“There’s not a black and white, yes or no answer to this question,” says dietician Simone Austin of the Dieticians Association of Australia.
The Australian Aged Care Quality Agency’s ‘Health and personal care standard’ 2.10 Nutrition and Hydration states that ‘Care recipients must receive adequate nourishment and hydration.’
And ‘Quality of care’ law states that meals in aged care facilities must have enough variety, quality and quantity for each resident, and those with special dietary requirements must be catered for.
So, do party pies fit the bill?
“You can’t look at one meal in isolation, you need to look at the whole diet,” said Austin.
“If it’s party pies or sausage rolls, or something similar, served every night, then no, it’s not OK,” she said.
“But if party pies and sausage rolls are the only type of takeaway food or processed food on the menu, and it’s not served all the time, and it’s much loved, then yes, that is going to be OK,” she said.
Party pies are often a great favourite in aged care facilities, Austin said.
She said residents should be asked what they want to eat, and have input into what’s on the menu.
Michelle Harris-Allsop, Dementia Consultant with Care Partnerships Australia, said allowing aged care residents some “dignity of choice” about the food they eat is important, and this type of “person centred care” can be a great help in getting residents to eat.
“The majority of residents living in a residential aged care home live with a life-limiting illness … that prevents them from being able to eat well,” said Harris-Allsop.
“Because there’s a big spectrum of medical issues at that age, for some people it’s just getting them to eat anything,” said Austin.
“If I have an individual who’s not eating at all, then eating a party pie is going to be better than not eating at all,” said Austin.
“For other people, it is much more about balancing that nourishment.”
Finger food, such as party pies and sausage rolls, can also be good for those who can’t use cutlery, as they are small and easy to eat in your fingers.
“One advantage of the party pie is it is a finger food. Lots of people who can’t use knives, forks, spoons, can sometimes feed themselves with a party pie. Therefore they’ll eat,” said Austin.
Ms Austin said if an aged care facility is serving party pies, it’s possible to add elements to the meal to make it more nourishing.
“If they’re a favourite, then you could be doing things like serving that with some vegetables – corn or salad, for example – so you could be making the meal a bit more balanced by adding vegetables to it,” she said.
Party pies are sometimes more nutritious if they are made on site at the facility, or made with specific requirements, she said. They can have less salt and contain different types of fat.
“Sausage rolls and party pies that are homemade and served at special functions, such as a party, is different to being on the weekly evening menu,” says Harris-Allsop.
Austin said that the quality of the protein that older people eat is important for their health, and so it’s important that the party pies have a high meat content.
Many aged care residents also suffer from constipation or irregular bowel movements, so it’s key that they have a high fibre content in their diet.
“If you’re going to have the party pies, then you’re not going to have much, if any, dietary fibre,” she said, recommending that if pies are served, they be accompanied by vegetables.
As well as balancing a meal of party pies with vegetables, it’s also important to think about how many pies a person is eating – eating one party pie with vegetables is quite different to eating half-a-dozen pies on their own.
“A simple takeaway style meal I wouldn’t want to see on the menu more than once or twice in a week,” said Austin.
“I would want it to be served with something else as well.
“And the other option is that party pies could be a choice and there could be another alternative offered at that same time, which means that people can make a choice of what they’re wanting to eat.”
Ms Austin said you wouldn’t want to rotate takeaway-style meals – such as frankfurts and fish and chips, for example, as well as party pies and sausage rolls – every night of the week.
“There can be one night during a week they are served, and serving it with something else to make it more nutritional,” she said.
Yes, party pies are served often in aged care, Austin said – mainly because residents ask for them. And it is possible to serve them once in a while, as part of a balanced and nutritional diet, she said.
“We can have this nutritionally perfect world, but if they don’t eat the food, if they don’t want it, then it’s not really fair,” she said.
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