Have you ever been inside the dining room or section of an aged care facility? Well, if you have siblings, parents, relatives or friends who are in their sixties or seventies already, then I guess should be concerned with what they eat inside the aged care facility, and how nutritious it really is. To get a better understanding of how the process works in aged care food services, we are going to discuss the pathways in which food goes from its purchase to the consumption by the residents.
Catering is One of the Most Crucial Functions in Aged Care
Catering is not just an important function in weddings, birthday parties and office gatherings or occasions, but it’s also a crucial function in aged care. As we human beings are food-driven, the restaurants, eateries and catering services all over the planet all strive to give their customers the perfect meal that they’re longing for.
This aspect gets an added layer of importance in aged care facilities. To look after each and every resident of the facility, and get it right day after day indeed takes a lot of planning and organization.
Providing the perfect meal does not depend solely on the food being cooked properly and presented, but it also depends on how the food is produced or sourced, how it’s delivered to the residents through the meal delivery system, and finally to the dining room where all the hard work comes together. Each stage or phase in the aged care catering pathway is critical towards ensuring its success, and that each resident truly enjoys their meal.
Now, one thing that is truly crucial in the success (or failure) of aged care food services is the menu. Yes, the menu is more than just what will be cooked each day and night. It actually defines how catering services and systems are set up and how the menu can be limited by the catering equipment.
The kitchen’s design also needs to be carefully planned if only to maximize production opportunities which will ensure that the menu has a freshness which allows residents the flexibility of choice and variety.
Part of the development of menus in aged care facilities is gathering food preferences from the residents, and understanding the types of food that residents prefer eating. Like for example, the food preferences gathered from a survey conducted in one facility indicated that soups, desserts and food associated with an older generation like stews, pudding, roasts and baked custards are very much part of the menu.
Production in aged care food services refers to the process whereby food is transformed into a meal. Production can be divided between two main systems, “fresh cook” and “cook chill”. According to data gathered from the National Menu Survey for Residential Aged Care by the University of Queensland, aged care facilities across Australia are predominantly fresh cook. This means that food is cooked fresh on the day it is served, which means that the facility has kitchens that operate seven days a week.
There is a little variation on the “fresh cook” theme, where some aged care facilities use a little “cook chill” theme, so that they can re-thermalize food over weekend periods, and eventually cut on labor costs.
These aged care centers can also produce batches of products like soups, gravies and porridge only a few times a week, and thus free up time for them to focus on other equally important areas of catering.
Oh, before I forget, “cook chill” actually refers to the process wherein food is produced and rapidly chilled, which leads to an increased shelf-life of anywhere between 5 to 28 days. One of the main perks of the “cook chill” them is that it considerably cuts the operational times of kitchens.
The difference between food services in a “cook fresh” and “cook chill” setup depends on the type of service that the provider is marketing for their organization or client. There is little to suggest a major nutritional difference between the two themes or systems, and in aged care the focus of food production should be to consistently deliver a meal which the residents truly like and will eat.
No matter how food is produced, or sourced, whether in centralized off-site kitchens or onsite, one of the major areas of aged care food services is literally moving the food to residents.
The National Menu Survey again indicates that aged care facilities use a wide assortment of methods to do this, from kitchens which serve straight to a dining room, smaller kitchens where food is delivered and kept warm to be served into dining rooms, kitchens that receive bulk food which requires re-heating to serve to a dining room, and finally tray meal services where the food is pre-plated and then heated in carts adjacent to dining rooms (or thermally supported and delivered to resident areas or rooms).
In many aged care facilities, the preferred model is to serve food into a dining area from an adjacent kitchen. It doesn’t matter whether the food is being cooled and hot-held, delivered and hot-held, or re-thermalized, as either of these systems or methodologies allow the smell of the food to permeate through the dining area.
One of the major functions to stimulate appetite is the smell of food, thus meal delivery systems and aged care good services need this added function of sorts so that during meal time the residents will have the opportunity to smell, and savor, the food that they are about to consume.
Dining Room Service
When it comes to dining rooms in aged care facilities, this is perhaps the piece in the catering pathway which makes or breaks the deal. The dining room is where the most important functions take place, when all the hard work in producing a meal, and getting that meal to the residents hot and fresh (and looking and tasting amazing) is put to the test.
Thus, in the best interest of aged care food services and their clients, the dining rooms need to be set up so that the resident feels at home, and that they focus on the meal and feel comfortable.