The old saying that ‘we are what we eat’ is as true in aged care as in every other phase of our lives.
However, as we age, it can become more and more difficult to get the nutrients we need to sustain and nourish ourselves. Low appetite, difficulties swallowing, medication and digestive disruptions can all impact what and how much we eat.
While these factors contribute to residents’ food intake, the quality and variety of menus in aged care facilities have long been discussed and criticised.
The second Food and Nutrition Report 2021-22 in residential aged care found almost 25% of facilities are still spending less than $10 per resident a day on food and sparked calls for the Federal Government to enforce a mandate that would see residential aged care facilities’ menus and meals assessed annually by a dietitian on-site, following the release of a Government report on food in aged care.
As research revealed up to 68% of aged care residents are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, a food complaints hotline was put into place in July 2023 by the Federal Government and Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission for residents, their loved ones and workers to file a report if providers deliver poor meals.
With this in mind, it is vital that the food served in aged care communities looks appetising, tastes delicious and is packed with vital nutrients and minerals to entice food consumption and reduce malnutrition statistics.
The need to create enticing food that gets the mouth watering was one of the reasons why aged care provider Carinity began employing Head Chefs in their residential aged care communities.
Chef Gary Duerdan recently joined the team at Carinity Colthup Manor in Ipswich. With a background in five-star hotels, pubs, clubs and cafés, he moved into aged care in 2019.
For Mr Duerdan, working as a chef in an aged care community is a challenge unlike any he’s experienced.
Catering for the preferences of nearly 100 residents can be a challenge at times which is why assessing and revamping menus is vital to keep people happy and enticed to eat.
When Carinity’s hospitality team looked to change the menu in the second half of 2023, the hospitality team consulted extensively with nutritionists, dieticians, their chefs, and most importantly, residents.
Selena Argentati, Carinity’s Regional Catering Manager, said the hospitality team sat down with over 400 residents to hear their preferences, requests and the favourite meals that they wanted to see on the menu.
The new menu has since been released, moulded by resident feedback, which is full of a wide variety of favourites, fresh produce and flavour while championing residents’ right to choice.
Part of the dining experience is creating a dining atmosphere, sitting down at the dinner table and engaging in conversation with family and friends. Dining with family can bring so much joy, so residents are welcome to invite guests to lunch or dinner.
Carinity Colthup Manor residents Rhelma, Noella and Maria love the opportunity to have a chat and catch up in the dining room.
“The roast pork is my favourite meal, and the date pudding with custard is delicious,” said Rhelma.
For Noella, the variety is a highlight, as are the vegetables, that are always “cooked to perfection”.
Fish sliders, lamb tagine and ‘Porcupine meatballs’ are some new favourites on the new menu, as well as a milk chocolate mousse with whipped cream, raspberry coulis and toasted almonds for dessert.
Ultimately for Mr Duerdan, it’s seeing the enjoyment on the residents’ faces that brings him satisfaction.
Dietitians Australia’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Robert Hunt told HelloCare back in 2022 that he believes if providers were required to have a dietitian visit a facility and assess their menus and meals once a year, it would make a huge difference in food and nutrition quality across the industry.
But as costs of food and food production rise, nutrition experts have begun looking at ways providers and hospitality teams can up quality food consumption that will keep residents happy and healthy without breaking the bank.
Recently, The Shoreline Luxury Retirement Living in Coffs Harbour partnered with Mushrooms Australia and FOODiQ Global to trial a new chef and dietitian-crafted mushroom-packed menu to improve vitamin D deficiencies in residents – a simple but potentially effective way to improve menus.
The trial will monitor the menu’s impact on the nutritional intake of residents and their overall enjoyment of the menu with nutritional analysis done on residents before, during and after the phase of increased mushroom consumption.