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FOOD IN AGED CARE: MAKING A MEAL OF IT

When you think of food in an aged care facility, what comes to mind? Nondescript slop? Something boiled and processed and pureed within an inch of its life?

We are passionate about sourcing, preparing and serving real food at Honey Bee Homes. We’re lucky—our regional location and boutique model of small, share care homes means we’re not under any pressure to mass produce and prepare, well, anything. In fact, we grow many of our own veggies, get eggs from our funny chooks, and have our own bees for honey and pollinating our gardens.

The Honey Bee Homes team has worked in mainstream, institutional aged care for decades, and we’ve agitated for better food for years. We’ve long been encouraged by the work of better-food-and-nutrition-in-aged-care warrior [and absolute living treasure], Maggie Beer. And we welcome The Maggie Beer Foundation’s latest comprehensive report to the Department of Health on food, nutrition and the dining experience in Aged Care.

In it, Maggie states, “We know the role of food in aged care is currently undervalued. Focusing on food and appetite and, in doing so, good nutrition, stimulates the senses, supports health and wellbeing, provides pleasure, conveys respect and care and acts as a facilitator for social interaction.”

Championing a positive ‘dining experience’ in aged care is not a new battleground for me. In fact, Maggie’s report reminded me of an article I wrote as a fledgling aged care blogger back in 2010, the theme being simply that, “We view meal times as an opportunity to socialise, it is an activity not a task, we want to ensure that meal times are enjoyed by all of our residents and that every aspect of the experience is good.”

More than 10 years later, clearly the experience—generally speaking—is still not good. Which is weird. I mean, contemporary society is obsessed with food. Just look at the endless stream of My-Masterchef-Rules shows on our teles, and our new culinary vocabularies. We talk about food that is ‘clean’ and ‘perfectly seasoned’, pans that are ‘deglazed’, bones that are ‘Frenched’, chocolate that is ‘tempered’. You might have even bought yourself a sous-vide machine for Christmas. We did not talk like this is 2010. Well, maybe Gordon Ramsey did.

Also, just think how about how much we’ve learned in the last decade about the role that food plays in a healthy body. The nutrients in food enable the cells in our bodies to perform their necessary functions. Seriously, it’s Nutrition 1.01.

So why are we still living in a world where a budget for meals and drinks from breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, through to dinner and supper of $6.08 per aged care resident per day is OK? At the royal commission, chefs spoke about using more frozen and processed meals, choosing poorer quality of meats and serving leftover meals in response to budget cuts.

This is not OK.

Over our years in aged care, we have worked with The Maggie Beer Foundation, The Lantern Project, and Soil to Supper workshops because good food should be the highlight of the day for aged care residents but often it falls short of expectations.

At Honey Bee Homes we celebrate food. Life’s most important and special moments don’t just involve food – they often they revolve around food. The preparation of these celebratory moments is an important part of memory association, and creates lasting memories comprised of smells, tastes, sounds, and textures. 

We love cooking with locally sourced fruits and vegetables – largely pesticide-free and organically raised. If we aren’t growing them in our own garden, we can grab them from local markets and farm stalls.

Cooking and eating together are essential parts of the day for cultures all over the world. However, as the demands of work and technology press the expectation of productivity deeper into our lives, those ‘together’ moments are diminishing. Sadly, productivity has become more valued than family and emotional connectivity. That emphasis on productivity also has a connection to high stress and poorer quality of life.

Cooking together and spending time together in the kitchen enjoying conversation gives you a chance to pause and focus on the simple things. Mindful cooking is a meditative experience, and that focus allows you to enjoy the moment and your relationship. We encourage the residents in our small, share care homes to get involved in meal preparation if
they want to. It gives them a great deal of satisfaction to prepare food like they may have done for a lifetime in their family home. It also stimulates the senses, stirs fond memories and improves appetite.

Are you hungry for a new way to experience aged care?