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A voice and a choice: Enhancing resident food and dining experiences

Food and the experience of eating are important and enjoyable facets of everyday life for most people. Getting to choose what you want to eat is something most people also take for granted. These “simple” things are no less important for residents in aged care facilities. A well-prepared and thoughtfully served meal can make people feel cared for, comforted, and connected. It can ensure they want to eat. 

As reflected in the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s recent report, ‘Analysis of food and dining experiences in residential aged care services’, “people bring a range of tastes, practices and attitudes regarding food with them on entry to long-term care settings”.  

It is therefore vital that residents’ individual preferences for food are understood, and that choice is offered and encouraged as part of their overall care and wellbeing. It is also important to know and detect what residents don’t like and don’t want, and to clearly avoid giving it to them. Staff can notice when a resident doesn’t like, or refuses, foods even when the resident can’t tell them.  

Why? Well, we know that: 

  • Familiar food that aligns with or represents one’s personal and family background can provide comfort, support recovery from illness and help adaptation to new accommodation. 
  • Traditions surrounding food consumption, learned within families as children and carried forward into families as adults, can provide a powerful link to identity and sense of self. It also links to all the senses, not just taste and smell.  
  • When traditional or familiar foods are unavailable, the ability to maintain and reinforce individual identity is impeded, thereby affecting quality of life in the residential aged care setting (Evans et al., 2005).  

There are many ways you can support and encourage residents to have a voice about their food and dining experience. 

Positive story

One aged care service in New South Wales has come up with a novel approach to give residents the ability to have a say about the kinds of foods they want to see on the menu and the way they are offered to them. The food service team has set up a wishing well in the dining area inviting residents to write down their ideas and requests. 

The word “well” with its multiple meanings is so appropriate here. The wishing well has not only provided a mechanism for direct feedback and suggestions, but its novelty has also fostered lots of discussion between residents, staff, and management on ways to provide a more fulfilling food and dining experience. This has added to residents’ sense of empowerment, community, and wellbeing. 

Ideas and feedback have included: 

  • Regular BBQs for both the food and social opportunity 
  • Cultural celebrations with traditional foods 
  • Fresh cake slices as opposed to pre-packaged (potentially hard to open) options 
  • Food outings such as visiting the market for fresh foods or visiting cafes 
  • Incorporating “take-away style” meals into the monthly menu – hot chips are often a favourite 

Helpful resources

We have developed a range of resources to support providers to focus on and deliver high-quality, safe, and enjoyable food and dining experiences. Many providers are already making meaningful improvements and have satisfied and better nourished residents with a better quality of life. 

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