The role of food services in aged care goes beyond serving food and requires resident input plus a collaborative approach between staff to champion nutrition, a University of Queensland study has found.

The study, published in the journal Nutrients this month, explored the perspective of staff on the role of food services in aged care and gauged the level of skills, education, access, time, and ability to deliver food fortification.

The study involved semi-structured interviews with 21 aged care staff including food service managers, food service workers, dietitians, carers, and managers in aged care homes across Australia.

It is part of Danielle Cave’s PhD research looking at the delivery of food fortification strategies and particularly the barriers and enablers to the long-term sustainability of these strategies.

Danielle Cave

Ms Cave, an associate lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at University of Queensland, said the study found the role of food services goes beyond providing and delivering food to residents.

“It’s not enough to just of get the recipes together in the kitchen and then take them out to the dining room,” Ms Cave told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“The role of food service needs to be involving the residents to create what the menu is going to look like and give input into the menu planning process, as well as having choice in what meals they actually get delivered at the end of the services.”

The study found it is also important to ensure all staff work as a team to support residents’ nutrition and establish the role of a food and nutrition champion among the staff.

“Traditionally, dietitians have been seen as a food and nutrition champion but they’re not usually on site. They might visit periodically, monthly or just be called in when there are referrals, but they’re not there to see what’s happening everyday,” Ms Cave said.

“So whilst they might prescribe a fortified milkshake to a resident, if this isn’t happening they often don’t know that it isn’t. And there needs to be staff on site that are playing that role advocating for the nutritional care of residents, monitoring intake and making very small changes where necessary.”

Food and nutrition champions are often lacking in older aged care homes but they are “fundamental,” she said.

Another key finding is the need for a leadership-driven workplace culture that values continuous improvement, Ms Cave said.

“From the people we interviewed, those that had a team there long-term felt like that team was family, and they were a valued member of the team and had opportunities for development and training,” she said.

“The homes that were doing very well in terms of the strategies they implemented being sustained tended to have someone in a management position that was supportive and driving that change to happenand leading the team through that process.”

Residential aged care providers can improve food and nutrition services immediately by assigning champions to operate throughout the home.

“They need to be chatting with the team and deciding who might be able to take on this additional role, or who is interested in nutrition and giving someone ownership of this position,” she said.

“If they can sit down and have this mini food and nutrition team that meets with the dietitian that comes in… I think that’s going to improve the nutritional care of residents.”

The champions could be any aged care worker interested in food and nutrition, such as food service or care staff, Ms Cave said.

“We need to make nutrition everyone’s business.”

Access the study.

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