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How Senior Living Communities Are Elevating Dining

In recent years, the senior living industry has really transformed their dining experiences. Learn more about senior living dining trends and innovations.

After World War II, trains, planes and new highway systems made it easier than ever for people to travel. One generation that took advantage of this opportunity to fully exercise their wanderlust was the baby boomers. And while on their new adventures, they experienced lots of local and regional foods.

Today, as boomers explore their retirement options, they’re bringing their appreciation for international fare, along with their food and drink knowledge, with them. To reflect this newfound demand for culinary diversity, senior living dining menus around the country are changing.

With an emphasis on health and wellness, current senior living dining is about nutritious foods that meet the dietary needs of seniors while also featuring the choices they expect. Let’s explore some innovative food and dining trends in senior living and changes in the dining experience.

Senior Living Dining Trends: New Venues

Boomers enjoy eating out with friends. In response, communities are updating their dining venues, as well as experimenting with some special dining events:

  • Restaurant-style dining: This more traditional sit-down venue features ever-changing menus and even carryout options.
  • Casual dining: For a less formal option, many communities also offer a more casual bistro dining experience.
  • Private dining rooms: If you’re celebrating a special event or anniversary with guests, you can reserve a community’s private dining room and have the culinary team put together a special menu.
  • Coffee shops: Perfect for meeting friends for coffee and a muffin or just catching up on the latest news sites over a light breakfast.
  • Grab and go: This allows residents to grab a quick snack or lunch before heading off to their next activity.
  • Cooking demos: A popular way to learn about a chef’s food philosophy, as well as pick up dinner suggestions and a few cooking tips.
  • Local eats: Some communities are partnering with area restaurants to cater meals for residents.

Senior Living Dining Trends: New Menus

With a focus on health and longevity, many communities are connecting their wellness and dining programs and showing residents healthy ways to eat. They’re also adding more health-conscious options to their senior living dining menus, including:

  • Farm-to-fork: These menu items feature locally grown or sourced dishes to ensure greater freshness. In fact, some executive chefs go so far as to build relationships with local growers and farmers. Others may have an on-site herb garden, while some culinary teams are able to take advantage of the produce from resident-tended gardens.
  • Seasonal menus: Many chefs like to work with fresh ingredients and will plan their menus around seasonally available options including fruits, produce and seafood.
  • Special occasions: Communities may feature special dishes that are only available for a limited time to celebrate holidays or other special occasions.
  • Vegetarian and vegan: For health and wellness reasons, more seniors are looking for non-meat options. Community chefs are able to create delicious dishes that also meet their nutritional needs.
  • Gluten-restricted: For people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, these menu options exclude foods like wheat, rye and barley that contain the protein gluten.
  • Brain-healthy: These menus feature foods shown to promote brain health like green veggies, oily fish, berries, walnuts, and coffee and tea.
  • Heart-healthy: To promote heart health, these menus feature items like skinless chicken breast and other cuts of lean meat, beans, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.

How Technology is Changing Dining

According to Pew Research, 53% of seniors have smartphones and 32% own a tablet. To take advantage of the convenience this technology offers, some communities in the senior living industry have worked to incorporate them into their dining experience.

  • Ease: Residents can use their device to make reservations, indicate the number of dinner guests, and view the menu. They can also order takeout or have their meal delivered to their residence.
  • Speed: Instead of taking orders with a pad and pen, community waitstaff use tablets to transmit requests directly to the kitchen.
  • Feedback: Residents can provide the community with anonymous feedback on food and service quality using tablet-enabled kiosks.

Food Matters Here

Dining is an important part of choosing a community. When you narrow down options and start to do in-person visits, that’s a good time to try their food and see if it fits your tastes. To research thousands of senior living communities, use our Where You Live Matters community finder.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

Tourism Teacher
Harvard Medical School
Mayo Clinic
Pew Research