There is a growing trend among the nation's 15,600 nursing homes to abandon rigid menus and strict meal times in favor of a more individualized approach toward food.

Advocates pushing for the change say it has taken more than three decades to get there.

Now, the federal government is proposing regulations that would require facilities to create menus that reflect religious, cultural and ethnic needs and preferences. Further, the proposed rules would empower nursing home residents with the "right to make personal dietary choices."

The government acknowledges that the nation's 1.4 million nursing home residents are diverse and that "it may be challenging" to meet every preference. But it wants facilities to offer residents "meaningful choices in diets that are nutritionally adequate and satisfying to the individual."