Ellen Brown, apetito Divisional Manager Care Homes, explains the importance of the care home dining experience
The average care home resident in the UK is over 85 years old. Born during the war years, they will have grown up during this period and experienced the country’s rapidly changing attitudes towards food. Having lived through the end of rationing and the beginnings of Britain’s food revolution, today’s generation of care home residents will have accumulated a lifetime of varied and interesting dining experiences, both at home, in restaurants and in countless other settings. Arguably, mealtimes hold a greater social and emotional significance for this generation than for young people today. People born in the 40s grew up in a country with an ever changing and diversifying culinary scene. Everything was new and exciting, and mealtimes were still seen as the optimum time to socialise with family and friends.
However, financial constraints in the social care sector mean many care homes struggle to provide their residents with high quality food, not least to serve this in an attractive and modern environment. Making the move into a care home is a huge and unsettling change for most and many people have to adjust to a totally new lifestyle. This can include a new living space, new neighbours, friends and new routines. However, one element which should be maintained as best as possible is a resident’s diet.
For people living in care homes today, food and mealtimes have been a source of comfort, communication and exciting discoveries all their lives. We all know that food needs to be nutritionally balanced, attractive and great tasting to maintain health and wellbeing, but it is also important to remember that food is incredibly emotive. This means offering varied menus and giving residents as many options as possible. It means giving residents the choice of where and with whom they eat their meals, so they have power over their own dining environment.
For those of us born in more recent decades, we take the outcomes of the food revolution for granted; we have unlimited choice and can eat whenever, wherever we want; mealtimes are no longer sacred. However, for those residing in care homes today, this is not the case. The importance of mealtimes for residents can never be overlooked and should always be treated accordingly, by looking beyond the food and at the dining experience as a whole.