4 ways memory care dining has gone beyond finger foods

seniors eating feeding fingers

Finger foods and purees have become staples in senior living communities to help residents who have memory loss dine with less confusion. But now, operators are looking at revamping other aspects of meals served in memory care units, going beyond the food to improve their foodservice. Here’s how.

1. Family-style meals

family style food senior

Colorado-based MorningStar Senior Living is putting stock in communal eating. Some of its memory care units host one or two family-style meals a month, where dining staff push tables together and food is served from larger platters. Doubling down on the family theme, residents’ relatives are also invited. The dining team hopes that these meals will help residents with dementia connect to memories of the family meals they have eaten or prepared throughout their lives. Michael DeGiovanni, vice president of culinary operations at MorningStar, says he aims to add more family-style meals in the future. 

2. Stimulating the senses

thrive dining pre-meal service

At Watermark Retirement Communities, memory care meals begin with residents receiving warm hand towels scented with herbs or extracts such as lavender and lemon. “As residents come into the dining room, we try to get them settled and focused,” says Rob Bobbitt, national director of dining services at Watermark. Immediately after, they are served a spoonful of lime sorbet. Bobbitt says the alternation between hot and cold creates tactile-thermal stimulation, which helps residents become more aware and ready to enjoy a meal.

3. Creative plating

appetizers plates

MorningStar is also eyeing changes to what it serves food on, moving to plateware that’s both more visually and mentally stimulating to diners. Food is presented on long appetizer-style plates, with separate cups and bowls for individual items. Adding extra visual interest, the dishware may also be in a variety of colors. 

4. Aromatherapy


Watermark also uses scents to help residents work up an appetite. “A lot of our memory care dining rooms have some degree of open-kitchen dining,” Bobbitt says. “So it’s simply putting a tablespoon of sweet spices, whether it’s cinnamon or fennel or ginger, in a saucepan and letting it simmer.”


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