Plated meals are the standard way of serving food to your residents for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But recently there’s been a trend in family-style dining at health care facilities like yours. What is family style dining? It refers to when food is served to tables on large platters, and then diners make their plates themselves. It mimics the experience of sitting down with your family at the dinner table.

Your residents most likely grew up during a time of eating at the table with their families before cell phones, tablets, and TV streaming services took up everyone’s attention. This type of dining just isn’t as common today, and your residents may find themselves eating alone. Besides bringing people together, eating with a group can bring up nostalgic feelings for your residents of when families would gather around a table and eat while discussing their days.

Bringing family-style dining to your facility is a way to change up the dining experience for your residents while also improving their overall wellness.

The scientific benefits of eating together

Studies show that socialization has a positive impact on health. In fact, people with stronger social relationships have a 50% increased likelihood of survival. Plus, other evidence links poor socialization with conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and slower wound healing.

A family-style meal encourages socialization. Your residents will need to ask each other to pass the dishes around the table and will most likely discuss how delicious the meal is (which then opens the door for further conversation!). Family-style dining also gives your residents more freedom when it comes to choosing what goes on their plates. They’re empowered to make their own choices when serving themselves.

The negative effects of loneliness

Now you know that socialization can be good for your residents, but it’s important to also understand the negative impact on health that loneliness can have. Eating alone is, well, pretty lonely, and several studies have proven that loneliness has a negative impact on health.

In fact, recent studies have shown that men and women who eat alone may have a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. And loneliness can also cause the same amount of damage to someone’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Using your dining program to encourage residents to be social and eat with a group can contribute to your community’s overall wellness. By having family-style meals on a regular basis, you get your residents socializing, and hopefully, they form friendships with others in the facility (and then they’ll have people to socialize with regularly)!

One way to make family-style dining even more social is to be strategic about seating. Many facilities incorporating this style of dining might let residents choose where to sit and who to sit with in the dining room, which is great if you have a close-knit community. However, if you know there are some shy residents in your facility, consider having assigned seating sometimes to encourage people to talk with residents they wouldn’t normally and to prevent shy people from feeling awkward and lonely. To create even more of a social experience, you could put index cards with conversation starters on the table, like “Who is your favorite entertainer?” or “What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been to?”

Best foods to serve family-style

One of our favorite meals to serve family-style is pasta. It serves a lot of people and looks beautiful on a big platter. While dishes like fettucini alfredo aren’t the healthiest for your residents, you can make swaps to turn pasta into a more nutritional dish. Use pasta noodles made from vegetables, like chickpeas or spinach. You could also spiralize zucchini to make “zoodles” instead of using the typical pasta noodle.

Another great meal for family-style dining is chicken and roasted vegetables. Arrange pieces of chicken and vegetables of your choice on a big, pretty platter (easy, right?). Your residents can then serve themselves from that platter.

A large salad is also a great complement to any family-style meal you choose to serve. You can fill it with whatever healthy ingredients you want, and a colorful salad always looks appetizing in a huge serving bowl.

Bringing family-style meals to your facility

Culinary Services Group always encourages the facilities we work with to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner a more social experience for residents because of the proven health benefits. Family-style dining gives your community a chance to socialize with each other (while simultaneously enjoying healthy, delicious food!). This also gives your residents the ability to foster friendships with others in the community.

You don’t need to change every meal service to a family-style experience to start seeing a more social community. Start small. Add a family-style meal night to your dining rotation once or twice a month at first. If you need some assistance organizing this, Culinary Services Group can help. Our team has expertise in all types of dining and knows the benefits of socialization at facilities like yours. Whether the meal is served family-style or not, we require our chefs to do table touches after each service. The chef visits each table and talks to diners about how their food was. These table touches create a more social dining environment at every meal.

To learn more about how we can help, contact us here.


Culinary Services Group

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