The Covid-19 pandemic brought a host of challenges for senior housing operators, but among the most insidious was the mental health of residents. For a population that already struggles with loneliness and isolation even in the best of times, quarantine was a heartbreaker.
And as bad as the emotional fallout can be from a senior’s social isolation, there are physical health problems as well. A Cambridge University study from May 2020 noted that “Both loneliness and social isolation have been associated with an increased risk for coronary artery disease-associated death, even in middle-aged adults without a prior history of myocardial infarction.”
The good news is that while isolation remains a challenge — and will continue to be one after COVID — there is a natural solution to senior living isolation: the dining area. By improving the dining experience, operators can improve the resident experience. And among the ways to improve the dining experience is one that might go overlooked: flavor.
“Food is one of those things that brings everyone together,” says Spiceology Sr. Director of Innovation & Partnerships Tony Reed. “When you don’t have good flavor and good food to eat, there is less reason for people to gather at the table. Creating memories with new flavors is what’s going to get people meeting with other residents and out of their rooms.”
How flavor improves the culinary experience
Dining is the one area of senior living where residents are judging the community multiple times per day. That would be the case for students on a college campus, but those evaluations are more important in senior housing where dietary restrictions are greater, thus hampering some of the tasty dishes that an executive chef could otherwise prepare.
Creativity around spice blends, including salt-free ones, can help operators literally spice up the dining experience for residents, building a buzz in the community that brings residents out of their rooms and into the dining areas.
“When you can create conversation around food and get people together, it’s an added bonus,” Reed says. “We try to select flavors that make residents reminisce about their favorite foods. Taste is one of the strongest ways to evoke memories.”
These flavor variations also create not just surprise but, in a strange way, stability, because operators can add these items to the menu. That gives residents more structure and meaning with additional aspects of community life to look forward to.
“Creating new flavors and introducing them to your residents brings excitement to everyday eating,” he says.
How flavor improves community socialization
One of senior living’s isolation challenges during the pandemic has not just been about whether residents can interact with each other — it’s been whether they can interact with visitors. Now that visiting is resuming, residents might be inclined to go off-campus for dining with their loved ones.
An operator that delivers an exciting dining experience might actually entice residents to invite their family members on campus for meals, rather than the opposite. This creates a snowball effect: the more residents who come to the dining area rather than ordering food to their units or going off campus, the more other residents want to be involved in that enjoyment.
“We’re getting a lot of excitement from the management groups themselves and the chefs who are creating the food about the impact of flavor on socialization,” Reed says. “They’re constantly asking, ‘What are you going to create next?’”
4 exciting flavors that can boost that culinary experience
New flavors allow residents to look forward. Instead of a feeling of resignation that “We’re having pork chops again,” for instance, residents become excited about how this month’s pork chops differ from the previous tastes.
“The flavors elevate how the dish even sounds before you bite into it,” Reed says.
Here are four Spiceology flavors that are getting senior living excited.
- Greek Freak. With notes of herbs, dried onion, sun-dried tomato, a touch of chili pepper and orange peel, this is a salt-free blend that Reed uses on salads, with proteins, or with vegetables. “It’s something I use at home all the time, in almost any cuisine,” he says. “This is my number one go-to blend.”
- Guac-N-Roll. Spiceology created this salt-free seasoning as part of its partnership with the National Kidney Foundation. “Avocados are something many seniors want to avoid, so the idea in creating this blend is to bring the flavor of guacamole to life on any menu item an operator creates,” he says. “For Latin cuisine, tacos, nachos — you name it, it’s super fun.”
- Black Magic. This is a Creole seasoning with a Cajun flair.
- Mango Tango. Another of Reed’s favorites, which he’s used to spice up cocktails or desserts. “This flavor profile is reminiscent of a chamoy sauce, and you can add a bit of liquid to it and turn it into a paste,” he says.
This article is sponsored by Spiceology. To learn more about how you can use new flavors to boost socialization and reduce isolation — or to read new seasoning recipes — visit spiceology.com/senior-living.
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