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Senior Living Menus Turn to Fine Dining for Baby Boomer Residents

Senior living dining, much like school lunches, used to be pretty low on the amenities totem pole. But over the past couple of decades, senior living has improved immensely – and so has the food. In fact, many senior living communities are now offering meals at the caliber of fine dining.

older woman at table eating pizza, to illustrate senior living dining

Senior Living Dining as It Used to Be

Meals in assisted living, memory care communities and nursing homes were once created with different goals. To make food that most residents could eat, senior-living kitchens used salt and spices in moderation – making for meals that were bland at best. Food was often overcooked, with the belief that softer was better. And fresh foods sometimes were overlooked to keep costs down.

That’s not the case anymore. As the baby boomer generation encountered senior living – for themselves and their parents – consumers began demanding more. Many people are choosing active adult communities or independent living communities these days as they downsize their homes. With taste buds firmly intact, they want to enjoy everything about their meals – from the choices to the taste to the service. Basically, they want the dining experience they’d get at a restaurant.

Senior living communities are recognizing that and responding. Here’s one reason why. An American Time Use Survey revealed that adults between 65 and 74 reported spending about seven hours a day on leisure activities. While they devoted just under an hour and a half to eating and drinking, that’s still 10 minutes longer than Americans as a whole.

So it was just a matter of time before active-adult and other senior living communities put leisure and eating together. Residents, even active ones, consider meals to be an activity. Dining is a significant and important part of their day. Enter fine dining.

Senior Living Dining as It Is Today

 

food on a plate

Nowadays, senior living communities are joining country clubs and restaurants in the competition for top chefs. Instead of yesteryear’s senior meals featuring a single plate of uninteresting food, senior living dining today is an interactive experience. Food is both delicious and diverse.

Every day, we read about the importance of healthy eating. That has become a huge component in senior dining as well. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lower sodium, and gluten-free and vegetarian options are all standard fare these days. And no more mush! Food is often made from scratch and from farm to table. You’ll find options from chicken and fish – elegantly and “taste”-fully prepared with sauces and spices – to steaks, pizza, sandwiches, and even sushi.

In addition to professional chefs, many senior living communities have dieticians and wellness staff on hand to help plan meals that are as well-balanced as they are tasty. Some communities even have a panel of residents to provide suggestions and feedback regarding what they would like to see on the menu.

Dining From Formal to Casual

senior couple toasting with wine at dinner

The emphasis on providing a fine dining experience means residents can gather in the dining room and relax. Residents can catch up with old friends or make new ones. They can even invite family members to join them. (Some communities have separate private dining rooms for residents’ special occasions.)

In top communities, residents are made to feel like they’re in a five-star restaurant with tablecloths and linens, crystal glasses, and fine china. Some communities serve alcohol with meals or even host happy hours. Larger communities, besides a dining room, might offer a more casual bistro, cafe or even a pub.

Understanding that residents have both individual tastes and unique health needs, menus are commonplace in senior living communities. Some may be full menus with as many options as a “regular” restaurant. Others may offer a couple of options for that specific meal. Either way, residents have choices.  

Oh, and did we mention the wait staff? Yes, diners are actually waited on, with orders taken and food delivered to the table one course at a time. The better to enjoy the food – and the experience. Bon appétit!

Sample Senior Living Menus and Recipes

The following links will give you a taste of the food being served at communities operated by some of the largest senior living companies in the United States. All the companies cited below offer at least independent living, assisted living, and memory care.

Sunrise Senior Living menus and cookbooks: https://www.sunriseseniorliving.com/sunrise-life/dining.aspx

Elmcroft Senior Living sample menu: http://www.elmcroft.com/resources/dining/

Five Star Senior Living recipes: https://www.fivestarseniorliving.com/signature-dining/our-recipes

(Five Star communities on After55.com)

Holiday Retirement cookbook and recipes: http://www.holidaytouch.com/life-at-holiday/inside-the-kitchen

(Holiday Retirement communities on After55.com)

Where to Expect Senior Living Dining

A dining room at Renaissance Luxury Retirement Living, Sun Lakes, Arizona.

Generally, you can expect to find dining and meal programs in the following types of senior living communities:

  • Independent living
  • Assisted living
  • Memory care
  • Nursing homes
  • Continuing care

You generally won’t find on-site dining in senior apartments and homes-for-rent or homes-for-sale communities, though they might have small cafes for coffee and pastries.

If dining options are important to you …

When browsing senior-living communities on After55.com, just look for the labels “Full-Service Dining Room” and “Meals Provided” under Community Features.

Related articles:

Luxury Retirement Communities: What to Expect

Top 12 Senior Housing Companies in the United States

The Best Senior Housing Design

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  • Sue Sveum

    About Sue Sveum:

    After helping her own parents as they aged, Sue began working with other seniors, and now shares what she learned in her blogs for seniors and their families. She currently writes about seniors and healthcare for several websites but her past includes diverse topics ranging from dogs to weddings to ghosts. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and Golden retriever, Wrigley.

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