How Do Assisted Living Communities Manage Dietary Requests

For a person living in an assisted living facility facility, the quality of a community is assessed by the quality of meals served, the dining area, and overall food service. One of the important aspects of assisted living food service is how a particular community manages the dietary requests of a resident.

Regarding the matter of how assisted living facilities manage dietary requests, we consider the issue in six specific categories:

  • Medical diets
  • Religious diets
  • Personal food preferences
  • Input into menus
  • In-room versus dining-room meal service
  • Personal food preparation

Medical Dietary Needs

A significant percentage of people who move into an assisted living community have dietary requirements based on medical needs or health conditions. For example, a large percentage of Americans over the age of 65 have been diagnosed with diabetes.

While assisted living communities have their own protocols regarding medical diet needs, and state statutes and regulations regarding these types of dietary requirements also come into play, there is a generally followed course used by these types of long-term care facilities. The “normal course” is for a prospective resident’s primary care physician or other healthcare providers to prepare a statement, letter, or directive outlining of any special dietary needs of a prospective resident.

This type of special medical letter is only needed if a prospective resident has a less common type of dietary needs. If a prospective resident is diagnosed with something like diabetes, the ability for that individual to obtain an appropriate diet should be able to be made simple. A typical assisted living facility will likely already have something appropriate for residents with medical conditions like diabetes (medical conditions that are more commonplace).

Religious Dietary Requests

People who adhere to different religious practices can have dietary needs that arise from their beliefs. For example, Jewish people may stick to a Kosher diet. Muslims do not eat pork. Many Catholics still comply with the practice of not eating meat on Fridays.

When it comes to these types of religious dietary needs, most assisted living communities can accommodate them relatively easily. The key is making sure that the staff of an assisted living community is aware of the need to providing menu items that can accommodate religious practices. Before moving into a particular assisted living facility, a person with religious-based dietary needs should understand if a community can make such an accommodation and how it will go about doing it.

Personal Food Preferences and Requests

An ever-growing segment of the population has dietary preferences and needs that are not necessarily based on medical or religious needs. For example, more people in the United States adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet than have done so in years gone by. Most assisted living communities can accommodate residents who maintain vegetarian diets. Many, but not all, are able to accommodate individuals who follow a vegan diet.

Some facilities may not have had occasion to develop vegan alternatives but may be willing to do so if it is necessary for a prospective resident. The key to determining what an assisted living facility can and cannot do regarding personal food preferences and requests is to explore this issue before signing an agreement to live in a particular community.

Input Into Menus

Many assisted living communities welcome resident input into menu planning. In other words, they welcome suggestions from residents regarding what they would like to see served for meals. Smaller assisted living communities are particularly likely to have residents be more directly involved in developing menus at their facilities. Even when residents are directly affected, menus developed at assisted living communities will need to meet state-mandated requirements when it comes to nutrition and diet.

In-Room Versus Dining Room Meal Service

Generally speaking, assisted living communities encourage their residents to eat in communal dining areas. As mentioned previously, meals are an integral part of life in assisted living. However, assisted living facilities do not force their residents to eat in common dining areas. Therefore, assisted living residents can obtain meals to eat in their rooms.

Some communities will deliver food to a resident’s apartment or room. Others offer a resident the ability to pick up meals “to-go” and take them to his or her apartment or room. Some have both options.

Personal Food Preparation

Some residents have the desire to prepare their own meals. This certainly is a possibility when a assisted living resident is in an apartment unit with a kitchen.

In some instances, a resident might like to prepare his or her own meals sometimes, eat in the dining room at other times, and bring food from the dining room back to his or her apartment on different occasions. The bottom line is that one of the goals of assisted living is to attempt to optimize a resident’s independence. This includes optimizing independence and personal agency when it comes to issues surrounding diets and dining. Therefore, freedom and flexibility must be present in preparing meals when a resident has the appliances to do so in his or her residential unit.

In conclusion, it bears repeating that understanding the practices and protocols of how an assisted living community manages diet requests before signing an agreement with a facility is a must. As another element of this aspect of due diligence, it is also wise to visit an assisted living community for at least one meal to get an up-close look at food service and what can be expected in that regard. Indeed, ideally, a prospective resident makes it a point to visit an assisted living community at different times that permit that individual to sample each of the three main meals of the day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.