4 Culinary Questions to Help You Choose a Nursing Home

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When you think about nursing home food, what comes to mind? Candlelight dinners, menus you can vote on and Thanksgiving dinner on the patio? Probably not. But at a five-star skilled nursing facility, that's exactly what you'll get. When choosing a skilled nursing or rehabilitation facility for your loved one to recover in, it is always important to take a good look at the food.

Before deciding on a nursing home, ask yourself a few questions: Receiving answers to these four questions will give you a pretty good idea of what the food—and overall quality of the facility—will be like.

Does the food taste good?

One of the most frequently asked questions people ask about nursing homes is, “How does the food taste?” Of course, we want to make sure that the meals are nutritious, but we also want them to taste good. A patient is not likely to eat nutritious food if it is bland or unappealing.

Many five-star nursing homes take great pride in the quality of food they serve their guests. For example, Garden View Post-Acute Rehab in Baldwin Park, CA, offers a five-star dining experience for their residents by providing gourmet food, a flexible menu, and festive meals. "It's more like a restaurant than a cafeteria," says Velia Hernandez, the Dietary Supervisor at Garden View.

Take-home message: When selecting a nursing home, make sure to sample the food while you're there.

How does the facility meet the needs of those with special requests?

Nobody wants to be forced to eat something they don’t like. So, when deciding on a nursing or rehab facility, make sure that your loved one has the final say on what they eat. High-quality nursing facilities allow their residents to pick what they want to eat from menus instead of just providing them with a meal each day.

“The residents choose exactly what they want to eat," explains Michelle Riel, dietary supervisor of Ramona Nursing and Rehab in El Monte, Ca. “We provide menus of what we have and are preparing, but we are more than happy to prepare something off-menu if a resident chooses it.”

Take home message: Visit with the dietary supervisor to make sure your loved one has the final say on their food.

How often is food served, and where can residents eat?

When choosing a nursing home, your loved one should have as much freedom as possible and not be confined to their room or a dining area. High-quality nursing homes have upscale dining rooms, but also provide meals to patients wherever they feel most comfortable. Whether it’s in the privacy of their room or with a group of friends or family, make sure that they have the ability to eat wherever—and whenever—they want.

Take home message: Ask the director of nursing or administrator about dining policies and whether there are flexible options for residents.

What are holidays and special events like?

High quality skilled nursing facilities typically provide gourmet meals for special occasions such as Thanksgiving. Using Garden View Post-Acute as an example, last year's event attracted around 240 guests, including residents, family and friends. The feast was held on the facility patio and featured traditional Thanksgiving favorites: mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and, of course, several large turkeys.

Take-home message: Don’t go somewhere that wont give you a nice Thanksgiving dinner.

There are many nursing homes that offer great dining and nutrition, but there are plenty that do not. When choosing a nursing home for a loved one, you’ll need to weigh many options—and food is one of them. Not only is good food important in itself, but it is also representative of the type of care and attention to detail that the nursing home will provide. With the holidays approaching, make sure to ask these important questions—your loved one may be eating Thanksgiving dinner there.

Dr. Amy Osmond Cook is the Executive Director of the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers, Marketing Director of North American Healthcare and a health/wellness columnist.

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My mother ( and my) first experience with a rehab was dismal. Full of confidence due to advertising and higher ratings on the Medicare website, I asked for a specific facility for her rehab. Believe me, food was the last thing on my mind. We went through horrors in that place. Two things that pertain to your subject. Although the facility is large, was well rated and does have fine dining available, for the Medicare group in rehab only the shipped in food was served. So is it available? Yes. For a price. Second, what a joke. They sent around a dietician who spent a good 45 min discussing the proper diet for a CHF patient and when we requested specific items that had been recommended, we were told the facility didn't offer them. So my point is it is difficult to know (in advance of an event) which facilities walk the talk. In a perfect world we would interview rehabs well in advance of actually needing them. When it comes time to actually choose one, there isn't much time to decide. All institutional food pretty much sucks is what I've decided but then it is all relevant to the diners normal at home diet. For a few weeks with a broken hip or fractured vertabre we rationalize that the elder will just have to accept it. My mother knew salt was a killer for her. The food she was served was obviously over salted. I've heard others complain that food doesn't have enough salt. The prefab outfits that win the bids know the palate they have to please isn't the end users. So. I guess the only way to win is don't get old. Otherwise we just have to make the best of what it is.