November is National Family Caregivers Month. It’s important to honor caregivers because they have selflessly chosen to spend their time caring for a loved one and can face a variety of pressures when doing so.
One large decision many caretakers must make is choosing which assisted living community will be best for their loved ones’ needs. In fact, about 30% of inquiries in Continuing Care Retirement Communities originate with the family.
When selecting a community, a person’s family might evaluate many factors before finally choosing the right place. They may look at the culture of the community, health/condition specialties, and even the dining program.
If your community wants to be seriously considered when families are choosing a community for their loved ones, we strongly encourage you to think about how your dining program fits into your overall marketing strategy. It’s important that the family understands everything your community has to offer and that they feel confident their relatives will be in great hands.
How Do You Fit into the Caregiver’s Plan?
When moving their loved one into a continuing care community like yours, family caregivers still tend to perform tasks like providing emotional support and companionship, feeding, grooming, managing money, shopping, and transportation. If your community offers any of these services for residents, we recommend including that as part of your marketing too. Caregivers sometimes report high rates of exhaustion, being overwhelmed, and not having enough time for themselves, so being able to handle some of these tasks for them might be a benefit.
If a caregiver is taking a tour of the community, make sure your dietitian and food service director are ready and available to answer any questions they may have about the dining program. You could also have the caregiver chat with a few residents about how they like the food and service at your community.
More Than Just Food
A good dining program should be about more than just feeding residents multiple times a day. For example, at the communities that Culinary Services Group works with, we focus on providing person-centered care and improving the quality of life for all residents through the dining program. By showing that you offer more than just food on a plate and care about the resident’s quality of life, you can make yourself stand out from other communities a caregiver might be evaluating.
Loneliness and isolation can harm a resident’s health. You can use your dining program to provide more social interaction for your community throughout the day. We recommend creating a family-style dining atmosphere that encourages residents to be social with each other. One way that we encourage socialization is by having chefs do “table touches” after every meal. The chef visits each table and talks to diners about how their food was to make each meal a more social event.
If your community has a liberalized diet initiative, you could also promote that in your marketing materials and educate prospective caregivers about the benefits of dining programs that serve liberalized diets.
Liberalized diets promote person-directed choice and person-centered care by creating meal plans based on an individual resident’s health goals and food preferences. These types of diets can help improve the quality of life for all residents and help educate them about good eating habits.
Showcase Your Specialties
Prospective residents of your community might have a wide variety of conditions. This is your opportunity to address family and caregiver concerns by showcasing everything your dining program has to offer for people with health issues.
Does your facility have different meal programs that cater to certain conditions, like a pureed or finger foods program? If so, you should make those programs known to caregivers evaluating your community. A one-size-fits-all dining program just won’t satisfy caregivers whose loved ones have special dietary needs.
A Texture-Modified Foods Program: This focuses on residents with dysphagia (difficulty chewing or swallowing). These residents typically need texture-modified foods to eat safely.
A Finger Foods Program: Many dementia patients struggle to use utensils, and a finger foods program helps them eat independently and more often.
A Fortified Foods Program: This type of program helps combat malnourishment at your facility. It requires you to fortify familiar foods to promote weight gain and support food intake.
And don’t forget about the food quality! What do you think would be more impressive to caregivers scouting out communities for their loved ones: A cafeteria that’s serving processed meals or one that’s making food from scratch with fresh, local ingredients? The answer is obvious.
Using local, in-season ingredients means you’re providing more meal variety, more fruits and vegetables for residents, and you’re helping your region’s local economy. We believe in using better ingredients so much that Culinary Services Group ensures that all foods at the communities we work with are made with fresh, local ingredients when possible. Consider showing off some sample menus so that caregivers can see the variety of meals that you offer and which ingredients are used in each one. You could also highlight where your ingredients are sourced from.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can implement programs and initiatives that will make your community a better fit for what today’s caregivers are looking for, feel free to contact us here.