Healthcare dining facilities riff on latest restaurant trends

Photograph: Shutterstock

Senior living and hospital facilities that want to stay competitive can’t afford to stand by while chain and independent restaurants continually evolve. Catering to current consumer dining preferences is a powerful way to stand out.

Some of the ways industry trends are shaping healthcare foodservice operations include:

All-day dining: The explosion in snacking, takeout and delivery has changed consumers’ expectations about the availability of food: They are accustomed to being to eat what and when they please. As baby boomers move into senior and assisted-living facilities, they will expect this level of flexibility as well. On-demand dining, all-day and self-serve cafes and grab-and-go options address this mix of appetites and eating styles.  

Regardless of the setting, the ability to produce orders quickly through speed-scratch cooking and other methods will grow ever more important.

Plant-forward options: While older residents are likely to stick with classic comfort food, plant-based burgers, sausages and other proteins designed to mimic the taste and texture of the real thing have captured the public’s fancy in the last couple of years. Yet there are so many other ways to satisfy a craving for better-for-you meals.

FLIK Lifestyles, a contract feeder that serves senior living communities across the U.S., provides about half of its accounts with Meatless Monday meals. Working with a database of some 100 vegetarian-friendly recipes, FLIK replaces animal proteins with items like chickpeas, tofu, seitan and tempeh.

Authentic ethnic: As consumers are exposed to more variety in world cuisines, they expect to see menus that reflect at least a nod to diverse flavor profiles. It’s not practical for healthcare operators to bring in chefs skilled in cuisines from around the world. But with the help of prepared sauces and seasonings and the better availability of previously elusive authentic ingredients, it’s possible to incorporate ethnic menu elements. And, while older patients and residents, such as those from the silent generation, might be satisfied with Italian or Chinese, baby boomers crave more specific cuisines, such as Vietnamese or Szechuan, says Mark Southern, AVP for Vi Living, an upscale chain of senior living properties.

Fresh, local, organic: For independent restaurants, menus that incorporate local and often organic ingredients are no longer an exception—they’re an expectation. Many hospitals have followed suit, either by growing their own or sourcing a portion of their produce and proteins from nearby suppliers, as a way to improve quality and also to show support for the community.

Gardens are cropping up across senior living properties. A prime example is Garden Spot Village, a New Holland, Pa., continuing care retirement community, that operates an onsite 4,600 square foot aeroponic garden. Residents tend the garden, which yields greens, herbs and strawberries, and chefs use 80 percent of the crops in meal prep. The balance is donated to food banks.

Functional beverages: Consumers are thirsty for beverages with a healthy halo—and that means much more than meal-replacement shakes. According to Chicago-based data research firm SPINS, shelf-stable energy and other functional beverages racked up $3.3 billion in sales in 2019, an 11.7% annual increase. Sales of refrigerated kombucha and fermented beverages grew 15.7%, while enhanced waters and refrigerated coconut/plant water sales rose 12.8% and 10.1%, respectively.

For younger patients and residents especially, having an alternative to traditional tea, coffee and dairy milk choices has become the norm.

Adapting to these and other shifts in consumer tastes will help any healthcare dining department stay current. Campbell’s Foodservice provides more ideas to support healthcare facilities’ efforts to stay on top of the latest dining trends.

beverages infographic

This post is sponsored by Campbell's Foodservice