Menu planning, upgraded: The benefits of advanced dietary management

October 27, 2022
Categories: Life plan community, Senior living, Skilled nursing
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Written by: Amy Wootton, director of nutrition management, MatrixCare

Effective nutrition management is essential for keeping residents healthy, and for keeping facilities running on track. But getting every individual’s meal exactly right each time is no small task. A number of factors need to be balanced in each case — nutrition, allergies and special dietary needs, to name a few.

Meal management has always been a challenge. Today, though, advances in technology have made the task more streamlined and straightforward than ever before. With the help of nutrition management software that features menu-based meal planning, organizations can quickly, easily and cost-effectively create meals that meet each resident’s specific dietary needs, while helping drive greater efficiency and cost control on an operational basis.

Why is nutrition and diet management important?

There’s a real cost of not paying attention to menu planning. Failing to keep this important task top of mind can expose an organization to a number of risks. For instance, malnutrition can lead to health deterioration, as can a diet that’s at odds with a resident’s specific health condition. Mental and physical health can suffer as a result.

All this impacts not only the health of the resident but, over time, an organization’s ability to provide satisfactory care. At a time when seniors expect a higher level of quality, and as the industry is struggling with a variety of other challenges, organizations that fail to get meal planning right may be exposing themselves to added risk.

On top of that, food costs have risen dramatically in recent years, with more inflation likely coming in the months to come. As a result, failing to carefully manage resources like food preparation and distribution can have harmful effects on an organization’s budget.

Yet accommodating each resident’s specific nutrition needs is easier said than done. Workforces that are already spread thin may not have the time or resources to focus on each individual’s unique nutritional needs. With the right software, though, all of that data can be automatically stored and saved, guiding staff members through the preparation of each meal.

What makes an effective menu planning strategy?

Meeting the challenge of effective meal management begins with understanding the important role nutrition and special dietary needs play in each resident’s wellness. Of course, nutrition improves everyone’s quality of life. But getting nutrition right can have other benefits like improved meal consumption, less waste, and generally happier/more satisfied residents.

Dietary needs extend beyond nutrition. Other factors like allergies, physical limitations and personal preferences are also critical. For instance, if someone with CHF needs to closely monitor their sodium intake, or if a facility is developing a menu for all residents with congestive heart failure (CHF), it should be a simple matter to find low-sodium items and integrate them into those menus.

Effective menu planning needs to take all of this into account, making each resident’s details and preferences accurate and accessible at all times. And it should be comprehensive, covering everything from low-sodium CHF requirements or popular diets (e.g., Mediterranean, DASH or MIND) to rare allergies or the need to swallow safely associated with the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative (IDDSI).

But getting it right has benefits that extend beyond resident health and well-being. A facility’s ability to meet and, better still, exceed dietary expectation is a major driver for referrals and new business. In the context of today’s $3.7 trillion health and wellness industry, it makes sense that some organizations actually gain admissions based on the quality of their dining offerings.

How MatrixCare MealTracker can help

MatrixCare MealTracker was designed to be the gold standard in menu planning, helping facilities quickly, easily and cost-effectively build menus to accommodate their residents’ needs. In doing so, it also helps automate production and allows for more detailed shopping lists and production sheets, helping organizations better manage orders and expenditures.

With MealTracker, every resident detail and every food item in your inventory are integrated into a larger system that creates menus based on available items and their specific nutritional content. Individual menus take into consideration each resident’s details and can be customized to serve residents more efficiently.

Different food items have different nutritional details, and MealTracker offers a full analysis of each one. Using the USDA’s FoodData Central database — a federal list of nutritional information — MealTracker can automatically find and integrate food items based on nutritional content, with literally thousands of options to choose from.

Based on standards from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, MealTracker’s library of 4,000+ recipes was built to be flexible. Each can be customized and individualized — easily change the names, ingredients and scale as needed. By filtering these recipes through each resident’s specific profile, workers can easily make each nutrient-balanced meal as ordered.

The built-in Smart Selections™ feature also helps you keep residents safe by adjusting their preferences and requests to match their physician’s orders and avoid any red flags (like allergies or unpalatable foods). The system can also communicate with each resident’s medical record for additional information that may impact their dietary intake.

Finally, MealTracker also helps organizations keep a closer eye on costs. With more precise records, it’s easier to weed out wasteful requests; for instance, “I want double” sometimes just means, “I want dessert.” Precise portion detail is critical in avoiding waste and controlling costs, letting users easily cost out their menus — simply search for an item and enter the price from each vendor to itemize the cost.

By itemizing each meal, organizations can keep a closer watch on costs, and then adjust as needed. And by more effectively meeting the nutritional needs and personal preferences of their residents, they may also see greater levels of satisfaction that come from a consistent, nutritionally sound menu.

Learn more about how MatrixCare can help your organization meet the specific dietary needs of your residents.

See MealTracker in action.


Amy Wootton
Amy Wootton

Amy Wootton, RDN, is a registered dietitian licensed in the state of Florida with over 18 years of experience in clinical nutrition leadership for senior communities as well as acute care, food service management, nutrition informatics, and wellness education. Amy is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was appointed Vice Chair on the Interoperability and Standards Committee, and is the leader of the Academy’s Nutition Care Process Workgroup. Amy most recently accepted a Leadership Award from the Florida Academy of Dietetics. She has achieved years of diversified experience in all spectrums and disease improvement and prevention throughout each lifespan. Amy is a dedicated leader and is passionate about the success of nutrition interventions as an electronic solution to healthcare crises’.


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