There are many perks that come with a move to a continuing care retirement center (CCRC, also known as a life plan community); things like housekeeping services, home maintenance, lawn care, and more are often included in your monthly fee–in addition to the comfort of knowing health care services will be available if and when you need them. But for a lot of senior residents who are still healthy and living independently, one of the CCRC must-haves is a high-quality meal plan and dining services.

Taking meal prep off the table

Of course, CCRC residents living in a cottage or condo are free to prepare meals in their own fully-equipped kitchen, but some seniors feel a huge chore is removed from their plate (pardon the pun) when they don’t have to plan, shop for, and prepare three meals a day for themselves and their partner. After all, it’s tough to cook for two without eating leftovers for days on end!

But when you think of CCRC dining, if you are envisioning a cafeteria with “hospital food,” think again. With oversight by registered dietitians, CCRCs are putting a greater emphasis on food quality and nutrition, offering delicious, healthy meal options prepared by culinary school-trained chefs. And staying on top of growing national food trends, ingredients are increasingly locally sourced to ensure freshness and flavor. Some CCRC kitchens are even preparing organic, gluten-free, and a greater number of vegetarian meal options.

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How meal plans work at a CCRC

You may recall having a meal plan to the cafeteria during your college years. CCRCs have a similar set-up.

The meal plans at the majority of CCRCs fall into two categories: fixed meal plans where the CCRC sets the number of included meals, and voucher/credit meal plans where the community determines the amount of money available for meals each month.

CCRC contracts can vary widely from community to community, but in general, you can expect to have one meal per day included in your monthly CCRC fee if you are living independently. Independent residents may be able to upgrade to a meal plan with more meals each day for an additional monthly fee. Any extra meals beyond your meal plan, or food for visiting guests, can usually be added to the monthly bill as applicable.

It is common for CCRCs with fixed meal plans to offer meal credits for residents who are absent from the community for at certain number of days–perhaps due to a vacation or a hospital stay. The value of those credits can range from $3 to $10 per day, depending on the community.

Now, if health issues require that you move to the CCRC’s healthcare facility on either a short-term or long-term basis, your three daily meals will be either added to or included in your monthly fee, depending upon your specific contract type.

The actual monetary value of different meal plan options depends in part on the number of dining choices available at the CCRC. Some CCRCs have more than one on-site dining venue, giving residents more choice in the way they spend their meal credits. For example, some communities will have a main dining room but will also offer a more casual “bistro” or “café,” where meals may be less expensive, helping residents stretch their food budget further.

>> Related: Live to 100 With These Blue Zone Diet Tips

Food and fellowship

Eating in the CCRC dining room has advantages for residents beyond just sustenance. Mealtime is one of the best opportunities to socialize with old friends, as well as meet new people–an important activity, especially for new CCRC residents. Most dining rooms will have an assortment of table configurations, some for couples wishing to share a meal, others for larger parties wanting to enjoy one another’s company.

For prospective residents visiting a CCRC, I always recommend eating in the dining room several times to get a better idea of the atmosphere, the menu selections, and the level of service provided by the kitchen and dining room staff.

Understand the CCRC dining options

Whether you are a foodie who lives to eat, or you are the eat to live type, the opportunity to have someone else do the cooking (and clean-up!) is a huge draw of the CCRC. Be sure you ask lots of questions about how the food service works when you visit the CCRCs you are considering. Some suggestions:

  • Do you offer fixed meal plans or credit/voucher plans?
  • Are meal times flexible or am I required to eat during certain times each day?
  • Are there any meals included with my monthly fee while I am living independently? What if I want to add more meals?
  • How much should I expect to pay for any meals outside of my meal plan?
  • Are there meal options available to meet my special dietary requirements (gluten-free, diabetic, vegan, etc.)?
  • Will I be given meal credits (or a monetary credit to my monthly bill) if I’m away from the CCRC for an extended period of time? What is the required absence period to get a credit?
  • Should I require full-time care in the healthcare facility, how will my meals be charged?

To learn more about CCRCs, check out our Resources section. Or to get information on specific communities, try out our online CCRC search toolit’s free!

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