Sunrise celebrates 35 years of serving seniors on December 5! To honor this milestone, we’re reflecting on assisted living – past, present and what’s ahead. .
Each day, our dining teams serve more than 40,000 meals to our residents, so we’ve picked up a thing or two over the years about serving tasty, nutritious meals for seniors. Hear from Tim Whelan, vice president of Dining Services, on how we’ve evolved in the kitchen and beyond to create a best-in-class dining experience.
What did dining look like during the early years of Sunrise?
Sunrise’s founders, Paul and Terry Klaassen, had a clear vision for the type of environment they wanted their communities to have: warm and inviting versus the sterile, impersonal setting of a traditional long-term nursing facility. And that warm and caring environment most certainly extended to delicious, home-cooked meals, which Sunrise residents have enjoyed from the very first day.
How has dining evolved over the years?
We’ve introduced a lot more variety, based directly on feedback. As Sunrise grew in size, we recognized we could no longer continue with a one-size-fits-all menu. Today, we have six different menus for communities to choose from based on resident preferences. And, we offer multiple chef specials each week that are developed to give the community chefs a chance to incorporate local flavor and resident requests. We also have flexibility. If a certain menu item isn’t as well received as we would have liked, we can change it with no problem.
We’ve also grown to accommodate different dietary needs, including the introduction of our puree diet program. While we’ve always had pureed options, this new program offers pureed meals with a more appealing, appetizing look, aroma and taste, helping to ensure residents’ comfort and dignity, which aligns with our Principles of Service.
We’ve also made available online regional menus posted to each community’s dining web page, which complements the existing table menus on the dining room tables. Users can click into individual recipes and view the nutritional information of each item. There is also an option to filter menu selections by five different diet attributes: high calcium, high fiber, low fat, low sodium and vegetarian.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about dining in assisted living?
It’s so much more than the just the food! Yes, the food must be delicious, healthy and something that residents will look forward to eating. But you also need to factor in the dining experience. For us, that is the ambiance of the dining room, the table linens, variety on the menu – all things we’ve heard from residents themselves that they look for in an enjoyable dining experience. We work with our friends in the Sunrise Design department to help ensure this experience is tailored to meet our residents’ expectations.
Our dining service coordinators really get to know residents. These relationships help make the entire experience more much consistent and customized for each person, and our dining team will often tell me how they feel like they are cooking for family. I think that says a lot.
Are there certain food/dining trends that Sunrise incorporates?
Trends like sushi bars don’t appeal to our current residents. Their feedback focuses a lot of on traditional comfort foods, like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, meatloaf – the same types of food they were cooking in their own kitchens for years.
For us, it’s all about nutrition. As people age in our communities, we need to be able to adapt and provide good, healthy food that residents look forward to eating. We do this by using fresh meat and produce and cutting out added salt, instead flavoring dishes with fresh herbs and spices.
What do you see in the future of senior dining?
I think we will start seeing more culturally diverse food in regions where there is demand. I expect to see an increase of this as more Baby Boomers, many of whom have traveled extensively, begin moving into assisted living. And who knows, maybe one day we will have sushi bars! It all really comes down to what our residents want, so we will continue to evolve and adapt based on their preferences.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living