Ethnic Foods in Nursing Homes

Ethnic Woman

Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of ethnic minorities entering nursing home facilities. Chicago is no stranger to the idea of grouping ethnically similar nursing home residents together, in order to help foster a sense of common identity in the nursing home community. Some facilities in the city customarily group different ethnicities of residents on different floors of the facility.

Since different ethnic groups have different cultures, each unique with their own traditions, customs, language, and foods, it makes sense to place similarly cultured groups of residents together. It can make residents more comfortable if they live in the nursing home with other people who share their language, heritage, and cultural values.

Cultural Rituals and Customs

Some residents may have rituals that are very important to them, and nursing home staff should take steps to accommodate those rituals. For instance, those elderly persons who are Hindu will not eat before bathing, and often Korean individuals will not consume cold water, believing that it promotes disease. Similarly, many people of European heritage will only drink carbonated water, and some Jewish practitioners do not eat pork.

Residents believe so strongly in their customs and rituals that it can actually cause them harm if the customs are not accommodated. They will not eat or drink anything if doing so would violate their custom or ritual. When a nursing home is unaware of the underlying custom or ritual causing a resident to not consume food or beverages, it can result in dehydration or malnutrition. As such, it is very important for nursing home staff to be aware of the cultural sensitivities of the residents for whom they care.

Providing Ethnic Foods

When a person has to leave an independent life, or a life at home with family members, to move into a nursing home, it can give the new resident culture shock. There exist obvious changes, such as a new home, a new room, and new people. There can also be an element of change in culture though, with which the new resident is unfamiliar. Take, for example, a Vietnamese immigrant, who has spent many of her years in the United States in a part of town known colloquially as “Little Vietnam.” For many years she has had access to special Vietnamese stores and is used to traditional food from her home country. Her meals have consisted largely of fish, noodles, tofu, and assorted green vegetables, often in broth-based soups. But when her family decides it is time for her to move into a nursing home, she finds that she is served food that is more American than what she is used to. The meals at the nursing home have many unfamiliar starches, such as bread and mashed potatoes. She also learns that she does not like the way that beef feels in her mouth – it’s too chewy and tough, compared to her preferred fish.

When a resident moves into a nursing home and leaves behind a familiar diet, it can leave the resident at risk for becoming malnourished, as the resident does not like the unfamiliar food, and often will not eat it. Providing ethnic food options can alleviate some of these problems, and can help transition an ethnic resident to nursing home life.

If you are concerned that a loved one in a nursing home is dehydrated or undernourished, please do not hesitate to contact our Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Law Firm at (800) 350-0646.

Photo Credit: Sukanto Debnath via Compfight cc

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