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Why are Nursing Homes Food Bad? [What You Can Do About It]

When people age, there comes a certain point in their life when they would need all round care because they are not able to do much for themselves.

This is the reason why a lot of people opt to register their parents and loved ones in a nursing home as they may not have the time needed to provide care to these people at home; neither do they have the skills needed to take care of people with special needs.

While nursing homes may provide the perfect alternative to in-home care, but there is one general deficiency that most nursing homes have, and that is food.

Food is not meant to just fill us up the tummy; it is very essential for providing our bodies with the energy and building blocks we need to thrive. Eating a healthy diet supports healthy organ function, balanced hormones, strong immunity and resistance to illness and disease.

On the other hand, a bad diet can quickly send your health in an exponential downward spiral, opening the door to harmful pathogens, disease, hormonal imbalance, mental instability and general unhappiness.

Sadly, in most nursing homes around the country, a lot of aged people are being served food that are not just bland, tasteless and lacking in basic nutrition, but foods that have the potential to hasten their demise.

According to research, some of these institutions use a lot of really bad condiments like non-dairy creamers that are crammed with nasty trans fats and high fructose corn syrup, not to mention chemical preservatives and a myriad of other harmful additives, which make this cream substitute as close to poison as a food can get.

So, instead of adding real cream, with its healthy fats and plethora of nutrients and vitamins, to their tea and coffee, they’re actually adding something that is doing them harm.

After adding the fake cream to their hot beverage of choice, they equally use artificial sweeteners. These sweeteners on their part are packed with possible carcinogens, including the preservatives and hormone-altering synthetic compounds that are found in them.

The nursing homes are avoiding those pesky calories found in conventional sugar sweeteners, but they’re introducing artificial food compounds, which the body has no idea how to process and which therefore have the potential to do some serious damage.

A survey of over 100 nursing home residents and staff from 32 facilities across 10 counties in Kentucky found the biggest complaint coming out of these homes was the food. And these weren’t just unfounded complaints. One regional nursing home facility switched from serving respectable pieces of steak or chicken to only handing out chicken nuggets at mealtime.

Another facility places three slices of thin deli meat on residents’ plates for their meals. All these practices are not only questionable but detestable.

Another research study which was based on the financial reports from 817 aged care providers for 64,256 residents, states that half of these residents suffer from malnutrition. It found that nursing homes cut spending on food by 30 cents per resident last year.

The report also indicates that a reliance on supplements over fresh food is having an adverse effect on the health of those in aged care homes.

Malnutrition is associated with a cascade of adverse outcomes, including increased risk of falls, pressure injuries and hospital admissions, leading to poorer resident quality of life and increased healthcare costs.

Reasons Nursing Home Meals Bad

Hospital and nursing home dietitians are trained to count calories, to provide the cheapest menu and to cook everything in order to avoid food poisoning. For example, you can’t get a soft boiled or poached egg because of the fear of salmonella.

This in fact is a legitimate fear. Because nursing homes cater to the aged who usually have low or compromised immunity due to one sickness or the other, these homes are usually careful of the meals they serve.

To make sure that not one virus or bacteria that can be harmful to the patients escapes the kitchen, they have to ensure that all their meals are cooked for a certain amount of time. Furthermore, the meals are texturised and saltless to cater to patients that have difficulty in swallowing and other such ailments.

Consequently, the food offered to patients is dead. You would get things like pasteurized milk, reconstituted fruit juices, no raw food of any kind because of chewing problems of the patients; and whole foods are almost non-existent.

Another major factor when it comes to poor nutrition in nursing homes is the issue of profit. It is a fact that nursing homes are in business to earn profit. Spending money on high end ingredients would eat deep into their profit and they tend to avoid this, thus making do with any other cheaper alternatives.

Nursing homes, and other aged care institutions have been found to exponentially increase their profit margins by reducing the amounts spent on food.

A study found that eliminating processed meats and introducing fresh vegetables brought increased costs, including re-training staff to cook the meals from scratch. “The way they used to do things was ordering frozen foods and processed foods, and it’s cheaper because you can control the cost. If you don’t use it you just keep it in the freezer.” So, it all comes down to the dollar.

What Can You Do About Poor Food in Nursing Homes?

A study has found that about 60 percent of people in long-term care centers get one or fewer visitors each year. Because of this, many residents have no other advocates and nursing home issues are widely ignored thus making the trend of poor food a recurring decimal.

Short-cutting on health and quality food in nursing homes is most probably costing more than it is saving as it would increase healthcare needs of patients.

Facility operators and aged care providers that really want to demonstrate the high quality and nutrition standards of their food would be wise to have management and clinical staff alike routinely eat the same food and dishes produced by their kitchens or suppliers for their residents and conduct regular surveys on their experiences.

They could rate and review the food and market and promote their findings. But it is sad that a lot of nursing homes may not want to change their feeding standards, even if it is clear to them that residents do not like them.

If you as a nursing home resident, or a relative of a nursing home resident have issues with meals that are served in the home, you do not have to keep silent. There are ways you can voice your displeasure, and can in fact turn issues around for better in the nursing home. Here is what you can do to make the desired changes.

  1. Go through the complaints procedure of the nursing home

Every nursing home has their private internal complaints procedure. If you notice that a loved one in a nursing home is not being fed in requisite to the payment made, you can start by going through the complaints procedure of the nursing home.

This may not yield much fruit for you, but it is advised that you exhaust your options. Who knows, you might arrive at a compromise with the caregivers that can suit all concerned in the situation.

 2. Internal review board

If you are unhappy with the response you receive from stage one, you can contact the Complaints Co-ordinator of the nursing home within 14 days of receiving a formal written response. The Complaints Co-ordinator will look into the matter further for you and allocate to an appropriate person.

3. Report to a Long-Term Care Ombudsman

If your complaints to the nursing home does not yield the desired result, you can take your case to the local ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service for dealing with complaints.

The Ombudsman can examine complaints about the actions of a range of bodies such as Government Departments, Local Authorities and the Health Service Executive (HSE), including HSE-run nursing homes. From 24 August 2015, the Ombudsman’s remit was extended to enable him to deal with complaints relating to the administrative actions of private nursing homes.

If you feel that you, or a person on whose behalf you are complaining, have been treated unfairly or have received a poor service through some failure on the part of a private nursing home, you can report the case to the ombudsman in your area.

4. Report to the Department of Public Health and Social Services

In most states, nursing homes are regulated by a combination of state (Department of Health) and federal authorities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services [CMS]).  Each agency has its own regulations that control all aspects of the nursing home including: resident care, staffing, policies and procedures and medical equipment.

State and federal agencies are obligated to investigate complaints filed by, or on behalf of, nursing home residents. It is best to file complaints in writing and to keep copies of all correspondence.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) does not require that healthcare complaints be filed with any standard form, except for complaints against licensed physicians. For issues concerning a nursing home, a signed letter is generally sufficient.


Making use of these complaint procedures can and would guarantee you the change that you seek. Going further, you may have to conduct your own research so that you can prove that the nursing home has been harming your loved one by the kind of meals they serve. This would help your case a lot.