Our Fun Approach to Mealtime

February 15, 2019

This month, The Saybrook at Haddam will celebrate “Jamaica Day,” serving traditional foods and drinks from the island nation, while enjoying Jamaican music, dance and decorations.  This is just one of the fun activities we incorporate each month to make meals at our independent retirement and assisted living community interesting, different and enjoyable.  Other ways include serving traditional holiday meals, preparing seasonal themed dinners, planning outdoor meals, and offering a wide variety of healthy favorites on a daily basis.  Making mealtime social and special is one of the most important things we do to ensure seniors eat well and enjoy the best quality of life possible (without having to shop, cook or clean!).

Families often tell us they worry that their elderly parents or loved ones are not eating enough, are not eating well and consistently, are adding too much salt, or are having other struggles at mealtime.  This is often one of the reasons they begin looking at retirement or assisted living communities.

We know from various studies that people begin to lose their taste buds as they age and their sense of smell changes. These are two major factors that affect eating, and they often lead to a decreased desire to eat or to eat well (adding too much salt or sugar to foods, for instance) – which, of course, can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and other medical concerns. Even worse, poor diets have been linked to anxiety and depression in elderly people.

In a Clear Care article, Dr. Christine Gerbstadt from the American Dietetic Association and author of The Doctors’ Detox Diet says we don’t know why taste perception declines with normal aging, but we should be cautious to counteract the loss of taste.  She recommends seniors check with their doctor to rule out any medical conditions that are affecting the sense of taste (which may have treatment).

So, to address these downsides of aging, our kitchen team uses fresh ingredients (purchased locally when possible) seasoned with herbs and spices (instead of salt) to create a wide variety of options to please every palate. We also use mealtime as a social time when residents get to know each other, share stories, and avoid the loneliness of eating alone. It is also a time our wellness team can observe the health of a resident and possibly detect other conditions related to loss of appetite.

For seniors who live alone, here are a few suggestions for helping seniors eat right:

  • Limit times they eat alone. Try to arrange times for family members and friends to share meals with seniors and try to bring them to as many family celebrations, potluck dinners, and community meals as possible.
  • Serve foods at the right temperature. Foods simply taste better when served as hot or as cold as the recipe indicates.
  • Flavor foods with herbs, spices, citrus or vinegar. Basil, cilantro, oregano, turmeric, caraway and dill are just a few common herbs that define and enhance countless foods. Citrus juice, citrus zest, or flavored and aged vinegars are wonderful for marinades or dressings.
  • Add variety and introduce new foods. Start with ingredients you know seniors like, then add in different vegetables or flavors to make meals different. Finely chopped vegetables, for instance, can be added to almost any type of filling or sauce.
  • Pay attention to time of day seniors feel hungry. Help seniors get the most nutrition when they have the biggest appetite, whether that is at breakfast, lunch or dinner. If the other meals are smaller, you can worry less that they are not eating well.

We incorporate these suggestions (and more) at daily mealtimes at The Saybrook at Haddam. We know when people eat well, they are happier, more active, more sociable and enjoy a better quality of life.  To us, that is truly the backbone of all our other successes – and is how we achieve gracious retirement living!


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