Dining at an A.L.F.
It’s not all about the $$
If you are an older American who lives independently, either in your own home or in a facility that permits you to do your own cooking, consider yourself extremely lucky.
However, if like me you live in a place that, either by rule or law, does not allow even the most modest of cooking devices (microwave ovens, crock pots or even an electric kettle) you will find that you are almost completely dependent on what the facility feeds you.
And, if you are a person such as I who was brought up in a family where meals were prepared with expertise and TLC, then what will be served to you in the ALF’s dining room may come as a big surprise.
Meals in an assisted living facility are like no other meals anywhere.
It’s not quite hospital food and it’s not quite restaurant food (unless the restaurant is a greasy spoon diner* off I-15 outside of Barstow California).
Meals at this level fall somewhere in that nefarious area that lies between what is good for you and what tastes good.
It’s sort of being in a dinner time limbo.
At this juncture, it is important to mention that all marketing people who show prospective residents around any senior living facility will tout the food and the dining service.
Do not believe anything they tell you.
Unless you are looking at an extremely upscale facility, the food will never be as good as homemade , or the service as good as any restaurant you have ever eaten in.
There are a few reasons for this.
One must always remember that A.L.F.s are, and must be, operated at a profit.
Therefore, it’s the bottom line that rules and guides what is served in the dining room.
However, money isn’t the only fuel that drives the food wagon.
The state in which the facility is located has much to do with what and how meals are planned and cooked.
In New York, as in many other states, nursing homes and assisted living facilities fall under the auspices of the State Department of Health.
These semi-autonomous bodies control almost every facet of one’s life as a resident of an ALF, with food having the highest of priorities.
Although rules vary from state to state, most facilities are required to employ a registered dietitian.
The dietitians main job is to make sure that the facility complies with the rules and regulations of the state as far as size of portions, quality of ingredients, cooking times and the variety of food served.
The facility’s chef (or food service manager) presents a monthly meal plan to the dietitian who, in turn, approves it and sends it to the state.
The dietitian is not responsible for how the food tastes, is plated or served.**
Another aspect that affects what a meal tastes like is what I like to call the “White bread and Mayo” approach.
The chef, so as not to offend the delicate taste buds and intestines of some of the older and less adventurous residents of our facility must design and cook meals using as little spices, fancy sauces and gravies as possible.
Thus, much of the food is boring, uninspired and tasteless.
Many residents clandestinely bring in their own condiments like salsa, paprika, and tangy salad dressings just to make some of the dishes palatable.
Of course, the size of the institution and the number of meals served and the cost per meal per resident per year is the real force that determines what you will eat at an ALF.
First, let me say that research on the subject of what and how much is spent on various operating expenses of an ALF is not very forthcoming.
There is not much in the way of facts, figures and dollar amounts available to the layman and any attempt to get info from management falls on deaf ears.
However, some significant numbers did arise.
Notice, that in this chart, the cost of food ranks number one in the operating expense budget.
The figures do not include salaries for the people working at a particular job.
At first, I thought that my math may have been incorrect.
Could it be that the amount spent on food for each resident per day is only $5.16?
Checking other sources to corroborate these figures, I found that the $5.16 number was at the high end with some institutions spending as little as $2 to $3 per day.
Even if I adjusted the amount to better reflect the costs of a facility in the NYC area, and doubled the amount to $10, the cost would still be amazingly low.
The question is, “Could you feed yourself for $5.16 a day?”
Most likely not.
So, maybe we shouldn’t complain so much about the food.
After all, they seem to be doing a great job with only five or six dollars to spend on us.
But we should complain, and here’s why.
First of all, we (residents) are not here as charity cases.
This is not a shelter and our dining room is not a bread line, a soup kitchen or the Bowery Mission.
We are paying good money for this food and we should be treated with the respect and dignity that any patron of any restaurant should receive.
What does this mean?
It means that we should expect meals to be properly cooked and seasoned. Not just to satisfy the lowest common denominator of resident but to make food as palatable to as many people as possible just like any decent dining establishment.
We have the right to have our food served to us hot.
Food that is cooked hours before mealtime and left to cool just because the kitchen does not have the proper equipment to keep the food hot, shows how little respect the food service department has for us and how little respect the facility has for its residents.
Food that leaves the kitchen burnt, undercooked or overcooked or just cold and poorly plated shows a complete disregard for the dignity of the diners.
In addition, meals that are thrown at us by untrained, surly and overworked servers should not be tolerated.
And, while the reason for poor service can be blamed on the inability to attract qualified personnel, it must be noted that the reason for this lies in the way health-care workers are paid and treated by employers.
The incentives and perks for anyone who works here are nearly non-existent.
- Mostly minimum wage jobs.
- Little chance of overtime.
- No benefits.
- Tyrannical management.
- Difficult state mandated vetting process, and difficult, demanding residents make working here as unattractive a venue as there is.
This is all because there is a systemic problem inherent in all of these facilities.
The jobs here are dirty and thankless with training often done on an “earn while you learn” basis.
The turnover of employees is tremendous, with some leaving only after one or two days.
Until some way is found to make a concerted effort to improve the salary base, and offer benefits and promotions, the level of service in both the dining area and the rest of the facility will continue to degenerate.
And you, as a prospective resident of an ALF, should be able to get straight answers as to the staff to resident ratio and to the turnover of employees.
As of now, this information remains a mystery.
* I’m not putting down diners. I fact, there are many times that I wish the food here at the ALF was a good as some diners I have been to.
** The dietitian at our facility has never tasted the food she approves. This is because she observes kosher dietary laws and our facility does not serve kosher food. Complaining to her about the way the food tastes is like trying to describe an elephant to a blind person.
Seniors struggle with food insecurities
“For most people in the nation, gathering food is nothing but a trip to the closest grocery store, but
for many seniors, it can be more difficult than that.
“The hardest part about the life of seniors is affording food. It’s not only difficult for them to afford
food, but also to go out and get it,”
Some seniors are not capable of driving themselves to get food, making the task even more
challenging than it should be
The senior citizens receive Social Security checks at the beginning of every month, but toward the
end of the month, seniors are left with a difficult decision.
In some cases, senior citizens have to choose between food or medicine because they cannot afford
the expense of both.”
*click link to read more.
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Why senior citizens are turning to medical marijuana
America’s senior citizens are now the fastest growing group of people medicating with cannabis. But why are seniors deciding to go green so late in life?
*Click on link to read more.
= = = =
7 Steps to Aging Well
Staying healthy isn’t a chore. It’s a way to keep enjoying life.
Here are seven steps to aging well:
1. Control your blood pressure
2. Control your cholesterol
3. Control your weight
5. Stop smoking
6. Don’t drink too much
7. Follow preventive measures proven to help
Taking responsibility for your own health as you age means being an active participant with your physician and other health care professionals.
* Click on link to read more.
Continuing with our Sunday food edition, I present as evidence last Thursday’s breakfast.
The two slices of French toast pictured above were put aside because they arrived cold.
I could have sent them back and hoped that a little microwave treatment would revive them to an edible state.
However, I opted for a couple of hard-boiled eggs which can be eaten hot or cold.
Unfortunately, the two greasy strips of bacon that came with them were also cold.
At times is appears that nobody cares.
Bruce’s Big Breakfast
It’s nice to have money
One day last week, after suffering one cold, hastily served breakfast after another, a couple of us kids decided to pack ourselves into a cab and shuffle on over to the 7 Brothers Diner here in Yonkers for a decent, well-made, professionally served breakfast.
For $9.95 (not including cab fare tax and tip) I had a glorious morning repast consisting of two perfectly cooked poached eggs, two black pudding sausages, two white pudding things, bacon, home fried potatoes and a slice of tomato. Of course toast, coffee and OJ were included.
The next day, back at the Center, my breakfast included two med warm hard-boiled eggs, two cold slices of toast and two strips of very well done bacon. Not shown was a bowl of watered-down oatmeal, coffee and OJ. YUM!
But, then again, what do you expect for $2.50.
TV Food Commercials
How many do you remember?
Music from the golden age of the girl groups.
Thank you for your kind words.
I try to find some humor in everything and not to take things too seriously, especially myself.
While downsizing is not for everybody, I think as one gets older the less superfluous stuff there is around you, the better your concentration can be on stuff that really matters……bwc.
One of the things that many people miss when they enter an assisted living facility is a chance to putter around the yard.
Fortunately, we here at the Center are blessed with an array of flowering and non-flowering plants that need tending and there is always a loving hand to volunteer to help out.
A couple of years ago I got inspired and decided to practice my video creation skills. The result of which may be viewed below.
Thought for food
Food has always been a bone of contention as well as the bane of one’s existence in any institutional setting.
Whether that setting is a hospital, the army, a prison, or an assisted living facility, mealtime becomes an important part of one’s day.
In an ALF, perhaps more than anywhere else, mealtimes should be more than just the act of supplying nutrition to an old body. It is a time of delivering food for the soul as well.
Being able to enjoy a few minutes together with your friends over a lovingly prepared meal can bring back memories of those times when you were surrounded by family members now long gone or an intimate dinner with that very special someone.
Unfortunately, the people who plan, cook, and serve meals at many of the places where seniors gather either are not aware of this very special connection we have with food and mealtimes or just don’t care.
Perhaps, as part of any training course for food service people, there should be some time set aside to remind the staff who they are serving and what courtesy for the way food is served and respect for the way food is prepared means just as much as the number of calories on the plate…………….bwc.
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