So, the question is…… Can we train chefs to care?
Working in aged care can be the most rewarding job in the world but it does have its ups and downs. Having to work with so many regulations can be very restrictive, but this is where the creative side of a chef can blossom. We have health inspections and follow HACCP guidelines to ensure food safety. We have the nursing home regulatory board to ensure the rights of each resident in care, enabling them to have a choice and dine in a dignified manner. We also have new regulations from IDDSI to guide us in our preparation of texture modified foods. Each a challenge but in a small busy kitchen with limited staff and resources with a time of the essence, it can be difficult.
So where do we start?
If you fail to plan, then to are planning to fail’ Benjamin Franklin
We need to prioritise each job in the kitchen daily and this needs to be done 1st thing in the morning.
So, here’s the thing…. in any aged care facility, we must have meals prepared & cooked for a certain time each day. Shocker, right? We also must provide choice and ensure that the meals are cooked within HACCP guidelines. We also must allocate enough time to create texture modified meals that look appealing and burst with flavour. We have so many different nutritional requirements that we must adhere to. Diabetic diets, low sodium diets, low-fat diets, increased calorie meals, renal diets, and dysphagia diets. The list seems to be growing and an aged care Chef is expected to be able to create meals for each of these needs and still stick to a budget and make them appealing, nutritious, and tasty.
First off, have a look at your week and see if you must prepare for any events, such as Birthday’s, Anniversary Dinner’s, BBQ’s, and Specialised Restaurant experiences. Get extra help if required to run such an event and plan your menu. Our daily challenge is filled with deadlines, ordering, and budgets!
If we can increase the productive time in the kitchen it will make the chef’s lives easier and hopefully, there will be a knock-on effect to produce nutritious plates of food.
‘That’s the way we always do it’ Probably the most annoying quote I have heard in care homes.
Why do we become chefs in the first place? To cook nutritious good-looking plates of food and watch the plates coming back to the kitchen empty. So why is it different in an aged care facility?
Would you like to eat the food that you are serving? Or do you bring your own lunch to work? If you are not willing to eat the food that you have cooked why would you serve it? Think back to that Head Chef that you aspired to and ask your self would they be impressed with what you have prepared for them? If you would be embarrassed to serve the food to them then it is nowhere near worthy enough to be served to vulnerable residents who look forward to each meal served to them daily.
Cooking in an aged care setting is such a privilege, as we get to work with people who depend on us for a basic human right like food and nutrition.
This role needs to be highlighted as a career path and not as a comfortable ‘easy’ role with set working hours.
We should sit down with the residents and chat with them to find their likes and dislikes. This way it is easier, as we will have less waste because the food will be consumed. We must compromise when planning our menu. Explain to the person, that we will incorporate their favourite dish into the monthly plan. This builds trust and rapport. Our residents will be our largest critic and we can learn a lot from them If you sit and chat with the people that you cook for you will get an insight into their lives and possibly their struggles.
Knowing your audience will help you in designing menus and adapting them to suit all diets that you must cater for. The main critics were the residents but the most difficult were the relatives as they were used to cooking for their loved ones for a long time and had their best interests at heart. This is where compassion and empathy are required from a chef in aged care, as the job entails much more than just the food on the plate. We are required to listen to relatives and residents, and professionals such as GP’s, nurses, Speech & language therapists, and dietitians in order to put together a meal plan for everyone in our care.
Encourage residents to try new foods and flavours by giving them little tasting platters of sweet, sour, savoury & spicy foods, which will give them a sense of being part of the team. Once a chef has all the information to do their job, it is up to management to back this belief and encourage and embrace change.
Putting yourself in the shoes of the residents after listening to their life stories can give you empathy and compassion in your job. Food is the center of all celebrations and gatherings in life and it should be enjoyed by all, regardless of dietary restrictions. And it can be with a little consideration. Think outside the box when preparing foods that can be used again for different dishes and cut time in the kitchen. Meats that are slow-cooked and used for today’s dinner that may be leftover can be used in a dish for tomorrow.
Such as a texture modified meal or evening tea. Poached salmon for today’s dinner that is left can be used in quiche and open sandwiches for tea the following day. Having strategies like this in operation can save you time and give you inspiration in creating more dishes.
If the chef is creating beautiful plates of food for all diets and textures and the care staff, come along and mix it all up on the plate drowning the meal in sauce, then the chef is simply wasting their time. The chef needs to be assured that the food that is plated reaches the resident looking the same. If the meals are altered in any way by care staff, then the chef is deflated and can revert to the original ways and just get through the day and clock out.
Management needs to look at pay structures to encourage chefs to do more. Basic pay to cook meals safely and then a bonus for each of the following should they be up to standard. This will give the chef something to work towards.
• Good report from the Health Inspector
• Good Report from the Nursing Home Governing Body with menu choices and good visuals and Nutrition care plans
• Presentation Technique
• Texture modified foods
• Nutrition Care Plans in operation
Training needs to be provided to encourage growth and knowledge for the food that is prepared for nourishment. If the chef was never shown, then they cannot be expected to produce foods in a health care facility. A lot can be said about chefs by nature…. Grumpy, arrogant, vain, and fiery. But to work in an aged care facility, all these characteristics should be thrown out the window. Chefs will learn so much from listening to care staff and residents and more importantly the plates coming back to the kitchen. Characteristics required for working as a chef in aged care:
With encouragement and support from management and the right set of tools, chefs will do what it takes to get people to eat their food. (After all, we are a competitive proud bunch of individuals)
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