If you’re choosing an aged care home for a parent or relative, you want to know the food is good. If an aged care home is getting the food right, you can be confident in the rest of their service. In this third article of my three part series on food service in the aged care industry, I’m sharing my tips on what to look for in aged care food service.
What are your food allocation costs?
You want to see a generous allocation for food. It shows an investment in quality that cannot be underestimated. Having said that, quality food can be very affordable and many aged care homes are able to provide a terrific menu through careful stock management, seasonal purchasing, waste reduction and sensible storage.
On average, an aged care facility spends $6.08 per person per day on food. If the number seems low, ask them how they manage to provide quality food for that amount.
How many staff in the kitchen?
Preparing good food takes time, so you want to see a good ratio of kitchen staff to residents. Good food can be delivered at low prices, but preparation of quality food takes time. The number of kitchen staff per resident varies from facility to facility. It’s worth asking how many kitchen staff they have and how much time they spend on meal preparations.
How do the kitchen team interact with diners?
You want to see a responsive kitchen team that listen to the diners, gather feedback and understand their residents’ preferences. Your red flag is a kitchen team that doesn’t seem to speak or interact with diners – if that’s the case, how will they understand and meet diners’ needs?
How do you handle special dietary requirements?
Many residents of aged care have strict dietary controls, and need to avoid foods such as gluten, sugar, dairy and many others. In addition, other diners will have allergies, and others will have personal or cultural eating preferences. How will the kitchen cater to these varied dietary requirements whilst keeping meals fresh and interesting? Juggling the many different eating preferences of a large group of diners is not easy, and your aged care facility should be able to thoroughly explain their approach.
How big is the freezer?
Often fresh vegetables and fruit are cheaper than frozen, however wastage and spoilage is easier to manage when using frozen goods. Most modern day catering arrangements have commitments to use fresh fruit and vegetables (bonus points if they grow some on site). A short look around the kitchen and freezer will give you insight into its use of both frozen and fresh produce.
And finally, they should be happy to answer these questions
If you feel the aged care facility is uncomfortable answering these questions, then that speaks volumes. Any quality aged care facility will take pride in its food service and be proud to explain their approach to potential residents.
There are initiatives out there looking to improve the food service of the aged care sector. The Lantern Project, led by Cherie Hugo with nearly 500 members around Australia, is looking to ensure that aged care residents eat a balanced and well-nourished meal that is appealing and appetising. Check out their video below and see what their goals are for the aged care industry.
Cherie Hugo is an Aged care dietitian who is in the final stages of her PhD research into aged care nutrition. As you can see in her social experiment video below, the Lantern Project hopes to “highlight a few current facts that we know can certainly change for the better with community input.”