The Maggie Beer Foundation is calling for a greater investment in food, chefs and cooks and training to improve the nutrition and dining experience in aged care.
Cook, author and mentor Maggie Beer established the foundation in 2014 to improve food experiences for older Australians and particularly those living within aged care homes.
The Government needs to commit more strongly to improving food services in aged care, she said.
“There must be more money spent on care, food, training, and an understanding of the importance of what food can do to the wellbeing of a resident which not only [makes] a resident stronger and more committed, but more connected,” Ms Beer told Australian Ageing Agenda in early May.
The foundation jointly held a congress with the Department of Health in February with 130 invitation-only expert delegates to inform new policy that helps aged care homes improve food, nutrition, and the dining experience of residents.
A report on the discussions, which was submitted to the health department in March, made 56 findings and 139 possible points for action across nine key topic areas.
The report highlights the importance of chefs and cooks and training, Ms Beer said.
“Elevating the status and the education of cooks, chefs and carers is incredibly important,” she said.
“The cooks and chefs are underpaid, undertrained and undervalued.”
The need for a multi-disciplinary approach was another key theme identified at the event, she said.
“The mouth is the gateway to the body… we need to work with oral and allied health services because you can’t do this on your own. It has to be this collaborative approach,” Ms Beer said.
Foundation awaits Government’s response
While waiting for a response from the health department, Ms Beer said the foundation is continuing to film and develop training modules for cooks and chefs as part of the education program it is developing with Altura Learning.
“I have just finished eight days of filming… education units for cooks and chefs on absolutely necessary skills and the sharing of knowledge and ideas that are so incredibly important because there is no specific training for this complex arena,” Ms Beer said.
“They need knowledge, they need inspiration, they need ideas, they need support, and they need to be respected,” she said.
Ms Beer said she expects these modules to be released by November and will undertake more filming for other modules.
Key areas for action
In determining opportunities and best practice, a congress working group identified several key themes including:
- food, nutrition and the dining experience is an urgent issue also prevalent in other countries, highlighting the benefits of international collaboration
- a variability in the quality of meal experiences, with some homes demonstrating improvement initiatives but many exhibiting poor practices
- a lack of transparency and accountability in the delivery of food, nutrition and the dining experience
- inadequate access to health and allied health professional to support residents
- mechanisms to ensure collaboration between management, nursing staff, cooks and chefs and resident foodie groups will result more culturally appropriate food and greater choice
- infrastructure changes to replace institutional food preparation practices and large dining halls with accessible home-style kitchenettes where food can be plated appealingly, residents can participate and aromas and flavours of fresh food can drive appetite will increase residents’ joy of food.