There’s a trend in senior living toward offering high-quality cuisine. But one person’s steak tartare is another person’s raw hamburger. Taste buds vary, and sometimes the taste buds of older adults are not what they used to be. But if your parent is regularly complaining about the food in senior living, what forms of recourse do you have?
First of all, your parent shouldn’t have to settle with food that is merely “OK.” Sure, an occasional meal that is not to your parent’s tastes may not be that big a deal. But as our recent analysis of SeniorAdvisor.com reviews confirmed, the dining experience is one of the most important factors in how residents feel about their senior living community.
Why Good Food Is Important
Being forced to live with unappealing dining options is something most people would not tolerate in their day-to-day lives. Imagine if you had to walk into a restaurant three times a day, seven days a week, and knew you were not going to enjoy the food. Of course, you wouldn’t do it.
Likewise, residents at senior living communities should not have to endure unappetizing or bland food choices. Being able to have a pleasant dining experience in senior living—with good food and good conversation—could possibly be the highlight of their day. At the same time, they should expect the food to have good nutritional value as a cornerstone to maintaining good health.
So, putting effort into improving your parent’s dining experience is well worth it. Here are some suggestions for making the culinary aspect of senior living more palatable.
1. Identify declining standards
If you did a thorough job of vetting potential senior living options, perhaps you and your parent already tasted the food and found it to your liking. If the food has gone downhill since then, you would be doing your parent and all the other residents a favor by bringing this to the administrators’ attention. Perhaps there was a change in personnel or food suppliers that is responsible for the decline. If so, administrators may greatly appreciate the heads-up notification, which will enable them to take corrective action and bring the food back up to previous standards.
2. Explore alternatives
Perhaps the food is just fine, but your parent doesn’t care for a particular dish on the menu. Senior living management understands that not everybody is going to like the featured selection on the menu at every single meal, which is why dining departments typically offer alternatives that are available every day. Usually these alternatives are mainstream fare, such as a hamburger, chicken tenders, turkey sandwich, or grilled cheese. But if your dad doesn’t care for the Swedish meatballs that are served up for lunch one day, having a tasty traditional burger may be just what he had in mind.
3. Go “off-menu” by preparing your own food
Dining staffs tend to cook items that they know will have broad appeal—like roast beef, fish fillets, or chicken breasts. The food might be good, but it could get a little boring after a while. If your mom has a senior living apartment, she can opt to cook her own meals whenever she wants to bring some variety to her menu—or you can cook a meal for her. Most senior living communities distribute menus for the entire week, which gives your mom enough time to decide when she is going to eat the provided fare and when she wants to do your own thing.
4. Have take-out menus handy
Another way to perk up your parent’s weekly fare is to bring in an occasional meal from an outside source. If your dad is craving some enchiladas from his favorite Mexican place or some sweet and sour pork from a Chinese carryout, then by all means bring that in as a special evening meal.
5. Spice it up
Sometimes the reason your parent doesn’t like the food is because it seems bland to their taste buds. This is a common occurrence as we age, so a good solution is to have a few spices or condiments on hand for your parent’s use. If your mom has a regular table in the dining room, the dining staff may be able to set those items out at mealtime or keep the condiments there on an everyday basis. However, when spicing up the entrée, make sure your mom doesn’t overdo the salt, as that can be a detriment to her health.
6. Encourage your parent to speak up
Many senior living communities have monthly resident meetings that provide an opportunity for comments or feedback. If your dad thinks the stuffed green peppers are atrocious, he should feel free to say so. And if there’s a consensus among residents that that dish is just not appealing, then everybody in the community can benefit by someone speaking up and getting it nixed from the menu permanently. Conversely, residents should also be encouraged to speak up if there’s something they would like to see added to the menu. For instance, perhaps your mom would like to see more green leafy vegetables on the menu, and the dining staff can adapt the menu accordingly.
Sometimes the best time to give feedback is during the meal itself. For instance, perhaps food is coming to the table lukewarm or even cold. Rather than suffering in silence, your dad should say something to the dining staff so he can get the food served at the temperature he prefers.
Improving Quality of Life
Meals are part of the community’s monthly fee, so your parent deserves to be satisfied. Don’t ever feel that you should live with substandard food. Instead, you and your parent should feel empowered to improve the situation because ultimately, better food leads to better quality of life.
CHIME IN: How is the food at your parent’s senior living community? Have you or your parent taken any steps to improve it?