Food is one of the great joys of life, yet it is tragically a common area of neglect in residential aged care facilities (RACFs).
From gobs of unspecified mush to paltry servings of party-food items, inadequate, unsatisfying nutrition has been well documented over the years, collated in a disturbing compilation video released in 2020 by qualitative researcher, Sarah Russell.
Whether the root of the issue be lack of inspiration or a lack of funding – just $6.08 per resident per day was the average spend before July 2021 – the consequences for the overall health of older Australians are dire.
It is estimated that between 22 per cent and 50 per cent of older people living in Australian residential aged care are malnourished or at risk of the condition.
But a new initiative from Nestlé is hoping to reinvigorate RACF kitchens across the country.
The free online recipe book, Nourished: Make Every Bite Count, was created in collaboration with nutrition and culinary experts to provide appetising menus with appropriate nutrition for those in aged care and healthcare settings.
The eBook provides more than 50 recipes, ranging from breakfast through to dinner, as well as a variety of snacks and drinks options.
Karen Kingham, a practicing dietician and brand nutritionist for Nestlé Professional, says that each recipe is tailored to the unique dietary needs of older Australians.
“There is a growing body of evidence that our ability to utilise protein reduces as we get older, and we need more at every meal to maintain muscle mass.
“A large part of developing Nourished was to ensure every recipe met the food standard for protein and aim to offer as many recipes as possible that are rich in this important nutrient,” she says.
Former aged care executive chef, Gregg Burdon, worked alongside Nestlé Professional to develop the resource.
He tells Aged Care News that his on-the-ground experience highlighted a number of barriers to delivering optimum nutrition to his older clientele.
“Many residents also have additional needs, such as being unable to chew well or have difficulty swallowing… and this doesn’t even take into account special dietary needs like allergies and intolerances.
“What we have delivered is a support framework for aged care cooks and chefs that do not always have the direct support of an in-house dietitian.”
Burdon says that the addition of snacks and drinks to the menu was vital in ensuring comprehensive nutrition is achieved.
“By demonstrating to kitchen staff how they can support their residents over an entire day, rather than trying to achieve the required dietary intakes only over main meals, we have come up with a way to support the smaller appetites of residents by ensuring they still meet their nutritional needs if they prefer to eat smaller meals more frequently.”
Cooking in aged care is often a large-scale operation, sometimes requiring catering to upwards of 200 residents.
Burdon says that efficiency was at the forefront of developing the resource.
“The recipes in this eBook are presented in a large-scale format, specifically for aged care chefs and cooks who need to produce large quantities of meals.
“They include the nutritional calculations so kitchens can simply follow and cook for 20-40 residents or easily double or triple to cater for larger aged care homes,” Burdon says.
Whilst budgets are often a limiting factor, Burdon says that higher expenditure does not always equate to higher quality nutrition.
“The higher the budget the better the quality of produce can be purchased, but this doesn’t always guarantee that the residents will receive adequate nutrition.
“The only way to guarantee this, is by providing constant training and support for kitchen staff at the ground level and as an aged care community.
“This is what Nestlé Professional is offering with Nourished: Make Every Bite Count.”
He says that no matter the extent of funding, ongoing training and education is vital to ensuring that chefs are always providing the best quality of care for residents.
“We don’t need to teach the chefs and cooks how to cook, however, we need to support them with the knowledge of fortification of food.
“This helps ensure that every bite of food offered to residents tastes amazing, while also supporting the overall wellbeing of their residents to help them live a longer, more fruitful life.
“We think that this resource can be a source of support for those chefs and cooks that need it.”