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Facilities advised to ‘bring in the smells of the kitchen’


Cook, author and mentor Maggie Beer recommends residential aged care services form a food council with staff representatives from all areas of the facility to improve meals. 

Ms Beer has been on a mission to change aged care food culture to one centred on fresh ingredients, great taste and wellbeing for residents since establishing the Maggie Beer Foundation in 2014.

She told delegates at the recent Health Metrics World Conference in Melbourne that changing a facility’s food culture required a group effort.

Cooks, carers, health professionals and administration staff agreeing together that food is important is one of the most exciting things Ms Beer said she has seen.

Maggie Beer

“They have a food council, a monthly food meeting, where ideas are shared and problems of each other are listened to,” Ms Beer told the conference.

Every segment has difficulty so it’s great communication and listening to other points of view is key, she said.

“And asking would the admin staff or the CEO like to be eating the food of the kitchen. Is this what I want to eat? It should be.”

Ms Beer described food as sharing, nurturing, health and a touchstone to memories and happiness.

“Food is the essence of life… It is just something that when we do it well, it changes lives,” Ms Beer said.

“Our common mistake is not knowing enough about food and not learning… It is so easy when you know how to cook and what foods are going to be so full of flavour and goodness and it just makes such a difference to your life.”

Success indicators

It doesn’t matter whether someone is a cook in aged care or in a restaurant they need ideas and encouragement to succeed, Ms Beer said.

She said around 260 aged care cooks and chefs have attended her masterclasses, and some participants become a train the trainer for the colleagues.

Afterwards, participants become a community to communicate with each other and the foundation for support and to share successes and recurring problems.

Ms Beer said a major success was when a facility:

  • takes boosters out of the kitchen
  • makes their own stocks
  • brings in butter instead of margarine
  • gets rid of cordials
  • uses fresh vegetables rather than frozen ones.

The change comes from the chef or cook but only if the CEO is a champion as well, she said.

‘Bring in the smells of the kitchen’

One of Ms Beer’s key messages is to ensure residents can smell food to increase their engagement and enjoyment at mealtimes.

Ideas include putting home style bread machines in the dining room to provide a lovely smell, she said.

“We also encourage people to use satellite areas where they are making coffee, morning tea and toast, to pan fry something, such as the last bit of vegetable to go on the plate. Just something. Even if it is onions and butter.”

Facilities using a cook-chill approach can cook and add the last bit of the meal to bring in the scent of food, Ms Beer said.

“Even if it is just doing a pan full of onions and butter; something to bring in the smells of the kitchen.”

New education program

Most of all aged care cooks and chefs need training to succeed, but there is no specialised education for them in Australia or anywhere in the world, said Ms Beer.

To help fill the gap, Ms Beer will start filming the first 11 of 45 educational units specific to aged care in collaboration with aged care education specialists Altura Learning and the support of a $500,000 Commonwealth grant.

The interactive training program will move away from a normal training system with a cook or chef in a college.

“It is bringing in all of the things I have learnt, the experts and the chefs who are already doing great things in aged care.”

The first 11 units are due out in February 2020.

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4 Responses to Facilities advised to ‘bring in the smells of the kitchen’

  1. Winsome September 14, 2019 at 11:22 am #

    I am so happy Maggi Beer has been consulted and received the grant to start the programme.

    I volunteer in aged care and for me the wafting of home cooked aroma is mostly absent.

    I know not everybody loves the work they do and they need to work to live it’s easy to see which skills the various people apply to their day.

    Kindness and listening to the residents and please hear the desires of their hearts and move forward embracing change. Take financial greed out of the equation and Love on the people.

    A special treat like an ice cream they can hold and lick if they request it and are capable of safely eating.

  2. Haryanti Stuart September 15, 2019 at 11:40 am #

    I can only applaud – loudly and long- Maggie Beer`s efforts to improve the dining experience in aged care facilities.
    If only hospitals took heed of her advice.
    I recently spent time in a small, but expensive private hospital after being transferred from The Mater. The Mater food was exceptionally good.
    But at the smaller hospital it was woeful. After talking to the chef l was grateful to be given butter instead of Lurpac, greek yoghurt instead of a flavoured one, and scrambled egg each morning fot breakfast. But as far as l know these additions weren’t given to other patients.
    A grilled tomato, or a few freshly cooked mushrooms would have made a welcome vaiation.
    After our talk l ate approx 5 out of nine meals with enjoyment. They were simple, thoughtfully prepared and tasty, unlike the first two or three main meals which l could barely swallow.

  3. Well Fed September 16, 2019 at 10:17 am #

    My wife was a casual cook in an Aged Care facility, she said the food was grey and bland.

    When she worked she began to add flavour and colour to the meals, the residents and staff began to comment on how good the meals were when she cooked, they also began to ask when she would next be working. The casual shifts ceased very quickly as the permanent cooks suddenly found they could work any spare shifts.

    Maybe a little more passion in the kitchens of our Residential Aged Care Facilities and a little less of following the recipe that was written some time in the distant pass.

    Why is it in community based services such a Social Support seem to often base their services around food and food preparation, but when you go into Aged Care food and food preparation seems to have very little importance.

  4. Fred September 18, 2019 at 8:40 pm #

    Wanting to help doesn’t make you qualified.

    Maggie Beer is good cook and very savvy business woman without a doubt. But in this area, she is another celebrity, who often think that she is above it all. And in the process often do a tremendous amount of damage because people follow her, assuming she knows what’s what.

    I don’t doubt for a second that Maggie genuinely care about this issue, but she is also showing that she has not researched industry or refuses to hear front line staff and their stories. Instead of cruising in and working with the industry, she is telling people what to do, in order to promote herself and her brand. In that process, she fails to mention that there is a lot of good work out there she chooses to ignore as it does not fit her narrative of industry saviour, and because people are star struck, no one in the room is daring to ask the questions.

    Food meetings? They have been happening in the industry for a very long time. If you understand healthcare, than you understand that people working in healthcare value evidence based approach and research.

    Maggie, you should sit down with front staff and other stakeholders, not just politicians and CEO’s who are very detached from day to day operations, and ask them to talk about what they actually need, not what you think they need. You should discuss sustainable ways to meet their needs, taking into account all the pain points industry is dealing with on daily basis, from lack of government funding (45% of aged care facilities are currently operating at loss) to less than friendly food safety regulations, lack of decent wages, again, directly linked to the funding, and the list can go on…

    Don’t dig wells and drop in a bunch of pricey Training by Maggie solution where organic produce is celebrated as “the only solution”.

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