An important aspect of finding the right community is one with meals your loved one will look forward to–not grumble about. To find a senior housing community with the best food options, schedule a tour during mealtime, grab a fork and start asking questions.

Meal Options

You don’t want your loved one to feel rushed, and you don’t want them to be stuck with just one choice at mealtime. Look for a facility that gives residents a flexible time frame for them to eat and several courses to choose from.

With regarding to dining hours, you are likely to find a set time frame for each meal that gives residents a little bit of flexibility.

“Most communities that serve elders work to provide choice, including multiple meal options,” says Larry Stansberry, CEO of Belleville Assisted Living, New Orleans, Louisiana. “The more meal options, the better.”

Keep in mind a community’s size can affect the number of options. Small communities may be more limited in their meal offerings.

Meal Time

You wouldn’t recommend a restaurant to a friend without trying the food first, so why would you send your loved one to a facility you where you haven’t eaten? When visiting, request to dine with the other residents to get an insider’s feel for the community. Is the meal tasty or bland? Does it look aesthetically pleasing or is it slopped on the plate? Ask residents if they enjoy the food, or if it reminds them of a school cafeteria.

Now is also a good time to check out the staff. Stansberry says to be sure and “observe [if] staff members are accommodating and attentive to residents during meal times.”

Check Out the Kitchen

If you’re able, tour the kitchen while a meal is being prepared. While touring, take into consideration the size of the facility and if there appears to be enough staff available–or if they’re scrambling to keep up. Small communities may need only one cook, but for larger facilities, “the larger the staff, the better,” notes Stansberry.

Check the equipment to make sure it looks up-to-date and clean.

“Make sure the facility has proper equipment or processes to keep hot food hot and cold food cold,” adds Stansberry.

Meeting Special Dietary Requirements

If your loved one has strict dietary concerns, make sure the facility can accommodate them. For common restrictions, like low-sodium and vegetarian options, there should already be a menu in place. Ask if the community has a dietician and how they can assist residents with specific or rare allergies or requirements.

Generally, providing dietary alternatives or options are commonplace.

“If a specific resident has an allergy or dietary restriction, a facility will typically ask for that information in advance and keep a record so that they can accommodate that need or avoid serving that food to the resident,” says Stansberry.

Outside Food Options

Residents may not be limited to what the community kitchen provides. Some facilities, including Bellville, provide transportation to grocery stores so seniors can shop for their favorite items.

“Many senior housing facilities will provide this service for their residents if the rooms in the facility contain kitchens,” notes Stansberry.

Even if your loved one’s room does not contain a kitchen, there may be community kitchen areas or outside grilling locations for residents to use. Ask to see what, if any, restrictions are in place for residents who wish to cook their own food, and what options they have to do so.

By asking the right questions, you’re more likely to find the community that’s the best fit for your elderly loved one.