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Senior Living Dining That Rivals Top Restaurants

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenMay 16, 2013

The phrase “senior living dining” usually conjures visions of an institutional buffet line of colorless vegetables and mystery meat under orange heat lamps. Leisure Care is on a mission to prove this stereotype wrong by creating a dining experience for their residents that rivals meals at some of the world’s finest restaurants.

Leisure Care’s brand of resort style retirement communities focus on expanding freedom, choice and independence for seniors.  Seniors have more time to explore the things they truly enjoy in life, including spending quality time with family and friends. As often happens, this socialization revolves around meals and dining.

According to Jason Childers, Senior Vice President of Leisure Care, providing a gourmet dining experience for residents is just one of the ways Leisure Care communities stand out in the crowd. “When a senior is shopping for a community or families are looking for a senior living community for their mom or dad, healthy — yet tasty food — is high on the priority list,” says Childers. “When you choose a community, you are basically choosing the restaurant that you will go to two to three times a day, every day. You better enjoy that restaurant.”

Collaborating with Childers to deliver on this promise is Chris Tolstoy, Food and Beverage Manager and Michael Sturm, Operations Director who leads the Health and Wellness initiatives for Leisure Care.  As manager of Leisure Care’s food and beverage program, Tolstoy strives to be both proactive and innovative when it comes to dining.

“Our goal is to produce meals that combine freshness, quality and taste that works,” shares Tolstoy. “Our Food and Beverage Program provides plenty of options for our residents and we adapt as needed across the board or from community to community.” These adaptations can be driven by a variety of things, such as what’s fresh and local, to regional and cultural preferences, to the changing palettes and tastes of residents. Examples of this include tasteful, southern-style barbecue in the south, or Louisiana Cajun style cooking at Leisure Care’s Atlanta community.  Pacific Northwest community menus are infused with seafood choices. Tolstoy notes, “We always focus on bringing in fresh, local organic produce into our communities wherever we can.”

Leisure Care Caters to Senior Lifestyles and Palettes

When families are looking for a senior living community for their loved ones, a combination of nutritious and tasty food is high on the priority list. Meal time is part of socialization and enjoyment at every age, but is especially important for seniors as meal time provides stimulation and mingling—both necessary for quality golden years. Leisure Care takes this into consideration and strives to be both proactive and innovative when it comes to meals.

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Here are just a few ways LeisureCare delivers on their promise of a rich dining experience focused on delicious, well-balanced food:

  • A true restaurant experience. Residents are seated, provided with menus and place their orders with a server. Leisure Care restaurants are set up like 5-star fine dining establishments with linen table clothes, linen napkins, servers in button-up dress shirts. Fresh flowers are often set for resident enjoyment.
  • A variety of menu options. Each community has a planned menu, which includes daily specials along with the “stand by favorites” that are always available. Everything is cooked fresh and from scratch by top-notch chefs.
  • Heart-healthy choices. Every menu includes a minimum of five “heart-healthy” items, which are designated with a little heart.
  • Gluten-free options. As needed, communities offer gluten-free specials to accommodate physician- prescribed diets.
  • Sugar-free desserts. With or without sugar, the dessert collection provides something for everyone.

Leisure Care offers exhibition-style cooking for residents, where the residents can watch and interact while the chefs are creating meals. They also cater meals for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, sport events, as well as holiday celebrations. Any time residents want a special dining experience, all they have to do is contact their chef to make it happen. Most communities have a private dining room, but if the resident wants to open up the community dining room, this is also possible.

Resident feedback is also important. The Leisure Care chefs do a great job of socializing with residents during the dinner hour, and many communities have actually set up a “Resident Food Council”— a forum for residents to give ongoing feedback. Residents can provide input on menus, ingredients, recipes and special events.

Combining Nutrition and Fitness for Optimized Senior Health

Leisure Care makes it a point to proactively adapt their health and wellness programs. They believe that the things they do today withstand what the residents need tomorrow, and they feel fortunate that they have Michael Sturm to create a balance of wellness programs to go along with healthy eating options. For example, on-staff personal trainers help residents pair a fitness program with their meal program. And, according to Childers, more and more residents are taking advantage of the gym. When the trainer is enthusiastic, it’s easy to get residents excited about working out.

It’s all about balancing quality of life and interesting activities with healthy options. Satisfying both senior and family—finding the balance—is what is important. Childers comments that one of the residents told him, “I feel like I’m still 18. I want to do the things I did when I was young.”

And why shouldn’t Leisure Care residents feel rejuvenated? They’re retired, socializing and eating healthy, chef-prepared meals. In fact, many residents ask, “Am I retired or am I on vacation?” when they enjoy their meals at Leisure Care’s resort-style communities.

What do you think is important in senior living dining? Nutrition, socialization or are your loved ones dietary needs being met? Maybe just overall enjoyment of the meal is your top priority for your loved one. We’d love to get your comments below.

And here is a tasty senior-catered recipe, courtesy of Leisure Care…

Toasted Quinoa and Cherry Salad


  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked 
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped (substitute 1 cup fresh cherries when available)
  • 1/2 cup italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons honey

*Optional: Salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Method:

Quinoa SaladHeat 1 teaspoon olive oil in an non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Toast the quinoa until fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Add water; cover, reduce heat to low and let steam for 15 minutes.  Place the toasted, steamed quinoa in a large bowl to cool.  When cool, add the almonds, green onions, dried cherries, and chopped parsley; mix well.  Whisk the orange juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, buttermilk, and honey together.  Pour over the quinoa mixture and combine well.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Serves: 6

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Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen
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