Food for the soul

While the nutritious value of food is paramount to the health of aged care residents, the way it is served can be just as important.

Southern Cross Care Victoria resident Olga Demello says the buffet service allows her to make her sandwiches how she likes it.
Southern Cross Care Victoria resident Olga Demello.

While the nutritious value of food is paramount to an aged care resident’s health, the way it is served can be just as important, Natasha Egan learns after speaking to a few providers putting an extra focus on food delivery.

Preparing hot toast is a simple task occurring daily in houses across Australia. However, in aged care, it is considered a near impossible task – much to the disappointment of residents.

What started as a way to give residents what they wanted – hot toast for breakfast – has turned into a daily morning and evening self-serve buffet of hot and cold food for residents of Southern Cross Care Victoria’s Dandenong home.

“It’s just like being at home – I can make a sandwich the way I like it,” says resident Olga Demello. Fellow resident Don Cameron goes one step further: “It’s better than opening the fridge at home and getting what you want. Here there are so many different foods to choose from – I just take what I want,” he says.

Behind the buffet service is facility manager Beverley Stehn, who was looking for a way to solve the hot toast dilemma. After consultation with residents and catering, lifestyle and care staff, they began a trial in February 2013. Following its success, and with support, ideas and drive from the head chef, they launched a similar service for dinner three months later.

The buffet meal services “have just blown our socks off,” says Stehn. Residents are eating, exercising, communicating, interacting, and getting involved with menu design more than ever, she says.

“You see people who had difficulty walking over to the buffet initially and pouring drinks who now do it quite naturally and people doing things that before they would never have done, such as social interaction and assisting fellow residents.”

The morning and evening buffets are offered seven days a week and attract 18 to 22 residents. While it is self-serve, there is always somebody there to supervise, assist and monitor, Stehn says.

The latest addition to the breakfast service is eggs cooked on demand any way the residents want, say Stehn, who adds she is often the one at the pan. Other items on offer in the morning typically include three kinds of bread, muffins or croissants, three types of fruit and fruit juice, plus a variety of spreads including peanut butter, honey and jams, Stehn says. “We have had to increase the amount of raison loaf because residents just love it.”

Dinner started out with salads and sandwiches. But after realising much more food was needed, it has grown to include antipasto, salami, cheese, ham, fish, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, strassburg plus semi-regular dishes like a seafood salad or meatballs, for example, Stehn explains.

The smorgasbord, as she calls it, offers hot dishes plated on demand. And the key to service is variety, she says. “There is always something a little bit different on the menu each night. And the men just love it. They took to it like duck to water.”

Mutual benefit

Cook and author Maggie Beer is passionate about food and its ability to nourish the soul. She says it makes absolute sense to consider how food is delivered to ensure residents get the most out of it. “It is so important; equal to the food itself,” Beers tells AAA.

Maggie Beer
Maggie Beer

“The difference in our state of mind contributes in a very real way to how well we chew our food, how well we digest our food and therefore the nutrients we actually uptake from each meal. Creating a pleasant environment with signs of obvious care for the meal that is being served has such an impact on the person receiving that meal.”

And it is not just the residents who benefit, says Beer. “Offering a meal is one of the best forms of nurturing someone, so it’s a very real chance for the staff and residents to connect with each other each day. And the added bonus is the pride the staff have in offering something cooked with love. It sets up such a positive reaction for everyone.”

Always something new

Debra Riedel, quality manager at Andrew Kerr Aged Care Complex, which is located on Victoria’s MorningtonPeninsula, agrees their food program benefits staff and residents alike.

Theirs is based on special menus which occur at least monthly. They involve residents and staff and are often paired with activities facilitated by lifestyle staff. In November, for example, there was a race-day lunch, a finger-food luncheon at residents’ request for Remembrance commemorations, and a barbeque for International Men’s Day, Riedel explains.

For Oakes Day they had a chicken and champagne luncheon followed by fashions on the field. Residents and staff got dressed up and they did fashions on the field. The residents love dressing up, says Riedel.

Staff sit down with residents at their tables and have lunch together, making it more like home than being in a home, she says.

Last year’s highlight was an Olympic-themed fortnight to coincide with the games. Residents ate their way around the world in 14 days by way of a main dish and dessert. Menu items included Moussaka and honey cheese cake from Greece, Sauerbraten from Germany, and butter chicken from India, explains Riedel.

“We ordered in McDonald’s for the USA. A lot of the residents had never had a cheese burger and fries. Although it was not the healthiest option, they loved it because it was something entirely different.”

Andrew Kerr Aged Care residents and Year 9 students from The Peninsula School
Andrew Kerr Aged Care residents and Year 9 students from The Peninsula School

The fortnight’s activities also included an international food challenge where Year 9 students from The Peninsula School teamed up with residents to identify food and its country of origin. “Residents and students had a great time working together, taste testing,” she says.

Throughout the year there are special meals for all the usual special days on the calendar such as St Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween and Christmas, as well as Christmas in July. There are also a number of fundraising morning and afternoon teas because residents like to contribute to society and their community, Riedel says.

“The catering staff are very innovative. For Halloween, they made platters of cakes that looked like green fingers with blood around the nails, cup cakes with eye balls on and some of the cup cakes had axes on the top.”

The food program is driven by the whole facility, which has a strong focus on giving residents quality lifestyles, she says. “We try and work on a philosophy that you are never too old to enjoy life; that you are never too old to have new experience. Food services have totally embraced the philosophy and it is throughout the facility.”

Residents benefit through socialising as well as trying new food and activities, Riedel says. “Residents don’t have to live their life by rote. It shouldn’t be a mundane existence.”

A touch of finesse

Over at The Whiddon Group, where residents can be seen enjoying high tea, there is an extra focus on style, says Maryanne Kiren, the organisation’s food and beverage manager.

It is about making meal times more homely and normal, she says. “A lot of care is put into the production of the food, the service of the food, the presentation of the staff and the dining room tables.”

The Whiddon Group clients Hazel McRitchie (left) and Merle Allen enjoying high tea at their facility.
The Whiddon Group clients Hazel McRitchie (left) and Merle Allen enjoying high tea.

Kiren is the driver behind one of an organisation-wide program known as Dining with Dignity. Like the name suggests, it aims to give residents some dignity at meal times, she says.

Tables are fully set with the appropriate tableware placed in the right position. From the moment staff enter the dining room they are told to imagine they are in performance mode in front of an audience, she explains.

“We have ditched the old head gear and they have got smart aprons to put on. We have banned wearing plastic gloves when serving the food. We are doing away as much as possible with all the plastic,” Kiren says. “In essence we wanted to ensure there was style in the dining area.”

When staff look up equipment books from suppliers, they have been educated to go to the hotel section rather than the healthcare section, she says.

Kiren, who has been with the organisation for five years, is a qualified chef with a background in leisure catering for sporting events at stadiums. She says while the program can be a steep learning curve for some staff not used to sitting at a set table for meals, the majority are eager to learn.

And what do residents think? “It makes their day,” Kiren says. While nutrition is vitally important, eating is also about the enjoyment, she says. “It is about making a difference to them and it is about the ability of making a difference to them up to five times a day.”

If you are looking for a simple and inexpensive way to spice things up, Maggie Beer suggests music. “I never have a meal at home without music. It sets the mood even when you may not be in the best one that day.”

The three providers featured in this story were state winners and national finalists in the 2013 OSCAR Aged Care Hospitality awards in the catering innovation category. The Whiddon Group was announced as the joint national winner of the competition in November for its four new dining programs including Dining with Dignity.

Tags: Andrew Kerr Aged Care, catering, food, food-service, maggie-beer, slider, southern-cross-care, the-whiddon-group,

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