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Providing food is not enough

According to a study in European medical journal Appetite, the majority of elderly residents in care are at risk of malnutrition. Diminishing appetites, restricted diets, depression or difficulty eating caused by issues such as dental problems or dementia can make full portions unmanageable, and therefore some residents do not get the nutrition they need even though balanced meals are provided. Malnutrition and weight loss is dangerous to the health and can lead to a variety of other problems, from low mood and tiredness to debilitated immune systems and weakened muscles. The latter can lead to longer stretches of illness as well as an increased chance of falls.

Looking out for malnutrition

As a chef, it can be hard to monitor what happens when food leaves the kitchen, but working closely with the rest of the care team can help identify those at risk. Talk to nursing fellow staff to find out which residents struggle at meal times and ask them to keep track of intake – regularly weighing residents will also create an accurate picture of individual weight loss. And try to create a varied menu that will excite and surprise residents at meal times, as diner apathy can often be a reason for plates not being cleared.

What chefs can do

Chefs have a key role to play in preventing weight loss and malnutrition by providing healthy, enjoyable food that helps residents to achieve their daily nutritional needs.

  • Work with a dietitian to create a balanced meal plan that is loaded with all the right nutrition
  • Include residents in meal planning by asking what they enjoy – popular dishes are more likely to be eaten
  • Presentation is hugely important to our enjoyment of meals, so put extra thought into how dishes look as well as taste
  • Many residents have special needs that can affect their ability to eat, so consider these limitations and work with the nursing staff and a dietician to plan how best to navigate them
  • Build in regular healthy snacking opportunities throughout the day as an alternative for residents who feel overwhelmed by full meals
  • Monitor plate waste and pass on concerns about residents regularly not managing full portions to medical staff and dietitians nutritionist, who can work out a plan of action, such as swapping three regular-sized meals for five smaller highly nutritious ones.