The “Freshman 15” is not only a thing that happens to you in college, warns Mark Holmes, national director of culinary operations at The Goodman Group. It’s surprisingly easy to gain weight when you move to a senior living community. “Boy, do they eat!” laughs Mark. Even seniors who were previously struggling at home to get proper nutrition due to lack of appetite or other issues often experience a renewed interest in eating.
That’s good in some ways.
After all, getting proper nutrition and ingesting enough calories are vital for the continued health and well-being of older adults. Moving to a quality community promotes physical well-being by striving to ensure residents get better nutrition according to their personal needs. And the simple act of coming to the dining room for three meals each day promotes social interaction among residents, something that is also important for emotional well-being.
Too much of a good thing
Sometimes “healthy weight” may mean certain residents need to lose rather than gain weight, whether they arrive overweight or succumb to the “Freshman 15”. It’s a matter of balance, which can look different for each individual.
Mark shared that The Goodman Group managed communities think in terms of recommendations and guidance, applying a more liberalized interpretation of what is OK or not, never enforcing a strict diet of must-eats and can’t haves. The Goodman Group’s core philosophy of Platinum Service® for every resident.
In assisted living, the emphasis is on maintaining maximum personal independence. Toward that end, it’s encouraged for residents to participate in their own meal planning, making informed menu choices based on their food and flavor preferences but that are in keeping with any special dietary needs. For example, for those with diabetes, can focus on a “consistent carbohydrate” diet.
Skilled nursing communities also have some residents who need to lose weight. Again, the focus is always on personal choices, not a rigid “diet.” No one likes to feel deprived, and residents shouldn’t have to. Consider a carb-controlled menu. If a resident really likes cookies, a managed community can include a few now and then and adjust their overall menu in other ways.
For residents with memory loss or who have Parkinson’s, arthritis, or other issues that affect dexterity, offering a “finger food” diet gets the nutrients they need in foods or preparations they can simply pick up to eat.
Even short-stay residents get the same nutritional guidance and support. This focus on positive choices will continue to benefit them after they return home.
The psychological side of healthy weight
Mark said that they culinary team noticed during COVID that many residents were losing weight. At first, it seemed mysterious. Then they realized that with family members no longer able to visit every day, residents were missing out on the treasured foods those family members brought with them. To help make up for that nutritionally, the managed communities increased snacks available to residents and also included more fortified foods in recipes and menu planning.
For every person, there is distinct pleasure in eating foods we love. We never want a resident to leave the dining room hungry, so we always work to find that balance that provides an enjoyable dining experience with appropriate portioning, shared Mark.
A lot of times, achieving that balance requires a certain amount of negotiation. At The Goodman Group and in its managed communities, Mark’s team works to educate each resident about what foods are best or potentially detrimental for them and about how much of certain foods is appropriate for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. If necessary, the culinary team brings a clinician back into the discussion.
“People will find a way to get what they enjoy,” Mark notes. “We want to be the people to provide that, so we work with residents to understand that food contributes to both physical well-being and social well-being.”