Food is Medicine: Creating Enjoyable, Healthy Dining Experiences for Seniors

While some people think food in senior care facilities is always bland and monotonous, at NHC, we’re committed to providing delicious meals that bring both enjoyment and nourishment.

We know that food is both a key component of health and also a source of joy, memory, and pleasure. Our menus are carefully crafted to provide patients with experiences that make them feel at home, while also giving them the nutrients they need.

Whether your loved one is staying in a skilled nursing facility, or getting ready to move into long-term care, here’s an overview of all the ways we help ensure their dietary needs will be taken care of.

An Individualized Approach to Nutrition

No two patients have the same needs and preferences, so we work with each patient from day one to craft a dietary plan that makes sense for them. On a patient’s first day at one of our centers, a registered dietitian will document their food preferences, allergies, intolerances, and any health issues that may make eating more challenging.

We also pay attention to their specific health goals and look for ways to provide them with nutrients that will make those outcomes more achievable. This isn’t just an administrative task, it’s a key part of our treatment strategy. Proper nutrition provides patients with the energy they need to succeed in therapy sessions, improves cognitive function, strengthens immunity, and can even speed up recovery rates.

NHC Corporate Chef Steve Smith often quotes Hippocrates, who said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” This idea guides his efforts when he’s planning menus or crafting new recipes, reminding him that healthy, delicious food can transform a person’s health.

A Wide Array of Food Options

To help make sure that each patient can access foods that fit their dietary goals while also eating meals they genuinely enjoy, each NHC facility offers a wide array of options.

With beautiful salads, roasted meats, fresh fish, and seasonal produce, our centers prove time and time again that healthy food can still be delicious. Each menu is created and approved by registered dietitians and specifically designed for older adults.

Centers also have the opportunity to customize their menus to their patients and location. Our dietary managers and kitchen staff take time to create special meals for holidays so patients don’t feel like they’re missing out on old traditions. Our dining services also provide regional favorites like fried catfish in the South, classic comfort foods like fried chicken and meatloaf, and farm-to-table meals featuring local, seasonal produce.

Dietary Support from the Experts

Some seniors may require more support and creative solutions to help them take in the nutrients they need. For example, a patient with mouth or tooth pain might struggle to eat meats and other difficult-to-chew foods, so they’ll need to get their protein from other sources like a protein powder or a broth.

Other patients, especially those in our memory care facilities, struggle with hydration. To help with this, Chef Steve and his team developed a creative solution called “Juicy Jewels,” a Jello-like substance that’s made up of fruit juice and electrolytes. Patients are excited to eat these delicious treats that taste like candy, and they also provide much-needed hydration.

When patients are deficient in a key nutrient like Vitamin D, which is linked to bone health and to conditions like dementia and depression, dietitians will work with them to make sure they’re getting enough of that nutrient, whether it’s through vitamin-rich foods, supplements, or powders.

Our dietary workers also collaborate closely with other areas of the center, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, and nursing.

At our skilled nursing facilities, patients can even receive support after discharge. Social workers factor nutrition into their discharge plans and work to make sure patients can access the foods and nutrients they require for optimal health, even after they return home.

To hear more from members of our food service team, we encourage you to listen to this episode of the Day by Day podcast.

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