There’s a growing trend among the nation’s more than 15 thousand nursing homes to break away from rigid meal schedules and standard menus to individualized meals which acknowledge their residents’ dietary, ethnic and cultural diversity. Rather than chicken and mashed potatoes Tuesdays imagine instead a Thai-style soup with fresh ginger, vegetables and thin-sliced beef as an option.
The Associated Press reports:
“...the federal government is proposing regulations that would require facilities to create menus that reflect religious, cultural and ethnic needs and preferences, as well. Further, the proposed rules would empower nursing home residents with the "right to make personal dietary choices."
The government acknowledges that the nation's 1.4 million nursing home residents are diverse and that ‘it may be challenging’ to meet every preference. But it wants facilities to offer residents ‘meaningful choices in diets that are nutritionally adequate and satisfying to the individual.’ “
Advocates have argued for these changes for decades but cost is a challenge.
“Janet Burns, chief executive at Sunny Vista, said the cost of fresh food is lower than prepackaged meals, but labor costs are higher. Her dietary costs were $1.08 higher than the nation's average in 2014. However, she said, higher costs are offset by things like preventing weight loss, a problem experienced by many nursing home residents. For example, she said, medication to increase a resident's appetite is more expensive than preparing a special meal. Costs aside, Burns said, ‘It's the right thing to do.’"
The benefits of more appealing and healthier food options could improve not only the quality of life but the health of residents.
“Sandra Simmons, a professor at Vanderbilt University who studies quality of care and life in institutional settings, says studies have shown that the daily caloric intake of 50 percent to 70 percent of nursing home residents is below recommended levels, she said.”
Something as simple as providing more appealing menus could make the difference.