Steak Tacos, Sriracha Salmon and Grilled Wild Duck ...
on the menu at a retirement community near you
Visit today’s best senior living communities and you’ll find a growing appetite for dining excellence that has only increased with age. As the "greatest generation" of largely unassuming residents is joined by the more demanding cohort of baby boomers, against the backdrop of a national obsession with all things culinary, a game-changing shift has occurred. Food as sustenance has become food as the centerpiece of the resident’s experience, with bistro dining, onsite gardens, snacks around the clock, special events and full-service bars, creating a sense of being on a perpetual cruise.
How to keep it fresh and interesting seven days a week, three meals a day, with copious snacking in between? It’s a challenge met with great creativity and no small amount of passion by food and nutrition directors eager to elevate the reputation of this oft-misjudged space. The savviest begin by tapping into the best source for ideas, the customer, engaged and accessible at monthly residents’ council meetings.
At Evergreen Retirement Community in Oshkosh, Wis., the newly opened pub with a full bar was planned with constant involvement from the residents’ council. Says culinary services manager Jason Knoll: “We are always trying new things—it’s one of the joys of being a chef—and response from our residents is how we determine success.”
Their monthly “Supper with the Chef” event, starting with a handful of residents earlier in the decade, swelled to a capacity crowd of 70 at a recent demonstration by Reinhart Executive Chef Brian Funk. The enthusiastic reception he received as he prepared the meal—an elegant walnut and gorgonzola cheese salad, bacon-wrapped tenderloin, sweet potato mash and apple cobbler with a wedge of cheddar for spooning—signaled to Knoll just how captivated today’s seniors are by the art of cooking.
“That was the first time we featured a guest chef at our suppers, and the response was tremendous,” Knoll says. “Our residents loved the beautiful presentation and simple, but flavorful dishes.”
At Creative Solutions in Healthcare (CSHC), a Texas-based chain of skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, the special “meal of the month” is determined by the residents’ council, and submissions of their favorite recipes find their way onto the regular menu yearround. Daily appetizer demos are consistent crowd-pleasers as are the nightly signature show-stopping desserts, and steak, roast or brisket at least once a week.
“In Texas, it’s still all about the beef, but we may be the state’s only chain of nursing homes to actually serve certified Angus beef,” says Amy Wees, who serves as CSHC’s vice president of nutrition services. “Our residents love having that choice.”
At OakMont Estate Assisted Living in Mansura, La., ensuring residents never have to deal with “ditto plates” is key to Executive Director Melissa Loughman’s operation.
“Before we take a resident’s meal order, we always ask ‘what are you in the mood for today?’ to let them know they have choices. They deserve choices.”
– Melissa Loughman, Executive Director, OakMont Estate Assisted Living
That commitment drove the opening of a new bistro, allowing residents to enjoy a more intimate dining experience with visiting family, and now a focal point for monthly musical events, complete with cocktails from the full-service bar. More reasons to stay on premise: holiday dinners that rival those of a fine restaurant, reasonably priced at $15 for guests, and a packed calendar of events featuring homemade treats and burgers on the grill for a touch of nostalgia. Likewise, OakMont’s onsite garden serves a dual purpose, providing the kitchen with fresh vegetables and an opportunity for residents who grew up on farms, to plant, pick and relive earlier days.
It’s clear to see that senior dining has come of age.