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Cultural considerations in Food, Nutrition and Dining

As the percentage of older Australians in our population keeps growing, providing person-centred culturally sensitive care becomes more important.

We understand how important cultural diversity is, particularly for food, nutrition and dining. As well as how important it is to support practices that are inclusive and recognise the worth of cultural diversity in aged care.

Cultural diversity – the cornerstone of aged care

Cultural diversity enriches our society, but it also presents some challenges in providing good nutrition for people receiving aged care.

Aged care services provide care to people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, each with their own dietary preferences, traditions and beliefs.

Understanding and welcoming cultural diversity supports an environment of respect, dignity, and inclusion. This in turn enriches the lives of people receiving care and improves the quality of the care they receive.

Diverse dietary habits

One of the key nutritional considerations in aged care is understanding the range of dietary habits people from different cultural backgrounds have.

Traditional diets across cultures can include specific ingredients, cooking techniques, and meal traditions that are different from Western diets. These diets and practices often reflect cultural heritage, regional cuisines and historical influences.

We found one service celebrated the cultural diversity of their residents by:

  • hosting regular cooking programs featuring traditional dishes
  • organising outings to local restaurants that serve traditional favourite foods.

Including familiar foods and flavours from people’s cultural backgrounds can improve their dining experience and their nutrition and add to their overall satisfaction.

Religious and spiritual beliefs

Religious and spiritual beliefs can affect diet and dining practices. Some religions have dietary restrictions, such as avoiding certain meats or fasting during specific times of the year. Respecting these beliefs makes sure that residents can follow their eating preferences and their faith.

Family and community dynamics

It’s important to also recognise the role of family and community in the eating habits of older people.

Family gatherings and shared meals often have cultural significance and shape people’s preferences and expectations. Including families in meal planning and mealtimes:

  • preserves cultural traditions
  • encourages social connections
  • supports emotional wellbeing
  • encourages people to eat more.

Staff training and cultural competency

Training staff members in cultural competency and diversity awareness is an important part of providing person-centred aged care services. Staff can better tailor food and nutrition services to meet a person’s preferences in an inclusive environment that understands the different needs of people receiving care

Tips for culturally sensitive food, nutrition and dining

1. Listen to people receiving care

  • Encourage people receiving care to talk to you and each other about their food preferences, memories and cultural backgrounds.
  • Don’t assume what a person likes and dislikes. Provide person-centred care that respects each person’s preferences.

2. Create a collaborative space

  • Make sure you have a feedback process where people receiving care, staff and management can contribute ideas. This encourages open discussions and a sense of community and shared decision-making.

3. Cultural sensitivity

  • Work with people in your community and cultural groups to include traditional foods and cooking methods where you can.
  • Ask people receiving care to share their favourite recipes and include them into the menu.
  • Involve local communities and cultural groups to host food-related events, workshops or cooking demonstrations. Get the residents involved and hands on.

4. Regular cultural days and events

  • Host cultural days and events, such as holidays and birthdays, with food as a focus. You can then include these culturally significant meals into the regular menu.

5. Staff training

  • Train food service staff on cultural competence and sensitivity, covering the importance of food in people’s lives and how it connects to their identity.

6. Evaluate and improve

  • Regularly assess the effect of any changes you make by gathering feedback from people receiving care and staff to make improvements.

Knowing residents’ dietary preferences, religious practices and family dynamics plays an important role in aged care. Aged care services can improve the quality of life and wellbeing of people receiving care by embracing cultural diversity and using culturally sensitive approaches to food, nutrition and dining. This also supports a sense of belonging and dignity.

More information

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