Menu planning in hospitals, nursing homes and retirement homes

Hospitals and nursing homes

Most important principle: to assist the patient in making a faster recovery or to assist the resident in maintaining a better standard of well-being, the menu planner must strictly follow dietary regulations that have been set by the dietician.


  • Use at least a 3-week cycle for menu planning.
  • Ask the patients about their food habits and preferences and follow these as often as possible.
  • Serve fresh fruits and vegetables / salads three times a day.
  • At least one cup of milk and one milk product a day.
  • Prefer serving milk products for dinner.
  • Seafood and fish at least twice a week.
  • Serve soups and foods with a high amount of water (e.g. salads, cucumbers, tomatoes, any kind of fruits) every day to increase the fluid intake of the patients.
  • Serve 1.5 – 2 liter beverages, e.g. water, fruit / herb tea, every day.
  • Prefer cooking methods such as poaching, steaming, pressure-cooking, roasting /sautéing, baking and broiling to prevent vitamin loss.

Nutrient density is defined as the ratio of nutrient content to the total energy content:

Nutrient content (g/mg/μg per 100g)
Energy content (per 100g)

Foods low in calories and high in nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are nutrient-dense, while foods high in calories and low in nutrients are nutrient-poor (also called energy-dense or “empty calorie” foods).

Nutrient-dense foods are:

  • Fruits (e.g. strawberries, bananas)
  • Vegetables (especially leafy, green vegetables)
  • Legumes
  • Potatoes
  • Low-fat milk and milk products
  • Whole-grain products
  • Low-fat fish

Retirement homes

Elderly people need less energy (around 20 %) than younger ones, while the nutrient requirements of vitamins and minerals remain the same. Therefore, it is important to serve foods with a high nutrient density. Furthermore, there are some nutrients (vitamin D, B12, folate, calcium, iodine) which are critical for the elderly, so the menu planner must look for foods containing a high level of these nutrients.


  • Use foods rich in vitamin D: fish, such as salmon or tuna, liver, egg yolks, cow’s milk and soy beverages, fortified foods such as margarine or breakfast cereals.
  • Use foods rich in Vitamin B12: meat, milk products, fish, eggs, chicken.
  • Use foods with folate: vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, spinach), grains / whole-wheat products, lentils, oranges, soy bean.
  • Use foods with iodine: seafood, milk and milk products.
  • Serve five or more small portions a day, so that the resident doesn’t feel too full after meals.
  • It is important for the elderly to get some sweets every day: serve fresh fruit salad with a sweetened yogurt dressing, milk products with sweet fruits (e.g. bananas), fruit cake.
  • The print on the menu should be large enough to read.