No matter what type of facility you run, whether it’s a hospital or senior living center, you’re going to have residents with different backgrounds and food preferences. And the food that you serve should be accommodating to those needs. People are diverse. We all have different backgrounds and tastes, so your menu shouldn’t be “one size fits all.”
Developing more inclusive menus at your facility is critical to creating an effective dining program that makes your community members feel included, understood, and welcomed.
You want your residents to be excited about their three meals a day. You don’t want a community that dreads meal time or leaves a lot of food uneaten on the plate. They might be going through certain challenges in their lives, and you don’t want food anxiety to be another obstacle they have to overcome. Read on to understand how you can implement an inclusive menu that keeps your residents happy and full.
Learn your residents’ cultural preferences.
One of the first parameters to consider when creating your menu is your residents’ cultural preferences. Start with demographics. Older people in your community might have different tastes or needs than younger people. And gender might play a role in preference too. In 2014, the food delivery company GrubHub looked at the food preferences of men and women who use their service. They found that women gravitate more toward healthy options like salads and other veggie-based dishes. Men preferred meat-based meals, like chicken parmesan or dishes with bacon.
Another cultural preference to take into account is religious affiliations. Are fish or pork off limits for any of your community members for religious reasons? Devout Catholics in your community may not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, so you’ll need to think about that when planning your spring menus. Learning more about your residents’ religious food restrictions will help you better understand them and provide a more comfortable living environment.
And finally, think about alternative backgrounds. Vegetarians and vegans can sometimes find it difficult to find options for them on a menu. Take away that difficulty by offering meat-free options that extend beyond your typical side salad.
Do regional preferences come into play?
After thinking about cultural preferences, start to consider your community’s regional backgrounds. Residents from other countries might not feel as comfortable with American staples like macaroni and cheese or ham sandwiches.
Even people who are all from the United States can have different preferences depending on whether they’re from the North, South, East, or West. For example, people from the east coast might feel more comfortable when they see a hometown favorite like clam chowder among their options for dinner. According to a recent study by Technomics, even preferences for items like sauce vary greatly across the US. The study found that people from the Northeast and the West prefer BBQ sauce, while those from the Midwest and the South like gravy. To appeal to all groups, consider adding meals that allow for certain pieces, like the sauce, to be customized by each community member.
Have a food committee meeting.
A food committee meeting is where your food service provider finds out what you and your residents want to be served in their “homes.” Culinary Services Group recently updated our guidelines for more person-centered care. By having a food committee at every facility we work with, we find out what you and your residents want. And we’ve found that preferences can vary drastically from region to region or even from town to town in the same state.
We highly recommend interviewing each resident about their food preferences. At Culinary Services Group, we sit down with each resident and fill out a food preferences form with them that asks questions about what they like and what they don’t. Then, after collecting this information from each resident, we use the data to fully customize a menu for your facility. Besides learning their food preferences, this process also helps us introduce ourselves to each resident and start building a relationship.
If you’re conducting your own interviews with your own food preferences form, start with the basics like name, location, and food allergies. Then create main categories on the form for your food groups, like beverages, breakfast, fruit, vegetables, starches, meats, and anything else you want to include. Under each category, list specific food items that relate. For example, under the meat category, you would list foods like beef, chicken, liver, pork, veal, fish, shellfish, and any others you might need to know about. Ask your residents what they like in each category, and then at the end of your interview, ask the residents a few open-ended questions. Two questions we like to ask are “Are there any items not on the menu that you would like to see on the menu?” and “Are there any items you receive daily that you don’t eat?”.
Data from each resident will give you a great starting point for what your community likes, dislikes, and wants to see more of.
Show your residents you care.
Your main goal is to make your community members happy, healthy, and comfortable. Serving food they like and are familiar with shows them that you’re embracing their stay with you and that they’re in the right place. If you’re looking for help creating an inclusive menu, partner with someone who listens to you, your clients, and your community. Every community is different, and a good food service provider will understand what makes you and your residents unique. Your food service company should work with the community to collaborate and create menus together, not force them to work with generic, pre-developed menus. Contact Culinary Services Group today to get started.