A leading dietician says the aged care industry has long known operators aren’t spending enough on residents’ food, and it’s time solutions began to be implemented.

Dr Cherie Hugo, dietician and founder of The Lantern Project, told HelloCare that witness comments yesterday claiming some operators spend as little as $6.50 per resident per day on food come as no surprise.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Dr Hugo said. “It’s nothing new.”

Dr Hugo said she established The Lantern Project seven years ago because of her concerns about the lack of quality food for aged care residents. 

Dr Hugo’s own research, which was published in 2018, found operators were spending on average $6.08 per resident per day on food.

Dr Hugo said she welcomes the royal commission as a powerful platform to air issues associated with food and nutrition in aged care. But she said it was frustrating to her that old information is being revisited while more isn’t being done to fix already well-known problems. 

Dr Hugo said she’s like to see solutions to some of the problems with food and nutrition in aged care implemented before the findings of the royal commission are handed down, and she has meetings in Canberra soon to try to achieve change.

“I think we’ve got enough evidence to start actioning,” she told HelloCare.

Dr Hugo has made a submission to the royal commission.

Panel tells royal commission there’s a huge range of spending on food in aged care

Yesterday the royal commission heard from a panel of chefs who had worked in aged care facilities. Nicholas Hall, Timothy Deverell and Lindy Twyford spoke to the commission about their experiences.

When asked the kinds of budgets they are given in aged care, Mr Deverell said some operators spend as little as $6.50 per resident per day on food, but some spend more than twice that amount.

“It varies hugely,” he told the royal commission. 

“Top of the range, good places are between $14 and $17 per resident per day. At the other end of the scale, it’s around $6.50 to $7 per resident per day.”

Maggie Beer: “it’s impossible” to spend $7 per day and achieve good food

Maggie Beer told the royal commission yesterday it’s “impossible” to feed aged care residents properly for only $7 per resident per day.

The campaigner for better food in aged care told the royal commission that spending only $7 per day on residents’ food means they have to use processed and frozen food, frozen vegetables, and imported fish.

Low budgets mean less protein and smaller portions

Mr Deverell said having a budget of around $7 per resident per day on food meant smaller portions and lower food quality.

“You are normally getting secondary cuts of meat,” he explained. 

“The vegetables are second quality, you have to throw a certain portion out because you have to order a carton to get in under your food budget. Because you are throwing a certain percentage out, you are giving less to the residents. So they end up with smaller portion sizes. 

“The protein content is normally smaller in those places. 

“Yes, it’s not good,” he said.

Modelling needed to set minimum for food budget

Dr Sandra Iuliano also appeared at the royal commission yesterday as part of a panel of dieticians and nutritionists. 

Dr Iuliano is a nutritionist with a PhD in Nutrition and Exercise Psychology, and is a senior research fellow at the Department of Medicine in the University of Melbourne.

Dr Iuliano quoted Dr Hugo’s research, and said “it would be very difficult to meet the nutritional needs of a person” with only $6.08.

“Perhaps what needs to be done is to actually model how much money it does cost and, therefore, that becomes minimal benchmark of budgetary allocation to food, because $6 would not be enough,” she suggested.

In her submission to the royal commission, Dr Iuliano noted that Corrective Services spends $8.25 on food per person.

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