Cooking the right meal, presenting a meal in the best way possible, catering to individual needs & texture modified food is all necessary and must be done right in aged care. However, all these efforts are meaningless if the residents aren’t encouraged to consume these wonderful meals.
We all are aware that as we aged, we experience a decrease in appetite. There are many physical, psychological, social & environmental factors that contribute towards this decline in appetite.
So, what can be done to create an urge to have meal ? How can we prompt residents to look forward to meal times and support them to continue with healthy eating habits?
This is a huge factor that drives our appetite. Smell of the favourite food immediately translates into urge to eat. Many aged cares unfortunately either have central production kitchen or have kitchen in basement and away from general activity areas. This reduces chance for the residents to smell the food that’s being cooked in the kitchen. While Hot boxes, insulated trolleys etc help with maintaining temperature, it also stops the hot food smell.
Some simple, easy & cost-effective ways can be introduced to overcome this challenge. Organise a simple automated bread maker in each servery / kitchenette. Making a fresh bread at breakfast time will spread the smell of freshly baked bread throughout the area. It will have such a huge impact on residents wanting to come down for breakfast. Bread makers do not require cooking skills or knowledge and pre-mixed / pre-prepared doughs will reduce any food safety related issues.
If oven is available, then just half an hour before lunch time, heat a pizza (can be store bought/ frozen) in the oven. The smell of hot pizza or frying chips will draw resident’s attention to the dining areas.
Keep in mind that the whole idea of this cooking or reheating is to only stimulate the smell of food hence whether the actual food is consumed or not or any other food safety related concerns should not prevent this simple but effective solution.
Meal time announcements:
Another simple trick that can-do wonders. An announcement about morning or afternoon tea being served or a meal time reminder over PA system will go long way. Hearing the announcement about meal times will prompt the residents to make their way towards the dining area.
Happy / Fun Activities:
Mood impacts heavily on our appetite. Joyful person will not only eat well but also digest the food a lot better. Organise fun activities before the lunch time. Making residents do activity together with same people that are going to have meal with on same table is also important. It allows the residents to get to know each other well and bond well.
Why do we seem to be enjoying meals with families a lot more then with colleagues or other relatives? Simply because of the bond and the level of happiness prior to meal times. As a family get together, we all talk and do fun activities before having meal Same principle applies here.
Digital Menu Displays:
Most aged cares display weekly / daily menu in common areas. These displays can play a vital role if used correctly & effectively. Digital display impacts a lot more than just a paper-based display. Digital display is a lot more colourful and draws a lot more attention. However, it is important to make sure that digital displays are not kept on all day continuously. Human eyes and brain get used to looking at the same thing very quickly. Hence to draw attention, the displays must be turned on prior to meal times and turned off after meal is served. Photos of the meals are also crucial. “We eat with our eyes first” so looking at the food that will be offered soon, can prompt the residents to wanting the food.
Build up to the meal times:
Care staff & lifestyle staff can help with providing atmosphere towards meal times. Having conversations about food or discussing menu options prior to meal times will be a start point. Even taking residents for a quick walk through vege garden (if available) can stimulate the senses.
Collecting residents meal preference is debatable these days in aged cares but it is not only for the purpose of production, it engages residents in meal conversations. Discussing residents likes and dislikes, while taking orders can help build thought about food in residents minds. There are many Aged Care Software System available to help support this task
There are many other ways to help improve resident’s appetite that revolves around dining room setups & dining experience that I have mentioned in my previous articles. We must try and implement these ideas to make sure that not only we provide well prepared meals but also provide quality life to our residents.
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