6 Ways Nutrition Pros Need to Be Leading Now

All the recent emphasis on resident-centered care, liberalizing diets, and implementing QAPI has many food and nutrition professionals wondering, “What is my role in all this?”


In some ways, we will be doing what we’ve always done: working to help people understand the connection between nutritious food and good health. In other ways, we’re being challenged like never before to support positive clinical and emotional outcomes for residents and provide community leadership.

Help lead your community to greater success by:

  • Teaching people to enjoy healthful eating. The move to liberalize diets requires we create fun, positive educational programs that teach residents and staff about healthy food choices. We can’t assume folks know about nutrition basics; many don’t. Helping people embrace nutritious food and enjoy it is now an essential part of our work. Encourage development of a cooking club, plant a community garden, or "travel the world" together by exploring healthy foods from a variety of ethnic traditions. Use your creativity to promote healthy eating as something desirable, not something "the dietitian says we have to do."
  • Embracing your changing role in resident-centered dining environments. Change is often emotionally challenging, especially for people who feel they have little control over their environment and life. Stepping out of our clinical focus, taking a more holistic approach, and demonstrating positive attitudes about resident-centered dining will support residents and staff who are struggling to adapt to the changes in our dining rooms.
  • Honoring resident food preferences. RDs, DTRs, CDMs and chefs need to work together to plan healthy dishes that honor residents’ food preferences. You might not be able to convince a retired rancher to order a plate of tofu stir fry for dinner, but he could be very accepting of some turnip mashed in with his potatoes. Ask residents about healthy foods they already like. Perhaps they've been wishing for a certain vegetable dish or miss red beans and rice for supper. Highlight menu items that already work well, talk them up.
  • Helping identify issues and solutions. QAPI requires communities identify problems and find preventative, forward-thinking solutions that are systems based. Be an early adopter. When food and nutrition professionals take an active role in the QAPI process, we are better positioned to ensure residents’ mealtime needs are being met, which is a key factor in residents’ well-being and satisfaction.
  • Creating hospitable dining environments where staff help meet residents' emotional needs and both truly enjoy mealtimes: When the dining room is a pleasant, social place, residents eat better because Mealsthey are dining for quality of life as well as nutrition. Communities that focus on nurturing genuine hospitality during meals, report fewer residents refusing to eat and lower rates of unexpected weight loss because residents feel more connected in the dining room and staff are more skilled at honoring residents' preferences.
  • Fostering interdepartmental teamwork. It’s easy to get stuck in our individual orbits, focusing on our own perspective and departmental needs, but the organization-wide changes demanded by QAPI and other new regulatory and industry standards require taking a wider look at the care our communities deliver and teaming up to raise standards. As community leaders, food and nutrition professionals are key influencers. Model and encourage teamwork across departmental lines to help other staff members adopt new, more resident centered, cooperative attitudes and behaviors.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of good nutrition and meeting residents’ social needs at mealtimes. A great deal of their health and well-being depends on what happens at the table. For their sakes, the leadership of food and nutrition professionals matters more than ever.

About the Author

Cindy's PicCindy Heilman, MS, DTR has over 30 years of experience enhancing hospitality and food service quality. She is CEO of Higher Standards, LLC, author of Hospitality for Boomers: How to attract residents, retain staff, and maximize profitability, and creator of Kind Dining® curriculum, her unique program that improves serving staff in senior living communities. She’s active in Oregon’s culture change coalition, has been recognized as Oregon’s Dietetic Technician of the Year, and received the American Dietetic Association (ADA) National Award for Excellence in Dietetic Technology. She speaks, trains, and consults nationally on raising service standards in senior living communities.