There’s a reason why Santa is so jolly. He’s surrounded by Mrs. Claus’ famous cooking! The food that seniors eat over the holidays and every day plays a critical role in their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. Studies have shown time and time again that proper nutrition helps combat anxiety, dementia, depression and memory loss.
However, eating well is about so much more than just meeting nutritional needs — especially during holidays like Christmas, when food plays an important cultural and social element that brings people together. Residents are not excluded from the excitement, joy and pride of hosting a holiday dinner at MacKenzie Place, a Leisure Care retirement community in Colorado Springs that’s renowned for its five-star dining.
“Food is king,” General Manager Joshua Thomas explains.
“It brings families together, and for this generation family get-togethers and life have always revolved around food, so it’s essential that we provide the same lifestyle and quality of home style cooking that our residents are used to.”
In other retirement communities, the holidays are generally a slow time as residents are picked up and taken to a loved one’s home for a family dinner. Not so at MacKenzie Place, where the staff hosts regular dinner parties to which residents invite family and friends. For Thanksgiving dinner, the 172-room community hosted over 300 people, and a similar turnout is expected for their holiday dinner party.
“The holidays are booming at MacKenzie Place and to residents being able to host family, it is a source of pride,” Thomas says. “Our residents dress up, do their hair and nails and are excited to show off their home. Hosting their family gives them a sense of pride and independence.”
It’s this fact that drives MacKenzie Place to invest so much into their dining experience. While common industry costs run from $140-180 per resident, per month, MacKenzie Place easily spends $220-240 or more on food per resident each month. That’s tens of thousands over the industry average each month spent on food, not to mention the additional cost of hiring the staff required to plan, prepare and serve their five-star dining experience.
The extra expense has been worth every penny. “Our resident’s family and friends are drawn to our events because the food is so good,” Thomas says. In addition to the monthly dinner parties, events like outdoor concerts and summer BBQs are always full.
“Our dining is a hub for seniors, families and friends who want to entertain. It’s an enjoyable part of life here.”
Part of the reason the dining experience at MacKenzie Place is so enjoyable is due to the talent and expertise of Executive Chef Ryan Boyd and Restaurant Manager Melody Shaw, who work tirelessly to ensure their restaurant-style dining goes beyond a five-star experience.
In fact, MacKenzie Place’s restaurant is so popular, it has become a highly sought after catering and dining locale in the Colorado Springs community. Open to the general public, Palmer’s Restaurant & Bistro regularly hosts a Sunday brunch for over 100. “When you look at senior living communities, restaurant-style dining is a common marketing term but most are not actually serving their residents the high quality dining they promise,” Barb Bossi, MacKenzie Place’s Marketing Advisor says. “MacKenzie Place does and that’s why we’re asked to do catering events outside of the senior living community. We have an incredible variety of catering opportunities because our food is top-notch.”
Despite the popularity of the food amongst the Colorado Springs crowd, at MacKenzie Place, residents always come first. “We are here to accommodate them,” Boyd says. “We’re happy to change menu items to meet their needs. In fact, our last dessert menu offered a resident-featured recipe — a chocolate avocado torte which was gluten free and heart healthy,” he says. “It was so popular we kept it on the dessert menu.”
In addition to providing menu and recipe suggestions, residents choose the theme of their monthly dinner parties and help plan the live entertainment. “Our community likes to get involved with the table decorations — it’s peripheral to the food, but food is still the central experience,” Bossi says. “Every month residents change the design, creating new, living, handmade pieces which they water, care for and replace as needed.” Others take advantage of the full bar and “do mixology classes with Nate, the bartender, or take cooking sessions with the Chef.”
The holidays are a great reminder that central to food is the element of family. “Many of our residents were the matriarch who has always held the role of chef,” Thomas says. For some seniors the role of host is a central element to their sense of identity, and one that residents don’t necessarily have to give up when they move into assisted living, memory care or independent living communities.
Holiday traditions remind us that food is about more than nutrition — it brings family together and can provide an opportunity to give a sense of pride and independence back to the seniors in our lives.
So, this holiday if you’re hosting Mom or Dad, why not share some of your hostess responsibilities with them? You’ll not only reduce the number of tasks on your plate, you’ll also show your parents or grandparents that they’re still an integral part of your family’s holiday tradition.
What role does food play in your senior loved one’s life? We’d love to hear your experiences and stories in the comments below.