Taste buds are changing in senior communities

By Roger Least

The much-buzzed-about “silver tsunami” poses major opportunities for the senior-living industry. In 2022, the U.S. assisted-living market size was valued at $91 billion and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 5.5 percent from 2023 to 2030. From a population standpoint, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 75 to 84 age group made up roughly 14 million (29 percent) of the senior population in 2016, which is more than double the number and proportion of those 85 and older. Around 27 percent of the population is between 75 and 84.

In short, the senior-living Industry is positioned for notable growth as it welcomes the Baby Boomer generation into communities. With this comes a shift in thinking, consumption, and lifestyle.

As the corporate dining director at Brightview Senior Living, a company of independent and assisted-living communities in eight East Coast states, I oversee the dining experience at all 46 communities.. I work with teams who are cooking in the kitchen and serving in the dining rooms to balance nostalgic food favorites with nutrient-dense options to optimize their nutrition and overall health.

We know through research that food and community go hand-in-hand: The more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives. Thus, from an overall health and socialization standpoint, the senior-living dining experience is more crucial than ever.

Hare the three senior living dining trends we’re seeing:

  1. Introducing a reservation system: We learned of the dangers of isolation during quarantine due to COVID-19. In fact, social isolation was associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia, according to the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Meals, particularly dinner, are often the highlight of our residents’ day. To make dining an even more enjoyable social event, we have implemented a reservation system to secure their table in advance and invite their friends to join them, We’re rolling this program out as needed in some of our communities, and so far, the response has been positive.
  2. Composting and the quest to reduce food waste: Beyond the economic benefits of eliminating food waste (as food prices continue to skyrocket), our communities are composting to promote sustainability.
    Composting nourishes soil, prompts seasonal gardening for residents, encourages residents to spend more time outdoors, and sparks conservation. This is a low-cost, high-value way to promote smarter consumption, a win-win for all.
  3. Accommodating adventurous eaters and dietary preferences: We’re seeing Boomers step outside this norm for meal options. This includes seasonal food and the option to try new cuisines. We’re projecting more gluten-free, vegetarian, and Mediterranean diet options in the coming years.

The senior-living dining experience is more than preparing three meals a da.: it’s breaking bread, connecting with others, and providing a hospitality experience. As we welcome the next generation into our communities, we look forward to learning from them and catering to their needs – while maybe even getting them to try something new along the way.