It is a common finding that residents of aged care homes suffer from malnutrition.
Malnutrition can lead to sarcopenia, a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function, contributing to an increased risk of falls, fractures, arthritis, pressure injuries, depression, and poor quality of life.
In 2018, the media reported on the poor state of food in aged care all over Australia, with prisoners fed even better than aging residents in homes.
While the article dealt with a highly complex factor which is the facility budget, there are also other contributing factors affecting food serving and presentation in aged care:
- Residents are served texture modified food ( mostly pureed) to prevent choking.
- Residents are served foods with minimal aroma appeal.
- Some residents may find eating in a common dining room an anxiety-provoking experience, or they could be naturally less friendly than others, preferring to eat some meals alone.
- Some residents are not able to communicate what they prefer to eat.
- No food variety and there is a single meal approach for all residents.
Because the adage, “We eat with our eyes”, very much applies to this situation, it is crucial to serving appealing and palatable food to the aging residents while keeping choking in top consideration.
Choking is a risk for aging people who have mechanical issues with their mouth and throat or weakness and distraction. A mindset with safety coming first may justify servings of bland coloured and bland textured food. This is typically why in some homes, residents are served with blobs of green, brown and white, for people who have difficulty swallowing.
Here are some ways to help make mealtime appealing and palatable in aged care:
Serve rich coloured foods.
Consider using fresh ingredients as well as not overcooking the food. Considering these two factors will guide you to serve foods that are rich in colour… and vibrant food is appealing!
Use food moulds for texture modified foods.
Use food moulds to shape texture modified food into shapes, such as pieces of carrot. It is important to note that these moulded foods should not be sticky to prevent choking.
Do note also that aging residents can get easily confused. The good intention of food moulds to reshape food may leave them wondering, what on earth are they eating? It can discourage them from totally eating something that they find hard to identify.
In this case, it is a good idea to have menus that describe the food, especially the texture modified ones. A person is more likely to put food in their mouth when they can identify it. Provide appropriate cutlery to prevent the embarrassment of residents if they dribble or spill food in front of others.
Plate food like high-end chefs
Consider what high-end chefs do when plating their dishes, such as layering or smearing purees under delicate bite-sized pieces of food. Add herbs such as a sprig of parsley or basil to add colour to a dish. Have available condiment options to easily incorporate into meal service.
Another cue taken from professional food plating by chefs is varying food heights and allowable textures. There are various ways to modify food textures to enhance food appeal. Check out this article from Unilever Food Solutions.
RELATED READ: Food Plating Principles To Elevate The Dining Experience
Use colourful crockery, dishware and utensils.
Consider serving meals on colourful crockery and utensils to liven up the meal. Monochromatic cutlery and crockery may be confusing for people with dementia.
A study from Cornell also shows plate size, and plate colour can affect how much food is eaten. With colour in particular, if a food is served on plates with less colour contrast, such as white rice on a white plate, a person may eat more. This study also shows that those who had food that only had a little colour contrast between the food and their plate served themselves 22% more food than those who had a strong colour contrast between them. Check out this article for more of this study, as well as examples of how colour plates affect appetite. It is an exciting read!
Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to foodservice.
Take the time to find out not only what the residents prefer but their cultural considerations as well. For example, if a resident requires their meal to be kosher or halal certified. Not everyone in an aged care facility has the same health and physical conditions. To serve solely pureed food to those who still have good cognitive cognition and good chewing functionality will deprive them of variety and pleasure from exciting and colourful meals.
Providing adequate and appealing food choices should be taken seriously in a place where the quality of life is paramount.
Anytime Chefs can provide chef services to aged homes within Perth and Western Australia to support home care facilities in providing quality care for their residents. Give us a call and find out the many ways we can help you.
That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!
Ciao for now,