It’s common for facilities like yours to build meal plans for your residents that prevent and combat diseases. But studies show that creating strict diets like this can be extremely restrictive for your community and negatively affect their quality of life. These therapeutic diets eliminate foods your residents love and keep your residents from being able to make their own decisions about their health. The American Medical Directors Association says that “the use of therapeutic diets, including low‐salt, low‐fat, and sugar‐restricted diets, should be minimized in the LTC setting.”

The alternative is liberalized diets. Liberalized diets aim to provide residents with the food they prefer, while still keeping them healthy. A liberalized diet might mean that certain people get a smaller portion of their favorite dessert or only get to eat red meat a few times a month, but at least they still get to have foods they want rather than being totally restricted from them.

Dietitians in facilities like yours are often challenged with improving the quality of life for residents while simultaneously providing education to prevent weight loss or decline. Your dietitians are also responsible for educating your residents on good eating habits so they continue to follow a healthy diet when they go home. Implementing a liberalized diet program across your facility can help you ease this burden for your dietitians, cut costs, and improve your residents’ quality of life.

The disadvantages of therapeutic diets.

Therapeutic diets (aka non-liberalized diets) may be easier for your facility to implement, but your residents’ health and happiness could suffer because of it. The American Dietetic Association says that nutrition in long-term care facilities needs to meet two goals: maintenance of health and promotion of quality of life. By serving a menu that just focuses on the health issues of each person, your residents will be dissatisfied with the variety of each meal. Their refusal to eat these meals could negatively affect their overall health. Studies show that “therapeutic diet restrictions and texture-modified diets raise concerns of risk for dehydration and malnutrition.”

Malnutrition is one of the biggest problems facing long-term health care facilities like yours today. According to the Pioneer Network’s New Dining Practice Standards, about 50%‐70% of residents leave 25% or more of their food uneaten at most meals. If this is happening with your community and some people are losing too much weight because of it, your facility may need to introduce a liberalized diet in order to bring them back to a healthy weight. However, by implementing a liberalized diet from the start, you can avoid these issues. The benefits of a liberalized diet that offers better variety and has options that align with residents’ food preferences outweigh the risks of serving your residents food that may not be part of a strict therapeutic diet.

How to offer a liberalized diet at your facility.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services encourages facilities to liberalize diets when possible to promote person-centered care. Person-centered care means that residents are actively making decisions about their daily lives. When it comes to nutrition, a person-centered care environment allows residents to have a bigger say in where, when, and what they eat.

Liberalized diets can save costs in the long run due to decreased supplement use, and they can also decrease overall health care costs. Rather than creating a diet for your residents based on their health issues, we recommend also considering their overall health goals and food preferences. A liberalized diet also gives your facility the opportunity to educate your residents. Through your menus, you can teach residents about balanced diets, portion sizes, and making healthier choices all around so they can continue to do so once they’ve left your facility.

We recommend sitting down with residents to learn their food preferences so you can create a healthy, delicious diet based around those. At Culinary Services Group, we meet each resident and learn their food likes and dislikes. We use this data to develop a menu at your facility that takes those food preferences into account. Our goal is to keep your residents happy and create a more person-centered care environment.

Start liberalizing diets today.

Liberalized diets promote person-directed choice and person-centered care throughout facilities and across the continuum of care. Research from the American Dietetic Association found that liberalized diets enhance the “quality of life and nutritional status of older residents in long-term care facilities.”

Food is such a huge part of your residents’ lives. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are often times that they can socialize and enjoy their food and the company of others at your facility. By creating diets for your residents that they actually want to eat, you can keep them looking forward to mealtime rather than having them be dissatisfied and leaving a lot of food on their plates.

We know implementing a liberalized diet might be tough at first. When a facility wants to make this change, their dietitians at facilities are typically tasked with creating liberalized diet plans for residents. But, this can pose a problem when residents have multiple comorbidities or are coming into facilities short term and are still likely most appropriate to be in a hospital setting. This is why we recommend getting a partner who is an expert in liberalized diets and changing the culture at facilities like yours.

If you’re ready to improve your residents’ health and quality of life, we can help. Our team at Culinary Services Group can assist you in promoting person-directed choice and person-centered care in your facility. We’re ready when you are. Contact us here.

Culinary Services Group

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