Aged Care Food Service Trends in 2021

Covid, the Aged Care Quality Standards and the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) have changed the way our aged care residents dine, and for the better. Instead of being an aged care provider, chefs are now cooking meals for consenting consumers, who have a say in their meal choice. So, how can your kitchen meet the standards while managing time and resources?


Malnourishment in our nursing homes

According to research, half of all residents in Australian aged care homes are malnourished. Reasons range from health issues with chewing and appetite to poor food presentation and service. Swallowing a vitamin tablet has been a quick fix for decades, but government standards and the Royal Commission into Aging are now expecting a lot more of food providers.


How your kitchen can implement the Quality Standards

Meal planning directly relates to Standard 4 of Aged Care Quality Standards: Services and Supports for Daily Living.

The biggest change for service providers is the move away from the institutionalised terms of ‘residents’ or ‘patients’ to ‘consumers’ or ‘customers’. The person is the priority. For hospitality staff and chefs, this means more choice for the ‘consumer’.

The new Aged Care Quality Standard 4.6 states: ‘where meals are provided, they are (to be) varied and of suitable quality and quantity.’ That means chefs need to provide more than one choice of meal and it needs to be appealing.


The Dining Experience

Room presentation adds to the enjoyment of a good meal. Think of adding tablecloths, cutlery, food presentation containers, table decorations and menus to the dining room, with plenty of space to move between tables. Even if this means two sittings. Themed lunches, such as BBQ or Sunday roast adds to the enjoyment and positively adds to a person’s wellbeing.

Menus on the table give a touch of anticipation and some choice back to the consumer. Even if the choice is between chicken or beef, having some say in what they are eating has a positive effect on people in an aged care facility.

Research showed that asking people their meal choice days before the actual meal wasn’t as satisfying. Just like us, many had forgotten what they had selected, so felt like the meal was chosen for them.

Conducting a survey of food preferences and then implementing them into the meal plan further adds to their enjoyment.


Food Choices

A ‘varied’ meal and of ‘suitable quality and quantity’ could be interpreted in many different ways. But, kitchens do need to show they have provided more than one meal option, both of which are well presented, nutritious and tasty.

The kitchen not only needs to account for dietary needs, but also likes and dislikes.

If Rita doesn’t like Brussel sprouts, the kitchen needs to document that they provided an alternative according to her taste, such as peas.


The IDDSI Framework and Food Choice

In 2019, aged care providers adopted the standardised IDDSI Framework and Descriptors to prevent choking. It isn’t up to the individual chef to determine the difference between soft or thick food, anymore. So, with textured food, there also needs to be more than one option to meet the standards.

Cooking textured food creates many challenges, which can be solved with some creativity. It can be difficult to shape the food into an appealing meal. Textured food can also contain fewer nutrients as the food is sometimes watered down. Chefs need to document how they’re providing variety, quality and nutrient quantity regardless of the texture.


Key Trends for 2021 in Aged Care Dining

  • Provide consumers with survey and feedback opportunities
  • Record personal tastes and cater an alternative
  • Provide menus on the table with two or more options
  • Add garnish and pay attention to food presentation
  • Record cultural needs, such as halal and kosher meal requirements
  • Themed meals, and ask consumers to be involved with the planning
  • Plating textured food in a mould or an appealing shape
  • Giving the consumer choice

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