“Physically and socially, the dining room can be seen as a microcosm of the larger environment,” writes J. Kevin Eckert in his book, Inside Assisted Living: The Search for Home. “Meals organize the day for residents and staff members, in part because of the amount of time involved in all aspects of dining.”
Besides, people considering the move to assisted living often fear loss of control. When you can’t control every aspect of your daily life, the process of choosing when and what to eat becomes a highly valued human right.
News flash! Food is good at East Bay assisted-living communities
Makes sense, right? Berkeley and Oakland boast a rep as “foodie” destinations. Our senior living places offer skilled cooks who love whipping up delicious dishes. Our high-end communities use fresh, seasonal ingredients, serving foods of many cuisines made from scratch.
Consumer demand for greater variety and quality of foods, combined with growing emphasis on autonomy, have resulted in full-service dining programs that deliver diverse, nutritionally balanced menus, 2-3 choices of popular entrees and side dishes, and healthy snacks and drinks available day and night.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink?
Some assisted living apartments have updated kitchenettes with dorm-room half-size fridges, microwave or convection oven, and deep sinks, but lack a stovetop or much counter space.
But from what I hear, most residents prefer to eat in the dining room.
In many East Bay board and care homes, the dining room is a cozy common space adjacent to an upgraded kitchen, where cooks customize each meal for each resident. Most board-and-care residents need special and/or pureed diets so individual attention is vital. It’s important to know the quality of the ingredients so ask during your evaluation visit.
The other day, I visited an El Sobrante assisted-living home where the chef was fixing a meal of fried quail eggs with chorizo in a contemporary suburban kitchen. Then I dropped by a Richmond home where lunch was sizzling rice soup and beef chow fun served in a large commercial-style kitchen.
All the big national assisted-living companies have shifted to using fresh, not frozen, ingredients, from local sources when possible. Some major providers even send their chefs to culinary institute training and competitions. They regularly switch up their menus.
All East Bay assisted-living kitchens offer low-sodium and diabetic choices, among other dietary needs, such as vegetarian or gluten-free. Individual menus at group homes also more easily can cater to specific international, regional, and cultural preferences.
Corporate foodies take command
Some assisted-living places contract meal prep and service to large food-service and dining management firms that specifically cater to residential-care communities and nursing facilities, such as Unidine, which emphasizes sustainability and culinary excellence. Yes, it’s institutional food. But the institution has been taken over by corporate foodies.
In a 2011 report, “Dining Programs in Senior Communities Require a Fresh Approach,” Unidine describes its philosophy as “a more natural approach… fresh, high quality ingredients and … preparation techniques that preserve nutrition, flavor, texture and visual appeal.
“As a result, seniors find their dining experience more enjoyable and increase their intake of nutrient‐rich food,” the Unidine report continues. “Residents receive their daily calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber without – or with only minimal – use of supplements, diuretics and medication to support regularity.”
Food and dining trends in East Bay Senior Living
- Flexible or extended mealtime schedules
- 24/7 availability of fresh fruit, yogurt, gourmet coffee, teas and juices, other healthy snacks
- International and special menus for events, holidays, birthdays, and picnics
- Array of entree choices
- Dining areas designed like cafes and bistros
Dining programs at high-end communities MUST offer premium menus that justify the costs of living there.
And regardless of assisted-living costs, residents should expect meals that are pleasing, nourishing, and comforting.
Make sure your assisted-living evaluation visits involve dining -- at least ask for a menu!
Our guided tours of assisted-living dining rooms can include a meal. On the house.
Email Linda -at- EldersTogether -dot- com I'll make reservations.
"Food, as well as mealtime memories, intrinsically links individuals to memories of home”
J. Kevin Eckert, Inside Assisted Living: The Search for Home