But then she needed surgery, and afterwards it all got to be too much to take on.

These days the couple eats out sometimes. But mostly they enjoy the dinner entrees and side dishes of their choice, prepared by a chef who had a lifetime of experience in Jackson, and delivered directly to their dining table.

“Oh, no. Now I will have to think again,” joked the husband, when he heard that as residents of Warm Valley Lodge, the assisted living residence in Dubois, he and his wife would begin making their own choices from regularly changing menus.

But later he remarked: “We’re not eating out as much as we used to. It really makes a difference.”

One of the founding principles of assisted living is to encourage autonomy and independence among people as they age. The basic idea is to provide a real home where residents can follow a normal life, while escaping the most burdensome obligations of household activities as they grow older, including cooking, which may be a considerable sacrifice in its own way.

“The ability to make decisions intentionally and independently is a basic human right, yet people living in residential aged care facilities often give up a certain amount of their right to choose what to eat or drink,” wrote the authors of a study published three years ago in the “Journal of Clinical Nursing,” adding that “the loss of autonomy to make food choices is of particular concern, as a lack of choice decreases motivation to eat, placing residents at risk of malnutrition and reducing their quality of life.”

Several recent studies have found that when diners at residences for the elderly are given meal choices, they tend to eat sensibly and tend not to lose weight (which is a major contributor to frailty). Yet anyone who moves into a “residential care facility” may still face daily fare that is “three slabs of whatever – one green, one orange and then one maybe looks like mashed potato or something with gravy” (as one RN described it).

The report in the nursing journal stated that staff in two Australian facilities were more concerned about the nutritional status of meals than about how they were prepared. “They don’t know how to cook anything,” said one 73-year-old resident. “They walk around with the tops like chefs…but they’re just glorified cooks.”