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What can you expect in the way of delicious meals, expertly prepared, using fresh ingredients, top quality meat, fish and poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables? Or should you expect institutional cooking on a par with or above or below most hospitals and college dormitories?

Ask to see random menus. Look at the Facebook photos with a real critical eye, keeping in mind that reality is usually not quite "as pictured". Find out when dinner is served and arrange your tour then if they will let you. I've never known any eldercare facility that was chintzy with food. But there are other issues, like at one place apple juice was not allowed after lunch because it affected residents' toileting (#2, not #1 so much). Or, it may be hard to get food that is served hot because there are so many people to serve & some have to have it chopped finely or pureed so that takes longer. Sometimes the drink cup might not be full when the meal starts... and the meal cools while waiting for a drink, if the resident has to drink with food due to needing a moist throat. Some residents who don't have kitchenettes are not allowed food in their rooms, but have to ask staff to bring the little items their loved ones have brought for their extra snacks. Even individually wrapped candy chews. Portions can be small. And different facilities/homes have different ideas of what a balanced meal is. Another food issue is that at some homes, residents don't even know what's on the menu until it is served. Reputable homes have an alternate menu such as a sandwich, when a resident doesn't like what is served. Some are heavy on carbs, others on protein. Some have to ration milk because it goes so fast. In at least one home of mentally ill residents, coffee creamer is sadly not offered anymore, because residents took advantage and just kept demanding it all the time (not saying there couldn't be a better solution...). Good luck.
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Reply to marybost
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Depends on the facility and chef or cook.
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Reply to gladimhere
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BU4691: My sister in law bought into an all inclusive senior living residence and is pleased with the food selection.
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Reply to Llamalover47
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It depends on the facility. I work in a hospital that has both types of food - plain and filling as well as more gourmet. The best way is to actually eat a few meals at any facility you are considering.
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Reply to Taarna
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Food at facilities can be a bit of Russian roulette. The non-profit big CCRCs (continuing care retirement communities) generally have superb food particularly for their independent living and AL residents. One here in central NJ has a French trained chef who won the international chef's award two years inf a row ! Facilities across the nation sent their chefs to train under him. Dining at their facilities rates right up there with the best restaurants in France and New Orleans but as you move up the chain to the folks in AL and NH sections who have lots of issues (mechanical soft, puree, etc) the variety of the food sharply decreases. Generally the chef doesn't get involved with those meals although one does not have to have the title of chef to be a great cook.

I find that the non-profits seem to win on all counts while the corporate owned places have two main concerns... filling up the beds to max occupancy and cutting costs, which includes, cutting staff and salaries to those who do the "grunt" work (CNAs, kitchen staff, housekeeping, etc) and buying lower quality food as well as less quantity (had one local place borrowing eggs from their sister facility because they "ran out". How the heck do you run out of eggs in a health facility???)
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Reply to geddyupgo
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I'm starting to think smaller, more intimate senior facilities might be happier places all around; guessing the facilities wouldn't be fancy unless premium pricing pays for it, but caretakers might have better relationships with their patients if the numbers are low. They might look for local chefs who know how to shop so that better meals can be prepared by people who like to cook (maybe even old family recipes)?
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Reply to ConnieCaretaker
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Same advice that is given to parents of day care kids............visit the facility in off hours like dinner time or breakfast. Every business has a sales pitch, but our dependent loved ones need us to be vigilant in seeking out the best care.
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Reply to ConnieCaretaker
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When we took our Mother to an Atria in SoCal they gave us this gourmet meal and told us their chef was from the Ritz Carlton and they served Filet Mignon.....well, they DO NOT and the food is definitely institutional and nothing gourmet. Furthermore, my Mother has gained 35lbs since moving there. She was always a clean and healthy eater and was always super thin. The food there is full of fat, is mostly unhealthy, no fresh veggies except for the salads. The food has been a constant complaint for many of the residents, but according to the superiors, it's what their corporate office wants; cheap food to keep their costs down and families are tricked into thinking otherwise. Whenever the marketing person does an interview with the perspective clients they still say the same pitch line about their food from 3 years ago. Every time I see these people go into the interview room I want to pull them aside and tell them the truth! We have complained and complained to no avail. It's sad that they don't care about the health of these elderly people and feed them the worst quality of food when they should be given the best possible food to attempt to keep them as healthy as possible. It's very disheartening. Just beware, because they will give you meals that they do not give to the residents.
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Reply to RST888
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What you can expect is what you get when, on visiting the facilities, you ask to attend a lunch and a dinner and eat the food served. You can expect what the facility promises you on intake visits. You are looking basically at institutional cooking.
When my bro chose his ALF in Palm Springs there was one that had a pool and had what they called fine dining. Visits with residents showed they loved the food. What they didn't have was what the OTHER facility had in terms of beautiful grounds to walk on, and some other perks. So while one place may concentrate on one thing, another has other perks and it simply is a matter of choosing, if you are so luck as to HAVE a choice, what matters most.
Ask to go to dinner and lunch. It will tell you a lot.
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Reply to AlvaDeer
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It is very important to have access to healthy, nutritious food service, however many seniors can fervently stick to their habits of eating in spite of family’s best intentions. My mother from 92 to 100 stuck to a diet of hot cocoa and doughnuts for breakfast. Barely eating anything else. Constant bowel issues prunes, extra water, Miralax, “name it-we tried it”, etc. She vehemently refused any type
of vegetable option 🥗 that would have made her life (and mine) easier.
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Reply to GAinPA
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Most facilities have nutritionists and professional kitchen staffs. There are usually fresh salads and fruit cups, but don't expect fresh everything. Some of the food is going to be institutional if the facility is large. Most facilities (even hospitals) offer a menu and residents can choose what they want off the menu. If a resident has special food requirements (low salt, low cholesterol, kosher, halal, vegetarian or vegan, etc.) they should ask if this is accommodated at the facility.
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Reply to NancyIS
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Definitely take the food quality in consideration when looking for a facility but do not be disappointed if your loved one begins to complain later no matter how much you research, compare facilities and are impressed with the quality.

What it boils down to, most people... even myself, tire of the meal environment they have day after day and nothing seems to appeal. When my father was in an AL then the NH at the same facility, we enjoyed having meals with him because the choices were very good. To hear my father talk, after he had been there a while, they didn't offer any thing decent to eat.

A good example is when I worked in the admissions office at a small private Christian Middle/High School with day and boarding students. Our food service was always raved about because students got unlimited servings from a hot bar, salad bar, dessert bar, beverage bar and even a sandwich bar where you could make your own simple peanut butter sandwich. I often heard feedback from parents how pleased their children were at the variety and quality of lunch compared to the school they had moved from. Meals were included in the tuition and outside food was not allowed except for a few students with extreme allergies. Months later, some parents would begin asking special permission to bring lunches for their children from fast food places because their children no longer were pleased with the food provided.

Often aging and certain conditions can affect taste and smell so I am sure in many cases the food does begin to be less appealing as time goes on especially with seniors.

A funny story from my time at the school... there was a very sweet boy who just never took responsibility for his homework, etc. As a discipline, the principal required him to spend his lunch period in my office doing his work and a lunch was provided for him. After a while his mom told us he had said it wasn't so bad because he was getting a "teacher's lunch" and it was better! We told her, there is no such thing as a teachers lunch, the lunch lady was putting his lunch together from the same selections... a sweet lady who wanted to be nice to this poor boy in detention! We had to tell her to stop being so nice and provide a lunch with simple sandwich, sides and dessert. It wasn't long he began taking the discipline serious! So, most complaints are because of prejudices and perspectives of the food put in front of us.
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Reply to KPWCSC
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My cousins bought into a very high end senior living community where they paid $450k plus $4k a month for rent for a 2 bed 2 bath unit (brand new) in independent living. This is a continuum of care community that will keep them until death, moving them into each level of care facility as needed, and they will pay the appropriate rate for each until they run out of money and that $450k buy in is also used up. Then the care is free. That said, they also pay extra for the food plan which includes top notch on grounds restaurants with food like you mention. The food is "free" once you pay for the food plan. So they eat like kings but pay like kings for the privilege of doing so, if you get my drift.

My parents lived in a corporate owned (Brookdale) AL and the food was slop. Their rent was constantly being increased bc corporate facilities look to do just that: nickel and dime the residents to death while cutting corners via quality control. Food is a big quality control area in which to do so. I moved them out of there and into a privately owned AL where the rent was lower and stayed the same. The food was a much higher quality but not as you described bc frankly, that's a bit of a reach in my experience with managed care facilities in general. Their AL had better than average food with a large menu choice and no limit on what you could order. I ate there many times and enjoyed the food. When they put on buffets for holidays, they were always outstanding, same with sit down meals for events. The chef was very good. Michelin trained? Nope. Just keeping it real, as should you.

SNF food.....one was inedible entirely, the other mom was in for rehab was pretty decent, the Lifecare dad was in for rehab was mediocre at best. Hospital food describes it.

You'd have to go try the food at these places yourself to get a peek at what a meal looks like. Breakfast is usually the best, imo. Some meals are great, some are awful. Keep a realistic outlook is my suggestion, and expect A LOT OF COMPLAINING from the senior. It's the law. And also it depends on what you mean by "senior housing" as there are TONS of different types out there nowadays.
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Reply to lealonnie1
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You'll have to try the meals at each place. My dad is in a rental style assisted living and it has a lovely dining room - white table clothes, wait staff, you can order wine and beer with dinner, etc. The food is good, some meals better than others, and every time there is a change of chef the food changes a bit. My dad was an excellent cook and did all the meal preparation in our family and he doesn't complain about the food but you have to realize that it will never be like your family recipes.
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Reply to jkm999
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BU4691, when you say buy-in senior housing, do you mean the 55+ apartments, some over 2,000 sqft, where one pays full price up-front for the unit, and when one passes the amount paid for the apartment, minus a small percentage, goes to the heirs? Those apartments all have full size kitchens and dining rooms where one makes their own meals. Or they can visit one of many in-house restaurants Some places include one meal a week or day as part of the Homeowners Association fee.

My Dad had a medium size apartment at a well known chain where he paid $5k per month for rent. He had a full size kitchen, and he was able to have supper in the menu styled restaurant. The meals were excellent.

My Mom was in her final months at a local nursing home. Sadly those meals didn't look very appetizing.

As mentioned earlier here, you can tour the facilities, and most of them offer you lunch as part of the tour.
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Reply to freqflyer
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I’ve been in Three NH’s. One had terrible food. The other two were pretty good and you Picked from a couple of options. Facilities that are cheaper and have Medicaid needs seem to not have good food. Medicaid reimbursements are so low they have to cut corners where they can. If I have go again I will not go to one that accepts Medicaid.
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Reply to Becky04469
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BU, you can expect food to vary facility to facility.

My dad was in 3 facilities, 1 had school food meals from the 70s, it was awful. 1 had restaurant dining, you ordered what you wanted and it was freshly prepared, it was amazing. Then the last one was a small facility that did family style meals, it was good, just no choices if what they fixed wasn't to your liking.

Most facilities will let you come in and have a meal in their dining room. I recommend doing that. The place that had restaurant dining charged $6 if you bought a voucher from the business office, this allowed you to dine with your loved one.

Seeing and eating is the only way to know what the food is like.
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Reply to Isthisrealyreal
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