To meet the nutritional needs of nursing home residents, a successful meal plan must take into account the physical, mental and emotional health of each resident. And while meeting nutritional objectives should be the primary factor of any plan, the resident's individual dietary needs and preferences are also important. Illness, advanced age, and even accessibility to fresh air and sunshine are factors in determining a resident’s nutritional needs. And the need for assistance with eating and other environmental factors can also affect the outcome of a nutritional program. Although adequate funding, food preparation staff and nursing personnel all have important roles, a licensed, professional dietitian is best qualified to develop and oversee a nursing home meal plan.
Ask a registered nutritionist to complete a nutritional assessment of each resident. Older adults have different dietary requirements than younger people and most often have medical and physical challenges that require special considerations. Consult with nutritionists as well as nursing staff for ways to assess needs and develop long-term and effective meal plans.
Develop meal plans that address the needs of residents who might have difficulty chewing, swallowing or feeding themselves. Be aware of the potential for residents to get less-than-adequate nutrition due to medications, chronic pain and disease, or a poor appetite. Plan for ways to supplement scheduled meals and snacks with added nutrition.
Follow the nutrition guidelines provided by the MyPyramid Food Guidance System. Allow for appropriate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats with each meal. Emphasize lean meats and poultry, plenty of fiber, and a rainbow diet of different-colored fruits and vegetables prepared and served in an efficient, yet pleasant atmosphere. Ask residents to offer feedback to encourage their participation in the development and delivery of a healthy nutrition plan.
Investigate meal-planner software programs that allow you to create menus, access nutritional information, organize kitchen inventory, monitor costs and generate shopping lists. Plan and prepare to provide nutritious substitutions for residents with food allergies and other dietary limitations caused by medications or other complications.
Take advantage of local and national government agencies for assistance with developing meal plans specifically designed for the older adult population.