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Food on the Frontline

The critical importance of nutritionally balanced diets in residential care by Anne Kasey, Registered Manager at the Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society

Residential and nursing care has changed dramatically over recent years and as people live longer, the care environment has become more complex. Improvements in health have led to the increase of the disability-free life expectancy; however, the increasing age of the population means that many people will require some form of care during their lives.

So, how do care homes ensure they continue to meet the needs of this changing population, not only among the clinical and nursing teams, but particularly where diet and nutrition are concerned? With the elderly generally having a reduced appetite and being more likely to experience mineral and nutrient deficiencies, how can catering teams address the ongoing struggle to tempt some of those least interested in, but most in need of a nutritional diet?

The kitchen is at the heart of a happy home and the same holds true for those being professionally cared for, yet, as anyone trying to please their nearest and dearest with home cooked food three times a day knows, it’s not always plain sailing.

Anne Kasey, Registered Manager at the Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society, a maritime nursing home caring for former seafarers based in Banstead, Surrey, said: “Caring is a skilled profession and a difficult job and complementing a sector full of excellent nurses and care coordinators are the catering teams.

It is this synergy which allows The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society to provide an excellent standard of care to its 68 residents. It’s our job to ensure that a healthy diet is on offer as the foundation to maintaining optimum health for the residents – nutrition is imperative to wellbeing, mental function, skin integrity and mobility.

“The consistency of the food we provide depends on a resident’s health or ability to swallow and the catering team liaise closely with the clinical staff regarding specific diets. Foods we take for granted such as fruit and vegetables aren’t always the easiest to digest due to their skin and texture. This is where the catering team excels, their creativity, training and knowledge enables them to create recipes full of key nutrients, regardless of the residents’ health.

“Appetites tend to reduce as people get older so we need to get in as many calories as possible into a small portion, which means using plenty of full fat milk, cream and butter. Whilst these are not conventional ingredients for a healthy diet, without these calorie-rich ingredients, maintaining weight would be very difficult, especially for those residents with dementia, who tend to use more energy.”

The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society has approached good nutrition by providing flexibility to meal times. Initially operating around set hours, the team established that some residents fare much better with meals they’re able to eat in their own time.

Jennifer O’Neil, The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society’s Catering Manager, said: “It’s been eye-opening how well this approach has worked and our decision to provide flexibility with meal times has improved eating habits for many of our residents. We know some people really struggle if their medication changes or if they are facing a specific health issue and their appetite is affected, so we ensure we offer additional support and choice at those times”.

With old age bringing a natural decline in the senses including taste and smell, it’s no secret that many residents develop a very sweet tooth and need stronger, more robust flavours to their food. The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society serves around 70,000 meals in a year and ensures the balance between welfare and choice is met, which is an ever evolving challenge but one The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society embraces fully.

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