How Sinceri, Integral Senior Living Envision the Future of Dining

Dining is a key component to senior living — and it is also among one of the industry’s fastest-changing areas.

On the one hand, supply issues, rising food costs and lingering staffing issues are forcing senior living providers to become more efficient, and in some cases to do more with less. On the other, resident preferences are changing with the arrival of the baby boomers, necessitating creativity and a constant eye for change.

These forces are running into one another in 2022. And if the pandemic has taught the industry one thing, it’s to expect change, according to Amy Robinson, national director of culinary services at Integral Senior Living.


“Things are, in the culinary world, constantly changing,” Robinson said during a recent dining webinar put on by industry association Argentum. “You’ve got to be ahead of it, you have to be prepared.”

But several broad trends have emerged during the pandemic that will help propel the industry forward. They include a greater use of technology, creativity in staffing and menus catered to resident health and wellness.

Technology and staffing

Providers are becoming more in-tune with using dining programs to generate revenue, offering retail-focused dining with some communities even offering public-facing components to dining.


Through that, communities are able to market themselves to people not associated with their residents and get the most out of their physical dining space, Robinson said.

The use of robotics within community dining was also something Robinson said was “exciting” for the industry.

“We’re seeing some communities that are reimagining their culinary services and implementing high-tech things like vending,” Robinson said.

What senior living workers want out of their jobs has shifted with the pandemic. As such, both speakers said senior living operators need to beef up employee wellness and training programs to support their staff.

“The past few years have not been easy and it continues to be challenging,” Robinson said. “I think we’re going to see a huge focus on supporting our associates with a huge emphasis on enhanced training.”

In supporting staff, dining programs will need to take more of a team-focused approach that emphasizes communication and collaboration between employees, according to Rod Healea, national director of culinary services at Sinceri Senior Living.

“There’s not just one person that rules the kingdom anymore,” said. “These changes come from an entire team and you do that by collectively using your players on your team to their fullest and making everyone feel part of the team.”

Healea said training and employee support would be “the foundation” of future growth within senior dining as culinary programs begin to branch out with new culinary tastes in mind as new residents come to communities nationwide.

Focus on health

Health and wellness is another trend gaining momentum in the senior living industry.

Although senior living residents arrive in senior living communities with a desire to eat healthier, “just because you built it doesn’t mean that they will come,” Robinson said.

Healthy food programs need to be multifaceted, with menu items that both look and taste good, she added. And though it can be tempting to offer convenience or prepackaged foods as a way to save time, Robinson is an advocate of preparing meals from scratch.

“You need staff in general in order to cook from scratch, so you need to choose your items carefully to reduce the convenience food purchasing without adding stress to your associates,” she said.

In how to move toward healthier menus, Robinson said operators can take “baby steps,” such as by gradually replacing instant mashed potato mixes with pre-cut diced potatoes, and then finally whole potatoes.

“Take a look at where you want to end up to take a look at your end goal and baby step your way there,” she said.

Robinson said residents also want to “eat cleaner,” such as with more sustainable foods or those that replace meat with non-animal sources of protein.

“That’s where that true creativity comes in,” Robinson said. “Mixing that in combination with services, having a wide variety of outlets within communities that are multifaceted is how you can get the most out of your space.”

New and old flavors

As the baby boomers arrive in senior housing communities, they are bringing with them a whole host of new preferences for cuisine. Whereas previous generations might have wanted to stick with old or familiar foods, the boomers have a taste for fare from across the globe.

For some senior living operators, this might necessitate a menu refresh that works in dishes from the Caribbean, or India.

“We are at a transition point in senior care where you’re going to see many more trends changing in the years to come,” Healea said. “It’s because the new residents that are coming in and they are going to be requesting and asking for new things.”

Another trend becoming popular within dining programs, Robinson said, was the use of fermentation and incorporating fare such as pickled onions, cucumbers or asparagus into dishes is a great way to engage residents.

“It adds a pop of color to your plates, it’s an edible garnish and something you can educate residents and staff on through great recipes,” Robison said.

Pickling can be an activity, too. For instance, it could be a great way for dining staff to connect with residents who maybe had past experiences using the technique when they were younger.

“It’s about getting your residents engaged and giving them a platform that is unique and can muster up those memories of their history and making them active,” Robinson said.

Companies featured in this article: