It’s still November, which means it’s still National Family Caregivers Month. In our last blog, we talked about how you can make your community more appealing to caregivers who are looking for a great long-term community for their loved ones.
But a caregiver’s role in their family member’s life does not stop when they’ve found the right senior living community. Most caregivers still want to be involved in their loved one’s life long after they’ve moved into a community like yours.
Your dining program is a great opportunity to get these caregivers involved in their relative’s life during their visits and can be a good way to educate caregivers about their loved one’s dining habits. Plus, this quality time can lead to a boost in a resident’s overall wellness and mood due to increased socialization.
Sharing Meals Together
When a caregiver comes to visit their loved one, it’s important that their time spent together is truly quality time. These visits contribute to a resident’s overall happiness by providing them with love, companionship, and socialization.
Mealtime is a great opportunity for residents to socialize with their families (and maybe even with other residents’ families!). Sharing a meal brings people together and creates a more social environment where they can tell stories, reminisce, give updates about the rest of the family, or talk and laugh about anything else. It also mirrors the time when many of your residents were growing up and it was common for families to sit down for a meal together (rather than eating on-the-go or in front of a screen).
According to one study, about one in five seniors say they feel lonely when eating alone. The study also found that mealtimes last almost twice as long when seniors share meals with other people and that a majority of seniors who live alone say they eat more nutritiously when eating with others. Mealtimes that last long and encourage residents to eat more could help combat malnutrition among those in your community.
Another way to get caregivers involved in mealtime is through volunteering. Ask visitors to volunteer for various tasks, like serving food, running drinks, or escorting residents in wheelchairs to the dining room.
And you absolutely cannot forget about the residents who may not have as many visitors as the others. Talk with caregivers and ask if they would mind if another resident joined their table or if they would mind escorting a different resident to dinner. This could help everyone at the table be more social and form new relationships. If there are residents sitting among families who aren’t their own, put some fun conversation starters on the table to break the ice so nobody feels awkward or left out.
Think Beyond Mealtime
Besides serving family-style meals and having residents eat with their caregivers in the dining room, there are other ways to create a more social mealtime atmosphere. One of our favorites is through cooking contests. Each month, hold a contest to see which resident/caregiver team can make the best dish. For example, February is “National Hot Breakfast Month.” You could hold a friendly competition between teams to see who can make the best, healthy hot breakfast. This gives residents a fun, unique activity to focus on with their relatives. You’re creating an environment where they can spend quality time together and make memories.
You could also hold cooking classes or nutritional workshops and have residents attend with their family members. This would encourage caregivers to learn more about their loved one’s nutritional needs and doing an activity like this together changes up the regular routine of just eating at a table in the cafeteria.
Another great and meaningful way to involve families is to ask residents and their caregivers to go through their old family recipes. Have a contest each month or quarter and tell residents to submit a recipe that corresponds with a theme, like “Chicken Dinner.” Then, have your staff choose a winning recipe that will be incorporated into one of your menus that month. You could even combine this with the cooking contest idea above and have residents and their families actually cook the recipe together before judging.
Get a Culinary Edge
Every year, Culinary Services Group publishes a calendar for our staff that details exciting activities, facts about nutrition and wellness, recipes, and information about fun food holidays. In 2020, we’re taking it one step further to enhance menus and get more caregivers involved in their loved ones’ lives.
Next year the calendar will provide a dining staff with recipes for each of the fun food holidays that they can incorporate into weekly menus (Like a healthy meatball recipe for “Meatball Day” in March).
We’ll also provide recipes that complement various wellness focuses, like managing stress or memory loss awareness. These recipes will be published on recipe cards that can be easily displayed so that families can make the recipes on their own. For example, in January, we’ll have a recipe for our favorite Oatmeal Banana Bread available for caregivers to make at home. We also put out a flyer that contains fun food facts, an activity, and a wellness focus for the month.
By creating a more social atmosphere for visiting caregivers and their family members, you’ll see an overall boost in happiness, wellness, and quality of life for your residents. If you’d like to learn more about our Culinary Edge calendar or about ways to increase socialization between caregivers and residents during mealtimes, contact us here.