FacilitiesWhen moving to an assisted living community, you can expect a wide range of changes, but meals don’t have to be one of those extreme differences. Every senior living community, retirement home, or memory care facility will offer dining options for their residents. Each location will have menu variations and different nutrition structures, but most will follow a common thread.

Anytime you are curious or unsure about what a community has to offer, it is a good idea to ask the enrollment manager. It doesn’t matter if you have already chosen which location you plan to live or if you are still in the searching process. Asking about the amenities available is the best way to ensure that you are prepared in advance of your relocation. We have put together a simple guide that will help you understand what to expect when it comes to your dining options in an assisted living facility.

Understand the Cost

The cost of living in a retirement or assisted living community is more affordable than maintaining an independent home. Many expenses are rolled into the monthly or yearly fee of the community, but meals may be billed separately. It is important that you find out upfront about the way the facility charges for meals, snacks, meal plans and community-based consumable fare.

Some residential assisted living homes may have a fee structure that is similar to that of a country club membership. In this type of fee setting, the meals are offered at a discounted rate. Often, there is a minimum number of meals that must be purchased within a specific time frame. These timeframes are usually based on a weekly or quarterly model. In the event that a senior doesn’t meet the minimum, they will still be billed for the missed meals. The best way to avoid missing the minimums is to keep track of your receipts or to purchase a “book” of meal slips in advance. 

Assisted living communities near you may offer a set number of meals per week or per month for a base rate. In these billing models, snacks or extra meals may be billed separately, but missed meals won't roll over to the next month.

Paying for Your Meals

Assisted living communities bill their residents on a monthly basis or they send out statements for accounts that are paid in advance. This billing practice extends to meal and dining so residents don’t need to carry cash every time they have a meal.

Meal plan charges and À la carte charges will be listed in one lump sum or in line item form on each monthly bill. Meal and snack charges will be billed along with any other extra charges that have been incurred over the space of the previous month. These charges can include travel, medications, doctor visits, gift shop billing or even outing expenses. There is generally no extra charge for table service that is provided by the caregivers at the facility. Unlike a regular restaurant, tipping is not expected or required.

Innovations in Assisted Living Food Service Options

As baby boomers enter the phase of their lives that bring them under the care of an assisted living facility, many communities are bringing changes to the industry. Most seniors who are entering retirement communities and assisted living homes are much different than the generation that came before them. This batch of seniors has higher expectations, more varied taste, and tend to know exactly what they want in terms of cuisine.

Many incoming seniors have expectations and tastes that are diametrically opposed to options that may have been suitable for many years. Instead, most assisted living facilities have created new menus and creative cuisines that appeal to baby boomers from every background.

Healthy Living & Clean Food Options

The focus on clean living and organic products affects everyone, including seniors. Many older people grew up eating healthy fare and are happy to see that the world is losing its love affair with pre-packaged food options. The return to more natural food and organic preparation means seniors are able to enjoy both natural and nutritious ingredients.

Assisted living communities will often offer a wide range of dining options that cover:

  • Vegan meals
  • Gluten-Free meals
  • Hallal options
  • Vegetarian meals
  • International variations
  • Kosher options
  • Branded offerings
  • And more!

In the past, there would never be a senior who would receive a plate without at least one piece of meat. The same goes for residential care facilities offering international fares such as German sausages or Asian curries. With the world changing quickly and the blending population aging into the same communities, the food options now available are endless.

Meal Plan Packages

Meal plan packages are a common option in senior assisted living communities. Depending on the facility, these packages may be offered separately or as part of the personal care arrangement. Every resident has their own nutritional needs and eating habits. Some seniors prefer to eat only twice a day, while others may take four smaller meals. There are meal plans that will also address special diets prescribed by a dietitian or medical professional that may include diets low in sugar or sodium to lower blood pressure.

Many seniors will still cook for themselves, but there are plenty that will enjoy handing over those tasks to their caregivers. Meals may be offered in-suite, in a common area, or in a restaurant-style arrangement somewhere in the community.

The layout of meal plans varies from place to place, but most assisted living facilities will allow you to choose from a monthly package or a weekly package. This is a great way to find out which plan works best for you or to make changes according to your mood and schedule.

À la carte Meal Options

When you live on your own, you are used to eating or not eating according to your own whim and schedule. Moving into an assisted living facility is intended to help ease the strain of maintaining a household without limiting your independence. As a result, assisted living homes will often offer À la carte options in addition to regular meal packages. This will allow residents to have a set number of meals in addition to extra meals at their leisure. Pricing for À la carte meals are usually per plate instead of per item as found in a commercial restaurant. This is perfect for residents that have an additional guest on occasion, or who simply have a bigger appetite on some days over others.

Meal Locations & Guest Services

Living in an assisted living community is intended to be a replacement for your original home. That being said, anytime you would like to invite friends or family members to visit or if they just want to pop over on a whim, it is greatly encouraged. Just like in your own home, guests are able to share a meal with the residents during their visit. Make sure to ask the staff about the policies, as in many cases advance notice or reservations for extra meal portions are required. This is just to ensure that there is always enough food for the residents as well as any guest that may stop by. The great thing about entertaining a guest while residing in an assisted living facility is that there is a helping hand for foodservice. Another advantage is that the dining area is always beautifully decorated. The only thing you have to do is pay your monthly bill instead of toiling all day in the kitchen to treat your guest. 

Everyone falls sick at times or just would prefer to be alone. Many assisted living communities, especially the upscale assisted living facilities, offer room service and meal delivery for residents who prefer to eat in privacy. In most facilities, meals delivered to the room when a resident is under the weather don’t carry an additional charge. However, facilities may have a monthly cap on the number of days this service can be availed. Other locations may offer room delivery on a regular basis for an additional monthly fee. Make sure to speak with the enrollment officer during intake if this is a service that interests you.

Dining Freedom

There are always times when a person may have a craving for something that is not part of the regular menu. In some rare cases, assisted living facilities may not offer dining room service at all. There is no rule or limitation that prevents residents from ordering online, over the phone or even going out to their favorite eatery in the area.

Meal Arrangements for Active Seniors

For the more healthy and active seniors, many assisted living communities are able to provide smaller kitchens in their apartments. This allows you to have both assistance and room maintenance made available for you, but also maintain the luxury of still directing most of your life and meals the way you want. These facilities still provide well-trained staff ready to help with safety. They also offer supervision while allowing each patient the freedom of maintaining their lives in ways that they’d most enjoy. For those active parents and grandparents, assisted living communities can be the perfect solution to finding the right place to call home.

Flexible Menus and Choices Galore

One of the best things about moving into an assisted living facility is that there are many options available for each resident. A community that offers diverse alternate menu items and meaningful meal substitutions will have a community full of happy residents. Often times, just being able to pick up a menu and choosing between 20 different meal options is enough to satisfy most seniors. Most quality assisted care homes will also create something from scratch if the resident doesn’t care for anything offered on the menu. This also gives families of residents the peace of mind in knowing that their loved one will have nutritious and abundant food choices for every meal.

Social Events, Holiday Dining & Special Occasions

Birthdays, holidays and other special dates are often times to gather and enjoy a special meal with friends and family members. Many assisted living communities will continue those traditions by organizing buffet-style meals or special dinners on important dates such as Christmas, Fourth of July and Veterans Day. Depending on the facility, birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events can also be celebrated with friends and family with advance notice.

This is great for seniors to stay connected and social while still getting the much-needed assistance they need. Most senior living homes will host several parties during each holiday season, some that are for residents only and others that are for family members. Another great benefit of this arrangement is that the caring staff at these homes will handle the decorations on behalf of the residents to reduce the stress that comes with entertaining.

Senior Dining – A Full Experience

Just because a person has moved into an assisted living community or a retirement home doesn’t mean that they no longer have an interested in entertainment. In fact, most seniors prefer to live in a community for seniors so that they can spend more of their golden years enjoying life as opposed to maintaining a household. When it comes to dining, that same thought process holds true. Seniors have no interest in simply eating their meals in an assembly line manner - they prefer the full experience.

Many communities for seniors make sure to offer their seniors a memorable experience at every meal. Sometimes this may be as simple as table-side service with a flair, all the way to open concept kitchens that allow seniors to experience the thrill of live cooking before it reaches their table. Creative seating arrangements will encourage activity and interaction between residents to help dispel the feeling of dining in an “institution.”

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