Breaking Bread and Making Friends

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Meal time at an assisted living facility is about a lot more than nutrition — it’s about socializing! I loved helping out in the dining room when I worked in one. Many of the residents would come early to be seated so they could watch everyone coming in and avoid the rush of walkers and wheelchairs. Relatives often came and shared a meal with their loved one. Meal times were happy times sharing food with friends and family. There was always a lot of laughing and chatting and very little complaining even if the meal was not their favorite one.

Who Sits with Whom or Mixing it Up

I interviewed a young lady named Pat who was just 92 years old. She came to live in assisted living after a health scare. She said the first week was hard and she thought she would die, but the staff did a very smart thing. They rotated where everyone sat at the noon meal. It gave everyone a chance to meet everyone else. It also helped newcomers because the hardest thing for most is feeling like they don’t belong. Can you imagine walking into a very large dining room of strangers? Where do you sit? If you’re assigned a seat, you don’t have to wonder where you should sit or if you’re imposing on a “closed” table. Pat found her “soul mate” during one of those meals and she said she couldn’t be happier.

I liked that this assisted living place mixed it up. During two meals a day residents could decide where they wanted to sit. Elders are not children and I found it rather rude when one place I worked at “assigned seats” for every meal and changing seats was not allowed.

Going Out to Eat Day was a Favorite!

Most elders love to eat out. It gives them a chance to dress up a bit and ride in the big vans with huge windows to look out at the world. No matter how good the chef is at an assisted-living place, going out means a new atmosphere and food that is totally different. Once a week, the residents could go out to lunch or sometimes for breakfast. Our residents especially loved to go out for Asian food or Mexican food. But really the place that was chosen was not the most important issue. Being with friends and just getting “out of the house” meant it was time to celebrate.

Eating with Family — In or Out?

What made almost every resident I ever met the happiest? That’s easy. It was when one of the family members came for a visit. One of our residents was blessed with a very special daughter. Every Tuesday she came and either took her mother out for a meal, or brought one with her.

On the days she brought in a meal, she would carry it in a nice basket with a bunch of flowers lying on top. Sometimes it was food she cooked herself, or food from her mother’s favorite restaurant or deli. She always left the leftovers with her mom to snack on when she got hungry. I know her mother enjoyed every moment she shared with her daughter because she beamed for days afterwards.

Having a Choice at Every Meal

The residents at the facility where I worked always had a choice of entree. It’s nice to have a choice when it comes to food. There were always two entrees offered at each meal and then they had an “Any Time Menu.” Any time the kitchen was open or at meal times a resident could have a burger with fries, a grilled cheese sandwich, soup or cereal, yogurt, salad or fruit. Being able to have a cheese burger any time was a big hit with the residents. If they overslept in the morning or at nap time, they could still get a good meal.

(This article was reviewed June, 2024 since it originally published February, 2017.)

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