Celebrity chef James Beard once said “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” When we gather around the table to share a meal, it fulfills both a nutritional and a social need. Of course, food fuels us and keeps our bodies healthy. Yet it’s equally true that eating and enjoying food with loved ones sustains us in a way that calories alone can’t.
But for people living with cognitive or physical challenges, eating can become harder and therefore less enjoyable. Assisted Living communities, which have a strong basis in hospitality, have always looked for ways to heighten quality of life by focusing on aspects like dining, and Watermark Retirement Communities is no exception. Jill Hofer, Watermark’s Director of Communications, shares that the company recently rolled out a new dining program for residents living with cognitive and physical challenges.
According to Hofer, there were three commitments in the development of this new program: first, to promote the dignity and independence of residents who previously needed assistance during meals; second, to increase the nutritional value of the meals that residents were eating; and third, to promote better clinical outcomes, such as decreasing unintentional weight loss, through a more well-balanced diet and appealing food presentation.
Hofer says that the resulting program, called Thrive Dining, “transforms traditional menu items into nutritional, visually pleasing, easily handled portions.” The two-bite portions are easy to pick up and eat with your hands, but they still have all the satisfying aromas and flavors of traditional meals.
Rob Bobbitt, National Director of Dining Services for Watermark, describes how the process works for one of his favorite recipes, beef brisket. “We use traditional seasonings, but our ‘secret’ is slow roasting that captures the natural flavors of the beef and ensures we end up with a moist and tender brisket.” According to Bobbitt, brisket is a perfect choice because it is packed with flavor. “We simply apply the Thrive Dining technique to provide this traditional meal in hand-held, two-bite servings.” In this case, the brisket is combined with potatoes and vegetables in an easy-to-handle pastry pocket.
The new dining program, which was initially introduced in Arizona, has been so well received that it can now be found in CALA-member communities in California, and Watermark has plans to implement the program in their other memory care communities. Residents and families reported that the food is enjoyable and easy to eat. In addition, the independence and confidence of residents with cognitive or physical challenges is maintained, which provides a more dignified and joyful dining experience.
Hofer adds that the popularity of the program has extended beyond the intended audience to include guests and family members. By promoting independence and dignity, the “joy of dining,” as Hofer puts it, is attainable for all.
This post was excerpted from CALA News & Views Spring 2016: Quality of Care, Quality of Life.