When we talk about our ageing population all too often we talk about how we will house them and care for them, focusing on age related diseases like dementia and heart disease.
But what about the food? Coming from a foodservice background, we know we’re biased, but too often we hear friends say their beloved mother/father/aunt/uncle/significant other has gone into aged care and immediately lost interest in food or lost weight.
Perhaps because the food isn’t familiar? They miss cooking for themselves or the joy of eating with others? Or is it a combination of several factors?
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing, the number of Australians aged 75 and above is expected to rise by 4 million by 2060, increasing from about 6.4 to 14.4 per cent of the population.[i]
In 2012, there was roughly one person aged 100 years and over to every 100 babies; by 2060, it is projected there will be around 25.[ii]
So, chefs all over Australia are going to have to learn how to cater for our ageing population quickly, whether they are working in aged care or not.
Read on for our tips on what chefs working in aged care should focus on to ensure their diners not only get the nutrients they need, but actually enjoy their meals.
Look and Feel
In aged care, one of the most important things is increasing the appeal of the meal in general, while also making it easy to eat. Typically, as we get older our senses weaken (we might not see as clearly or have the same sense of smell or taste) so chefs must look for ways to change foods to engage the senses. This can be as simple as ensuring there are lots of colours on the plate and making the flavours bolder than usual.
When foods that are modified in texture for easy swallowing are introduced (like Riviana’s Puree range), chefs need to make sure they are still attractive with colour contrasts and layered presentation. Of course, they may still taste the same, but people tend to eat with their eyes and if it looks like slop it won’t be eaten.
It’s also important to make sure the dining environment is ‘appetising’. A daggy, half empty, colourless and quiet dining hall isn’t nice for anyone to dine in. Make sure your dining room makes residents want to stay and eat and chat with others. Comfortable chairs, brighter lighting and art on the walls are all important. It’s also worth looking into background music and some interaction with the chefs.
One of the best ways to engage residents at an aged care facility is to encourage them to be part of the process and recreate the excitement that comes from food services outside the facility. Openly discuss what they are craving and how you can introduce it into their experience.
Of course, catering to aged care is a difficult task, but can be very rewarding for a chef looking to make a real difference in the lives of others. Keep in mind that while you are creating menus that provide the sole source of nutrition for a group of people, you are also introducing some much needed colour and excitement into their day, so don’t take it for granted.