What makes a great aged care menu?

Aged care menus have changed a lot in the last five years. With the latest Royal Commission into Aged Care, Aged Care Quality Standards and the implementation of the IDDSI Framework, chefs in aged care have done a great job just trying to keep up.

With the daily challenges of keeping to budget and restricting waste, we asked Aged Care Dietitian, Rosie Mohr from Nutrition Australia in Queensland for her advice on preparing an aged care menu that ticks all the boxes.

How can chefs design an aged care menu that pleases everyone?

Consult with the residents to find out what they want. Food isn’t going to add to their nutrition unless it’s eaten.

One facility I regularly visit really likes party pies. But, it’s not the most nutritious food. They couldn’t have them all the time, still, we include them at times on the menu.

Make sure the menu reflects the cultural demographic, that’s really important. It all comes back to communication with the residents. Know the foods they traditionally and normally eat and adapt your menu to suit that.

What should be included on a daily menu?

Outline the three main meals of the day, morning and afternoon tea and supper. All aged care menus should offer those six meals across the day. Eating smaller amounts more regularly is a really important strategy to get enough protein and energy in their diet.

How can chefs create a menu that provides options while minimising food wastage?

Usually, menus have a four-week rotation.  Have the full menu available for residents and families to have a copy.

They should be choosing the option on the day because people can change their minds. The closer it is to the mealtime the more likely they will eat the meal.  Some facilities have menu options to fill in at breakfast, so the kitchen knows how much food to prepare.

Pureed or ‘textured’ food now follow international standards. How can chefs make these foods look more appealing?

Making the meals visually appealing can increase the chances the meal will get eaten.

Because we eat with our eyes as well as all the other senses, it can make a big difference to be able to see what the actual food is. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish what the vegetable or meat on the plate is because it’s all pureed.

Having colour is a strategy we recommend. So, make sure you’re not serving chicken with white potato and cauliflower. Make sure you’ve got a variety of colours.

Also, using food moulds is a really great strategy. Cook the food and put it in the food mould and freeze it. Then they put the food on the plate, and it gets steamed. Even just using piping bags or presenting it nicely on the plate, make sure there’s thought put into it. How it looks on the plate is really important.

Should anything be added to pureed food?

Residents on textured-modified diets are particularly at risk of malnutrition. Some people think it looks like baby food. So, we recommend textured-modified foods to be fortified with extra protein and energy.

How can food be fortified?

Adding milk powder is a really great strategy. It has the same amount of protein as a commercial supplement.

I would recommend using enriched milk in recipes using milk. Add extra milk powder to the milk. Add extra cheeses, extra fats, cream, sour cream, grated cheese or butter on top of vegetables.

What other foods should be encouraged on an aged care menu?

Chefs should focus on protein. Our protein requirements increase as we age. Usually, if a resident loses weight, they lose muscle mass.

Having a hot breakfast can really increase protein intake and make sure there’s a meat or meat alternative in the lunch meal. Also, add protein to the soup.

Requirements for dairy for people over 70 are higher than for younger people. So, make sure a dessert at lunch or dinner has at least half a serving of dairy. That could be yoghurt, custard, milk in a panna cotta or rice pudding.

Sandwiches are quite popular. Make sure there’s at least 50g of protein, like shredded chicken, roast beef, mashed egg or cheese.

Omega 3 is important as well. We recommend having fish on the menu a few times a week.

How can a chef increase the chances of a menu’s success?

Add in variety to keep the menu interesting. Change it with the seasons, just don’t have a static menu. Also, avoid repetition of the main protein foods, so don’t have chicken for lunch and then chicken for dinner. Have a different type of protein dish.

If your aged care kitchen needs commercial cooking equipment or further advice on meal preparation, get in touch with Comcater

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