Finger foods just got a whole lot more interesting!

By Steve Moran

It seems as if almost every time I go to a pitch event there are one or two bright young entrepreneurs pitching the next great adaptive device and a good number of them have to do with eating. It’s a reasonable thing to tackle and these devices can help people.

The Wrong Approach . . . Often

I was chatting the other day with Sarah and Stone, the co-founders of Grind Dining, a Senior Housing Forum partner, about the whole dining experience for residents with dementia. They feel strongly that in many cases — maybe most cases — the use of adaptive or specialized equipment for dementia is the wrong approach for at least two reasons:

  1. The adaptive devices are too often child-like, undignified, and cumbersome. They look and feel unnatural. Instead of enhancing the experience of dining, the devices actually serves to diminish the enjoyment of eating a meal.

    The resident is distracted with juvenile crayola-crayon colors or utensils that must be strapped on over a wrist like some awkward bracelet. Watching resident’s use these devices conjures up images that speak of the horror of aging and dementia.  

    By forcing our own will and belief of what is socially acceptable in today’s well-mannered and polite society has proven a burden to those who find eating with utensils frustrating and challenging due to their cognitive or physical limitations.

  1. They are often not very effective. It makes US feel better because we want to believe that we are doing everything we can to adjust them to their “handicap” and making it easier for them to eat just like other “normal” diners.

But both Sarah and Stone argue that nothing is actually better. A bold statement, but Stone says, “The Best Utensils In The World Are The Ones You Were Born With.”

Further, Stone states, “That’s right. Our hands and fingers are engineering wonders of maneuverability; our very own human ‘tools’ perfectly designed to help us touch, feel, grasp, cusp, hold, pick, prod, point, carry, designate and deliver just about anything we intuitively ask of them.

“It just made sense for us to try and adapt the menu to fit the fingers and the nutritional needs of the resident rather than limiting their food choices based on whether or not they were capable of using utensils or their ability to chew. We concentrated on transforming the same meal that the rest of the community was enjoying into bite-sized portions that could be easily accessed and neatly eaten with fingers without compromising taste, quality, or personal preference. No more pre-packaged finger food for residents with cognitive, neuromuscular, or chewing disorders.”

Nature’s Adaptive Device

With the Grind Dining technique, favorite foods deemed off limits can be enjoyed without assistance, without utensils and without distractions from the task at hand: enjoying a meal with family or friends. Doing this allows communities to relegate their adaptive devices to the museum shelf and create an amazing grown-up dining experience.  

Sarah and Stone states that “the magic of Grind Dining is that you can use your own high quality, freshly prepared menu items and transform them into incredibly tasty, nutritionally balanced, protein-packed meals. They are served as one-bite and two-bite hors d’ oeuvres, intended to be eaten by hand.” To quote Watermark Retirement Communities, one of Grind Dining’s clients, “It’s that simple and that brilliant.”

They suggest communities think in terms of fingers being the new forks. I have seen and tasted a number of their creations . . . using just my fingers . . . and I am convinced that if you provided these finger foods for your non-dementia residents, you would find many picking these amazing creations over more traditional looking offerings.   

It is a wonder of the human body how, when using fingers, even individuals who are deeply into their dementia can manage to get finger foods from plate to mouth with no trouble. Communities serving Grind Dining are finding many dementia residents have no trouble maintaining and even gaining weight.