Planning and executing menus for seniors in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and group homes is a challenging job for food service managers and chefs. The process is driven by cost along with government and industry regulations, dietary and nutrition concerns, and the need for flexibility, while appealing to residents.
Dollars Allocated for Menus for Seniors
Senior living facilities, which are funded by public or private dollars, try to make costs as low as possible in order to provide service within the budget they have. For nursing homes and other facilities owned by corporations, this may mean a few dollars per resident per day (PRD) budget unless a large percentage of residents are private pay, which might double the daily PRD. Cost allocations vary by region, but the industry averages are around $4.50 to $6.50 in some areas of the Midwest.
Food service managers may be under constant pressure to lower costs, even at times when prices of milk, eggs, staples, and other foodstuffs are on the rise. Aside from the food purchases, items such as coffee, tea, paper products, and spices represent a cost that must be absorbed.
What Impacts Food Cost
There are several other factors that can lead to extra costs besides the cost of food, so managers must be vigilant about all aspects of the operation when planning menus for seniors. For example:
Unless there is a good system of inventory control, employees responsible for ordering food can over order, which leads to a stockpile of food on hand that can throw off budgeting. Around holidays, this is a common practice to spread out the extra costs usually associated with more festive, costly meals.
Cooking staff may not follow recipes and use more ingredients then called for, while those who serve the food can overdo it on the portions – a practice that impacts not just PRD but upsets the nutritional balance established for patients.
In order to make sure that there is enough food for residents to choose what they want, the cooks may make a few extra meals, which adds to the costs. The staff usually eats at no charge, a common practice that ups the count of meals. Sometimes, however, cooking staff deliberately overcook so that they can take some home, along with supplies on hand.
Most residential institutions who provide senior meals belong to a group purchasing organization (GPO) or a prime vendor program that helps keep costs in line and may represent a savings of 5 to 15 percent of the cost. Purchases made elsewhere might be more costly.
Computerized Menus Aid in Cost Control
While the issues surrounding food costs for menus for seniors are complex, having a good computerized menu system can help balance the budget. Grove Menus offers recipes, itemizes the cost and nutritional values for menu items, and generates a shopping list for ingredients needed to prepare recipes. The menus not only simplify the task at hand for the dietary staff, but adds a much-needed management tool to give administrators a handle on food costs for seniors.