But when his pleas were ignored repeatedly, Andrew eventually picked up the phone, called a local restaurant, and ordered pizza. He enjoyed the meal so much, Andrew now has home-delivered pizza as part of his routine.
In another attempt to improve his nutritional intake, Andrew’s family have been bringing in Lite n’ Easy meals. Andrew stores them in a small refrigerator in his room and reheats them in his microwave at dinner time. The meals are warm and have “more flavour” and higher nutritional content than the nursing home food, according to Andrew’s son-in-law, Simon*.
Other residents caught wind of Andrew’s plans, and began following suit. Now other residents are ordering pizza and are refusing the aged care home’s meals, preferring to reheat a Lite n’ Easy meal and eating it alone in their rooms instead.
Dissatisfaction raised with the regulator
Andrew has been living at the home for four years and he and his family have complained often to management during that time. They raised their dissatisfaction about the food with the regulator during a regular assessment this year, and similar complaints were lodged in an assessment in 2019.
Management has organised meetings with residents and families to discuss the food, but have only provided a day’s notice, meaning many could not attend.
And little has changed. The contractor supplying the food hasn’t changed the menu to Andrew’s satisfaction. Staff began bringing Andrew’s food directly to him from the kitchen so he received it hot, but the meals were still unappetising and had little nutritional value, according to Simon.
On a positive note, Andrew’s life at the aged care home has been generally enjoyable. He leads an active life and is mentally sharp; he often meets friends for lunch and takes part in the activities on offer. He is also an enthusiastic member of the choir.
Andrew is “a lot more assertive” than many of the other residents, Simon explained. Most residents are “intimidated”, to a degree, by the management and some don’t have “advocates speaking up for them”. The residents with dementia are not as “forward” as Andrew, Simon said. Families are “trusting” or “not aware” of food quality at the aged care home, he added.
Unsurprisingly, the home’s managers were not happy when pizzas began to be delivered regularly to the front door. They were “horrified” and “embarrassed”, Simon shared.
The home “looks good” and is “very clean and tidy”, but outward appearances don’t tell the whole story, Simon said. As well as the food, Simon, a semi-retired nurse, has also been concerned about staff shortages and skill deficits at his father-in-law’s home.
“From my perspective, everything in aged care is about cutting costs and increasing profit. And so whether it’s nursing staff or whether it’s food or whether it’s cleaners, everything’s cut to the bone,” he said.
“Inertia” is another reason aged care homes don’t want to change their food service. Simon said there’s an attitude of, “Nobody’s complained before and we’re making this much profit, we’re not going to make any changes now unless someone forces us to.”
Quality failings on repeat
The regulator shared the concerns about Andrew’s aged care home, but hasn’t been able to generate improvements.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ASQSC) assessed the home earlier this year, and Andrew and the family expressed their concerns about food to the assessment team.
The regulator noted negative feedback about food and staff shortages in their final report on the home, but found that the food service complied with the aged care quality standards.
However, the regulator found the home did not meet one of standard 6’s requirements – that feedback and complaints are reviewed and used to improve the quality of care and services.
The assessor’s report noted that management received complaints about the food, staffing levels and “wandering behaviours” but failed to adequately address any of these concerns.
“Despite the service taking action in response to complaints, consumers remained dissatisfied,” the assessors noted.
The home failed several other quality standards, including keeping consumer information confidential, having a “clean, well-maintained and comfortable” environment, staffing, continuous improvement and monitoring of compliance with the quality standards.
A spokesperson for the ACQSC told HelloCare, the Aged Care Act requires aged care providers to “provide safe and quality aged care at all times in accordance with the quality standards”.
“Where we identify that a provider is not complying with their obligations, we will take action that is proportionate to the assessed risk to residents at the service.”
On 22 April 2025, Andrew’s home’s accreditation was renewed until April 2025. In the assessment report, the regulator noted six bullet points describing “areas for improvement”.
Where a provider doesn’t meet the Aged Care Quality Standards, the regulator can give them a direction to make improvements, which means they will “check in later to monitor and assess if these have been addressed”, according to their website.
Alarmingly, when the home was audited in 2019, it also failed to meet the then regulator’s requirements for comments and complaints and human resources management. A survey found 12% of residents “never” liked the food being served.
Though the home did return to compliance later in 2019, three years later it seems the situation has worsened.
The regulator’s spokesperson told HelloCare the regulator has recently conducted an analysis of aged care providers that reported spending less than $10 per resident per day on food. The analysis looked at unexplained weight loss, the number of complaints about food at the home, and findings of non-compliance with the quality standards.
Staff and management at the targeted homes will also be required to undertake special education about food, nutrition and dining in aged care.
The importance of food in aged care
Food is one of life’s simple pleasures. As the royal commission noted, “Food is … important to wellbeing, providing enjoyment through taste and smell and the dining experience.
“Diet, nutrition and hydration are critical to the health of older people,” they added.
LASA CEO, Sean Rooney, told HelloCare, “The whole dining experience is a central component of daily living and shouldn’t be diminished because we enter aged care.”
He explained that there are “plenty of examples of great food in residential care”.
Surveys by the ACSQC of tens of thousands of residents and their representatives between 2017 and 2019 found that 85% of residents like their food at least most of the time.
“However, not every resident is happy with their food, and there is inevitable variation between food and nutrition provided by services,” Rooney admitted.
Age care providers should have procedures in place that take account of each resident’s preferences, cultural requirements and personal needs in relation to food and nutrition, and each resident should be monitored to ensure that the food is to their satisfaction, Rooney said.
Speaking up about aged care complaints
Last year aged care providers received an additional $10 per resident per day with the government intending it would be mainly spent on food. While there was no requirement for providers to spend the additional funds on meals, there was a quarterly requirement to report on food quality.
Data released since then shows that there has been an increase in the amount spent on food per resident, per day.
Andrew’s aged care home is operated by a significant not-for-profit aged care provider. His family is still unhappy with the food he is receiving; he often eats pizza or Lite n’ Easy in his room.
“I’d prefer that he goes to the dining room,” Simon said.
The regulator is aware of the complaints – they were first identified in 2019. Yet the home’s accreditation has been renewed for another three years.
The aged care home will be monitored as it works through areas for improvement, but will the regulator’s actions be sufficient to drive genuine improvements?
Andrew and his family are frustrated. Aged care is “directed by how you protect your profits,” exclaimed Simon. The system is letting them down.
*Names have been changed.
If a resident or their representatives have complained to management about food but the resident or family remain dissatisfied, they can seek advocacy support from the Older Person’s Advocacy Network (OPAN) to help them resolve the issue.
Anyone with a concern about the quality of care and services being provided at an aged care home can contact the regulator on 1800 951 822 or via the Aged Care Quality website.
Residents and families can find information about the Aged Care Quality Standards and what they mean in practice on the ACQSC’s website.