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Meal Plans and Levels of Care in Senior Living

what is assisted living

Assisted living, independent living, skilled nursing, memory care, rehabilitation – there are many levels of care in the senior living industry. We’ve previously talked about how to select a meal plan for your community, where we analyzed the benefits and disadvantages to meal credits, declining balance and inclining balances. With seniors spending an average of almost an hour and a half of their day eating or drinking, communities must prioritize their dining experiences and meal plan offerings at every level of care to help themselves and their residents flourish.

But, how does each meal plan correspond to each specific level of care? What is assisted living? What types of meal plans do AL residents have and why? Let’s cover some of the core expectations that surround meal plans and dining programs through each level of care.

What does an independent living meal plan look like? 

Independent living is ideal for residents who want to live independently (hence the name), while still having access to assistance, amenities, and services when needed. When a resident joins an independent living community, they are often offered various dining options with their unit package

What we commonly see is:

  • Declining dollars to be used anywhere in the community, given monthly, resetting monthly. This provides the resident with money to spend on campus, encouraging them to socialize, make use of the local dining venues, and enjoy your environment.
  • Meal credit programs that provide residents with a number of meals per day, week, month, resetting monthly and again promoting in-community dining and local socialization

When a community provides a meal plan such as those mentioned above, once they have depleted their dollars or credits, they are either required to pay with a credit card, cash, other payment method – or are offered an inclining balance or room charge account. This allows for optimum convenience, as the resident can get billed out on their room charges in accordance with their billing period. 

Nutritionally speaking, while independent living residents may have dietary restrictions that impact their dining habits, they don’t usually follow the pureed or highly specialized diets that accompany other levels of care. This is an area where the right dining technology such as POS can help you through each level of care, but particularly in independent living. 

By using independent living resident dietary restriction tracking to flag things like gluten free, dairy free, or any allergies that they have, this information can be sent to the kitchen staff the same way it would be at a traditional restaurant, allowing you to effectively support independent living residents and their dietary restrictions and needs without them having to be in a higher level of care or without a significant impact on your operations from a customization standpoint.

What does an assisted living meal plan look like?

Assisted living is a slightly elevated level of care, where residents require more support from staff. It is ideal for residents who might have difficulty with daily tasks at home, and still allows for community living but with a personalized level of care. The most common AL meal plans are all-inclusive with some restrictions, but we’ve seen AL meal plans go many ways. For example:

  • 3 meals per day included, alcohol not included and guest meals must be charged to an inclining balance or room charge account
  • All inclusive with no restrictions
  • 3 meals per day from a specific dining area, other dining areas are charged to room charge or using alternate payment method 

AL residents usually have more restrictive dietary needs, and dining technology often needs to include this as well. Assisted living residents usually have more customized diets to suit their needs, which is sent from POS equipment to kitchen printers or screens, and resident name and dietary restrictions to ensure each resident’s dining needs are being met.

What do meal plans look like for more elevated levels of care?

More elevated levels of care, such as memory care, rehabilitation and skilled nursing, almost exclusively have every meal, beverage and food item included in their monthly package. Because these residents are under closer supervision, with staff members directly helping with daily tasks including eating, including meals in their package makes the most sense. 

The dining experience is always one that is critical to a senior living community’s success. Whether the community supports independent living, assisted living, or all levels of care, ensuring that your dining team are equipped with the right tools to deliver a proper dining experience is critical – from meal plans to the technology to support them.

Shannon Moyes

Business Development Manager – Volanté Systems


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