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Enhancing nursing home dining

February 24, 2010
by ebarbera
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My civic-minded in-laws created a dining companion program at their continuing care retirement community. Couples invite singles who sign up for the program to share a meal with them, fostering a flow between community members and helping to bridge the divide that often develops between the two groups once a spouse is lost.

As my in-laws know, meals are one of the most enjoyable aspects of life for many people, nursing home residents included, and it's important not to neglect the social dimension even when the focus is on dietary needs.

Here are some things I've noticed make for a pleasant nursing home dining experience, plus others I hope to see:

· Hot food served hot, and cold food served cold

· At least a four-week food rotation, so each meal is repeated infrequently

· Separate dining areas (or seating) for residents more able to dine independently

· Table service similar to a restaurant, with care taken in serving the food

· Flowers on the tables (plastic or silk works fine)

· Dining music

· Residents who speak only one language seated with residents who speak their language

· Residents on chopped or pureed diets seated with others on similar diets (reduces food envy)

· Seating flexibility so friends can join each other at will

· Dietary department-approved spices and condiments available to those who'd like them

· A place for people who are being tube-fed to hang out and socialize during mealtimes

· Is this one a total pipe-dream? A drizzle of contrasting color puree to enhance the appearance of pureed meals

Please add your suggestions in the comments section below.

Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed psychologist consulting in long-term care facilities in the New York City area. She frequently lectures on subjects related to psychology, aging, and nursing homes. Dr. Barbera is available for private consulting with organizations, institutions, and individuals around eldercare issues. Visit her personal blog at www.mybetternursinghome.blogspot.com.


Dr. Barbera is an author and a licensed...



We have 'dinner theatre' in the main dining room. The CNAs and DON who can sing, put on music the residents choose and we all sing as we serve the meals!

Capecodmermaid, that sounds like a lot of fun!

Craig Fukushima, that's a good point about the lighting, and one I wish were applied to staff dining rooms as well, which are often in windowless basements.

As you correctly point out, meal time is a very important time of the day for our residents. To the extent that the facility can make this experience a positive one goes a long way towards enhancing the overall resident experience. One additional thought is towards design-making sure that there is a good amount of natural lighting in the dining area. It adds warmth to the atmosphere as well as adding the functionality of lighting.