Care catering – Diet and nutrition in care homes

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Cath Kay, Exemplar Health Care

Diet and nutrition are essential components of health care plans of residents for obvious physiological reasons, but the food itself can also have a profound psychological effect. Favourite foods can often trigger positive emotions and memories, and at a basic level can simply form a great conversation starter.

Due to the varying food and diet requirements of residents, and indeed the stakeholder recommendations provided in this field, care staff are continually working to deliver the right menus that also appeal to individual’s tastes and preferences. Each unknown food is appropriately risk assessed and then provided/served in line with recommendations from speech and language therapy teams and dieticians.

When considering unlabelled allergens or food simply not in line with healthy eating plans, and the ability to properly assess the risks is reliant on the relationship between care staff, their residents and family and friends. There is a level of trust and awareness that care staff require from both service users and their visitors in order to manage the care environment.
For instance, only by being made aware of edible items entering the home – be this purchased goods or home-baked gifts – are care staff able to provide guidance to, and ensure the safety of, service users. Though most care settings welcome home baked treats, it is vital that staff are in control of the wider care setting for not just the service user in receipt of the goods, but to all people in the home who could be adversely affected by allergens and cross contamination.
An increasing level of high-profile allergen cases in mainstream consumer media are contributing to the recognition of the potentially devastating impact of allergens, particularly around nut allergies and coeliac disease, but there’s more work and education to do. There are allergens such as kiwi, eggs and avocado that are less recognised by the general public and could therefore lead to difficult conversations about acceptance of products within the home setting.
In these instances, the material available to service users and their families is key to the education process, and at Exemplar we have a clear policy where all food brought into a home is to be flagged with the Care Home Manager, reviewed by the home staff and stored appropriately until requested for consumption. We are home to people with a wide variation of complex issues, so having a rigorous process is absolutely essential.
In addition to the wider policy, Exemplar supports the education of allergens in different meals and food products through detailed allergen menus which are available in each dining room. The spreadsheets allow the carers and residents to cross reference the seasonal menus, and to understand which allergens feature in the dishes provided.
The allergen menus provide a conversation starter for the carers and service users, helping them understand and recognise when fellow service users cannot be served the same dish and therefore must consider alternatives that may be more suitable. This has been a particularly useful asset which has supported the education of some service users further.
The wider implications and uses of the allergen menus as an educational asset should not be underestimated. At Exemplar we have utilised them to advance the education of food development and allergen considerations outside of the dining room environment.
The Platform, a pop-up café at Quarryfields care home in Doncaster sees several residents developing and making home baked treats to sell in the café. While developing the dishes for the café, the individuals have continued to improve their understanding of allergens and consideration of how to inform their customers of the allergens within the food products they are making.
For many care home providers, the allergen menus are developed and provided as standard and we have found that reutilising them through educational (and fun) projects like The Platform, it has provided a much deeper understanding and recognition of the challenges around allergens in the care setting.

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