Advice Assisted Living

Nourishing The Body, Mind, and Soul with Nutrition at Benchmark

a senior holding a coffee mug and smiling

One of the most important facets of life is the food we use to sustain our bodies. Not only can good nutrition provide great joy in life, but it also impacts our mood, energy, and efficiency for our overall health and wellness. This March, Benchmark is thrilled to join in celebrating National Nutrition Month. For us, this month serves as a reminder of the paramount importance of providing not just meals but exceptional culinary experiences to our residents. We know and understand that food is not just sustenance; it is an integral part of our residents’ quality of life, contributing to physical health, mental well-being, and overall satisfaction with the living environment that surrounds them. 

One of the key aspects that sets Benchmark apart is our recognition of the significance of a great culinary experience for our residents. We believe that mealtimes should be more than just a necessity—they should be a highlight of the day, fostering socialization and connection. We ensure our dining experience is not only delicious but also inclusive, catering to diverse dietary needs and preferences. Central to our approach is the understanding that food is a source of comfort and familiarity, especially for those transitioning into senior living. We recognize that residents may have cultural and traditional dishes they are accustomed to, which may not always align with our menu offerings. Therefore, we strive to fill this gap by incorporating resident feedback and preferences into our culinary offerings, ensuring that everyone feels at home by gathering resident input in each community through the Resident Food Council* that meets to match such feedback from our residents. 

In a recent interview with Benchmark’s Regional Directors of Dining Jim Hourihan and Michael Eckrote, the two explained the thoughtful, multifaceted process behind Benchmark’s food program: “It’s one area that the residents still fully control in their life,” says Hourihan. Our associates are keenly aware of the changes a resident encounters when they move into a community – a change of routine, such as getting up and having toast exactly how they like it. In providing a wealth of choice and variety, Benchmark works to carry over as much of that control and comfort as possible. 

“That’s why we stress that the chefs are present, the dining room manager is present and the coaches are present,” Hourihan continues on the importance of providing choice, especially with regards to transitioning into senior living – the dialogue which surrounds a resident’s food preferences is ongoing. “This is the time for the chefs to connect with their residents and come up with what they want.”

Our commitment to resident satisfaction extends beyond taste; it encompasses health and well-being as well. This is exemplified by our signature creations like the Savory Sensation salt and Benchmark’s own salad dressing, crafted in response to lowered national sodium standards for seniors. Through collaboration with our residents, we have developed options that prioritize flavor without compromising on health.

At Benchmark, innovation and variety are key to keeping our menus fresh and exciting. Regional Directors Michael and Jim hold innovation to a high standard. “One of the major interview questions that Michael and I ask chefs is: how do you stay current?” says Hourihan. “What makes you current on the trends, and what do you see in this world as a difference from 5 to 10 years? 25 years ago it was grilled cheese and tater tots, and that’s unacceptable to where the culinary world is today. So we need to stay current on that […] and what we’re going to do in two years, three years.” 

Our residents are provided with three meals a day, every day, making it essential to offer a balance of familiar favorites and bold new flavors. Our monthly cooking demonstrations, driven by resident input, serve as a platform for cultural exchange and culinary exploration, allowing residents to connect with their roots through food – there is a true thoughtfulness that goes into Benchmark’s culinary program. We offer a range of menu options for all-day dining, including daily specials, diners-choice menus, and community-driven selections. We offer three chef specials every day, which equals 21 different entrees a week, along with the always-available 40 to 50 plus alternative menu options that the residents can order. These menus not only cater to diverse tastes but also empower residents to maintain a sense of independence and control over their dining experience.

Moreover, we understand that different levels of care require tailored dining experiences. While we aim for consistency between assisted living and memory care dining, we also recognize the need for additional support for our Mind and Memory Care residents. This includes initiatives such as “Show Plates” to aid in meal selection, where an associate walks around the dining room with hot plates of the day’s specials, showcasing them to residents so that they can closely observe and smell the day’s choices. “We also need to realize that we can support Mind and Memory Care residents with higher acuity by providing show plates, where they get the visual,” Michael Eckrote explains. “Finger foods, cut up foods, removing bones from proteins so it doesn’t pose a risk.” 

Our culinary team works closely with Mind and Memory Care residents and nursing staff to ensure safety and satisfaction. Whether it’s modifying textures to accommodate resident capabilities or sensitivities, or introducing scientifically backed practices like red plate dining – studies show that using red dinnerware with individuals experiencing dementia makes it easier to see and recognize food – we prioritize individualized care and holistic wellness.

National Nutrition Month serves as a poignant reminder of the profound impact food has on our residents’ lives. At Benchmark, we are proud to uphold the highest standards of culinary excellence, enriching the lives of our residents one delicious meal at a time. Join us as we celebrate the joy of good food, good company, and good health this March and beyond.

“We want to make an impact when we leave this industry,” Hourihan says. Michael Eckrote nods in agreement. “We want to leave it in a better place than we found it.”


*Please check with your community’s Executive Director to see if they have an active Resident Food Council.

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