Aged Care Catering: A Run-Through

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In aged care, catering is one of the most important functions in the overall scheme of the business. Every day across the nation, catering services are doing their best in trying to achieve the perfect meal. The goal is to satisfy the aged residents with the quality of their meals.

Looking after every resident and getting their food right and to be able to rate it as a perfect dining experience would first take a lot of planning and organization.

Preparation

In practice, the perfect meal does not only depend on the food being well-cooked and presented. The big difference is also dependent on how the food is produced, and how the food is delivered to the residents through the meal delivery service.

Finally, to the dining room, the food is being eaten and the judgment for all the hard work comes together. In the catering journey, each of the stages is crucial in order to ensure its success where the residents will enjoy their meal.

Menu

In Aged Care Catering Australia, the menu is more than just what is being cooked for the day. An important factor is the planning aspect where the nutritional aspects of the food are considered.

In a real sense, it actually defines how catering systems are set up and how the menu can be limited by the catering equipment. Kitchen design also needs to be carefully planned to maximize the food production opportunities.

This one will ensure that the menu has a freshness which allows residents the flexibility of choice and variety. Part of the development of menus is gathering food preferences from residents plus an understanding of the types of foods residents like to eat.

For instance, food preferences gathered from a certain region indicated that desserts and the traditional soups, indicated that the traditional foods associated with an older generation (roasts, stews, pudding, baked custards) are still very much part of the menu.

Production

Production as a process is where the food is transformed into a meal. Production can be essentially divided between two main systems, ‘fresh cook’ and ‘cook chill’. Data collected from the National Menu Survey for Residential Aged Care, conducted by the University of Queensland, suggests that aged care facilities across Australia are predominately ‘fresh cook’.

Cooking fresh is having food cooked on the day it is served. This actually meanswhich  thatfacilities have kitchens operating seven days a week.

There is also another variation on the ‘fresh cook’ theme where facilities do use some ‘cook chill’ technology. This is so that  so that they can re-thermalize food over weekend periods and reduce their labor costs.

Likewise, these facilities can also produce batches of products like porridge, soups and gravies only a few times a week and hence has a free up time to concentrate on other areas of catering.

‘Cook chill’ is the process whereby food is produced and rapidly chilled thus enabling an increased shelf-life of anywhere between five to 28 days. One of the advantages of ‘cook chill’ is that it reduces the operational times of a kitchen.

The difference between food services in a ‘cook fresh’ and ‘cook chill’ kitchen depends on the type of service you are marketing for your organization. There is little to suggest a significant nutritional difference between the systems.

In aged care the focus of the food production is that they should deliver a meal which the residents like and will eat.

Food delivery

No matter how food is produced – whether in a centralized off-site kitchen or on other premises – one of the key areas of food services is moving the food to residents. Again the National Menu Survey indicated that facilities use a wide variety of methods to do this, from kitchens that served straight to a dining room.

Smaller kitchens iswhere food is delivered and kept warm to be served into dining rooms.Kitchens which received bulk foods that require reheating to serve to a dining room, and finally the tray meal services.

Here the food is pre-plated and then heated in carts adjacent to dining rooms. Sometimes, they are thermally supported and delivered to resident areas.

Dining area

In aged care, the preferred model is to serve food into a dining area from an adjacent kitchen or kitchenette. It does not matter if the food is being cooked and hot held, delivered and hot held, or re-thermalized.

Either of these systems allows the smell of the food to permeate through the dining area. One of the primary functions to stimulate the appetite is the smell of food so meal delivery systems need this function.

The idea is to have the residents have the opportunity to smell the food they are about to consume.

Serving and heating trays

Using trays and heating tray carts also reduce this effect and hence also reduces a resident’s ability to change their mind about their food choice.  One other important point is to ensure that the plated meal delivery system keep the food warm.

This is especially important when residents require assistance to feed and the3 meals are left on the tray waiting for care staff to provide assistance. In these incidences the meal support requires a thermal dome or base, or a heated base and cover.

When it comes to dining rooms this is the piece in the catering pathway which is the maker or breaker. The dining room is where the most important functions occur.

This is when all the hard work in producing a meal and getting that meal to the residents hot and looking spectacular is put to the test. Dining rooms need to be set up so that the resident feels at home. The focus is on their meal and that they feel comfortable.

Social place

The other important function of the dining room is to ensure that residents are social and not being isolated by eating in their rooms. Thetimes where a resident will need to stay in their room for meals will be due to clinical reasons.

However, the dining room is a social place where residents can interact with staff and visitors. Having residents in the dining room helps to reduce social isolation and keeps residents engaged.

Dining rooms also allow the staff to monitor what residents are eating which is needed to prevent unintentional weight loss. As the population gets frailer, it is important to ensure residents eat adequate amounts of food daily.

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