Make Your Healthcare Dining Program a Bright Spot


Put joy back into eating to fight malnutrition and elevate the dining experience.

The quiet and isolation of the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on seniors and people with disabilities. Their loneliness makes them more vulnerable to malnutrition. Right now, your dining program probably can’t feed the hunger for social contact. But it can provide innovative ways to encourage eating and reduce health risks.

Yes, your dining program is much different than it was before COVID-19. But it remains an essential component of nutrition and good health. While you’ve had to adjust and take precautions to navigate COVID-19, you can’t afford to lose sight of goals and targets you had in place before the pandemic.

A two-step plan for success

To offer innovative and elevated dining experiences, plan to adjust based on circumstances in your community during these uncertain times. To succeed, it helps to take a two-step approach:

1. Look to the past. Remind yourself what your pre-pandemic dining experience was like. The pandemic may have led to altering the menu in anticipation of higher costs or labour issues. Did that prevent you from offering choices residents liked? Now is a good time to do a self-audit and think about impactful changes, such as overcoming cost challenges and still allowing choices and variety that encourage eating. 

2. Look to the future. Let your audit help define end goals. Realistic steps will help you get there. Craft a mission statement and train your team on it. The results? Your program will stand out by getting residents excited and interested in eating.

Showcase your innovation

Any changes should take into consideration COVID-19 safety guidelines Here are some examples of innovative ideas:

Upgrade in-room dining

  • Make it feel like room service with digital ordering and delivery
  • Add special touches—garnishes, placemats, scented towelettes, personal notes
  • Focus on resident interaction at mealtime

Feature popular wellness menu options

  • The MIND Diet (a DASH/Mediterranean Diet combo)
  • Plant-forward foods (veg-centric or plant-based entrees)
  • Sustainable/local choices (feel-good, earth-friendly choices)

Raise excitement with a traveling cart. Focus on:

  • Specialty snacks (ice cream, popcorn, smoothies, fresh-baked goods)
  • Appetizers (charcuterie, cheese and crackers)
  • Beverages (mocktails/cocktails, specialty drinks)
  • Full meal service carts (room service, anyone?)

Create food-based activities (virtual, or using safe social distancing)

  • Teaching kitchens (demonstrate and sample a recipe)
  • Happy hour (refreshments and beverages)
  • Cook up a memory (bring loved ones together to create food and share memories)

Increase your meal plan options

  • Use delivery and pickup options for regular meals
  • Menu do-it-yourself meal kits
  • Offer prepared entrees in single- or double portions
  • Deliver groceries

Connect to residents without full meal plans

  • Open a micro-mart with grab-and-go meals, groceries
  • Host your own farmers market

Think about the broader community

  • Provide meal delivery or pickup services
  • Offer prospective residents a meal (curbside or delivery)

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Food for thought.

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