Using food as medicine is gradually gaining wider acceptance as researchers and health experts learn more about how good nutrition can impact well being. Elderly adults in particular are often lacking important nutrients in their diet as a result of problems with chewing and swallowing, difficulty using utensils or disinterest in bland foods. A new meal service, recently tested in an Iowa retirement community, offers a novel approach to dining that may help residents stay healthier and enjoy food again.
The Thrive Dining program was designed by chefs at Watermark Retirement Communities to provide nutritious meals that elderly residents with cognitive or physical disabilities could easily enjoy. The meals are served in bite-sized portions that can be picked up by hand and because the food is ground and then re-made, there is little chance of choking. Digestion is also improved with this method of food preparation. Proteins like salmon or beef are not pureed so the foods retain their texture and can easily be identified. Vegetables are steamed to preserve nutrients and dishes are arranged with fresh fruits and dipping sauces to be more visually pleasing and flavorful, keeping in mind that we eat first with our eyes.
During a two-week training program, chefs at a number of the more than 50 Watermark communities across the United States were trained in how to implement the Thrive Dining program into their facility’s kitchen. The small plate meals combine fresh ingredients to create protein packed one or two bite hor-d’oeuvres that can be eaten by hand allowing elderly residents to dine with dignity and enjoy their favorite foods without assistance.
According to the World Health Organization, older adults are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. Age-related changes in cognitive abilities, vision and physical function can play a significant role in the eating habits of elderly adults. By finding creative ways to improve nutrition, older adults can live healthier and more enjoyable lives. Eating is traditionally a social experience and by providing an environment where seniors can gather together and enjoy a meal independently, residents are nourished not only physically but emotionally as well.