305 West End Assisted Living Blog

How to Successfully Maintain a Special Diet in a Senior Living Community

Happy senior couple having fun while preparing healthy food in the kitchen.

We all understand the importance of healthy eating at every stage of our lives. However, as we get older, our nutritional requirements often shift, either as a result of lifestyle or changes in our health.

Are you getting the right mix of vitamins and minerals? Are you eating enough or too much? You may even need to follow a special diet, or have your food prepared in a certain way to make eating easier, which could be a challenge in any setting.

Here, we address the changing nutritional needs of older adults, and explore the dietary options available in senior living communities that can address some of these unique needs and much more

Changing Nutritional Needs

Older adults often find that they require more vitamin D, B12, calcium, and iron due to natural changes that occur during the aging process. Eating fiber-rich foods is also important for maintaining good gut health and preventing constipation.

However, while nutritional needs may vary, a key component of a healthy lifestyle is adhering to a well-balanced diet rich in unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

Image divided into thirds with fruits and vegetables to the left, milk, cheese, and yogurt in the middle, and peas, beans, and legumes to the right.

This type of diet includes:

  • Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming calcium-rich foods throughout the day, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, or hard cheeses
  • Choosing high-fiber foods such as peas, beans, and lentils

If you need to follow a special diet - whether for health or lifestyle reasons - you may be wondering how well a senior living community could cater to those needs. While the answer may vary depending on the community you choose, assisted living communities might be among the best options for seniors with specific dietary needs.

This is because the staff is accustomed to creating nutritious meals for a wide range of palates and conditions.

Special Dietary Types

Here at 305 West End Assisted Living, we offer a wide range of special diet options for residents that are based on the different nutritional needs of seniors. Options are helpfully labeled on our menus to make following your diet easy.

Some of these options include:

Table salt in a wooden bowl and wooden spoon on a wood table.

No Added Salt (NAS)

We have * on menus to indicate high sodium items. Additionally, no salt is provided at meal service, and no salt is used during cooking. This is the standard diet recommended for individuals diagnosed with hypertension, heart disease, or high cholesterol. 


Various types of sugar in wooden spoons and in cube and rock form on a rustic white table.

No Concentrated Sweets (NCS)

We have ** on menus to identify highly sweetened items. This diet is standard for those who have received a diabetes diagnosis and includes diet desserts, sugar substitutes instead of sugar packets, fresh fruit, or fruit in natural juices.


Dairy free glass bottle of milk with various ingredients that dairy-free milk can be made from in various bowls surrounding the milk.

Lactose Free (LF)

Those with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy often follow this diet. Meal options are dairy-dree, which means milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. are restricted.



Various gluten-free foods and ingredients on a wood cutting board and table.

Gluten Free (GF)

A gluten-free diet is for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Foods that are naturally gluten-free, or are prepared with an alternative grain, are served.


Residents can also take advantage of numerous vegetarian and vegan options. Most senior living communities, like ours, can provide sample menus for you to review.

A split image of a vegetarian pizza on a wood cutting board  on the left and a vegan salad in a bowl on a quartz counter with various vegan ingredients on a wood cutting board on the right.

Mechanically Altered Diets

Residents who have difficulty chewing and/or swallowing – due to surgery, illness, or injury – may be prescribed a special diet by their doctors. Depending on the need, there are a variety of mechanical diets that might be recommended, including:

  • Pureed sweet potatoes in a white bowl on a dark wood rustic table surrounded by sweet potatoes and parsley.Soft to Chew: Regular consistency diet without hard or sticky food items.
  • Chopped: This diet consists of foods that are moist and easily chewable - food is no larger than one-half inch pieces.
  • Ground: This diet consists of foods that are moist, cohesive, and semisolid that require some chewing - food is no larger than one-quarter inch pieces.
  • Puree: This diet is used for residents with difficulty chewing and/or swallowing. The consistency is smooth and thick enough to mound on the plate, and similar in consistency to that of pudding.

Many senior living communities are able to accommodate mechanically altered diets. At 305 West End Assisted Living, our talented dining room staff prepares mechanically altered meals that are not only nutritious but beautifully plated too

How to Maintain Your Special Diet

As you can see, there are numerous options available in senior living communities that make it easy to meet your nutritional needs. To maintain your specific diet, it’s important to communicate your needs - or the needs of a loved one - to the staff.

Pay attention to any specific diet indicators on the menu - such as the examples described above - as they are there to make choices easier for you.

If you have specific dietary requirements outside what a community presents, simply ask about special accommodations for your particular needs or the needs of a loved one.

More Health and Nutrition Resources

If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in reading about these five healthy eateries on the Upper West Side, or these tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep.

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