Food is a big part of everyone’s lives. It’s especially important for people living in aged care, where a good meal can be the highlight of their day.

When you look at an aged care facility, many will boast an offering of a “dining experience”. This may include a linen tablecloth, a menu with a range of items, nice silverware next to white crockery and a chef in the kitchen preparing the delectable meals.

The reality of the situation can be very different. Behind the scenes of an aged care kitchen there may be a stressed chef, overworked staff and management, everyone trying to sort their way through high costs, high wastage and conflicting information over what is being served and how things are being run.

And when the resident gets their meal, it’s looks and tastes exactly like how things are going – a mess.

It’s important, and aged care providers are learning this now, to offer a positive dining experience. It can be the difference between happy and miserable residents.

Organisations can also see the difference in their reputation and branding, a good dining experience means a higher occupancy and happier families.

And the dining experience isn’t just about how and what is being served to the residents. It’s also about how things are run. Mealtimes can be stressful for all the staff, not just the ones working in the kitchen but also for the ones caring for the residents. If a more functional and efficient process is in place, then the staff are more at ease and likely to be more motivated.

Rejuvenating the dining experience can seem difficult, but it doesn’t have to be a huge overhaul done in one step – it can be lots of little steps that de-clutter the confusion over what it takes to offer a positive dining experience for the residents.

Remember it’s not just about the food that is served, but also how it is served and who is working and managing the process.

Making a Difference

Ryman Healthcare, a New Zealand-based aged care operator, conducted a survey to see what their residents were looking for when it came to meal time – and what for them was a priority.

The survey showed that the daily lunch and dinner served were very important to get right, with choice and presentation having precedence.

The facility manager Andrew Gibson explained that taste for food doesn’t simply diminish with age, “I think there’s a misconception about the sort of food you like as you get older – there is no way they just want to eat bland food. Food is really important”.

“They like the classics, they like fresh seasonal ingredients and they want food that is not bland in any way.”

This particular survey showed that residents wanted to see less casseroles, and surprisingly fish and chips were a polarising dish.

And to show they’ve listened, the New Zealand organisation have made changes to their menus, incorporating old favourites with new exotic dishes like osso bucco, a calzone and Thai beef salad.

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