Mark Topps offers his advice on creating a welcoming eating environment, from setting the scene to getting those in your care involved in meal prep.
I always welcome ideas of topics to write about and this was one of those – a care home support worker called Anne asked me to write about good food and fluid to raise awareness.
I was shocked to learn that there are around 3 million people in the UK are at risk of malnutrition, including:
Nutrition and hydration form such a large part of our lives, so why are people at such a risk, just because they draw on care and support?
I’ve got a three-pronged approach to promoting good food and fluid awareness:
When you think of mealtimes, what do you think of? For me, it’s a chance to sit down with the family, talk and just enjoy the moment with some nice food. If you draw on social care, why should this be any different?
A good dining experience can increase social interactions, build the family/community feel and has been proven to increase nutritional intake, which in turn benefits mental and physical wellbeing.
Here are some of my tips to encouraging a great dining experience:
Regardless of the service, first impressions count, both in terms of where you are eating and what you’re eating. It’s important to create a comfortable and welcoming environment with calming décor to create that first visual impression.
I always think you should treat the dining experience like a meal in a restaurant, greeting people as they arrive and asking where they would like to sit (remember the small things set the tone) and where needed, support people to their seat and tuck them under the table.
The table itself should be clean and set with the cutlery, have fresh water available and have something in the centre to promote conversation, like flowers. In some care services, menus are available to help people know about food choices, with a description of each meal. It’s important to remember that not everyone will know what all meal choices are and to make the font legible and clear.
Remember, everyone is different and people like to eat at different times. It’s good to have set mealtimes to encourage social interaction, but some people will prefer to eat at different times. If a few people want to eat at the same time, you can try sitting them together.
Presentation of the food we’re serving is crucial. We eat with our eyes and if we’re looking at a meal that’s unappetising, then we wouldn’t want to eat it – it’s no different for the people we support. Thought needs to be given to the colours and textures of food. If you’re supporting people living with dementia, remember to think about contrasting colours between the food and the plate/bowl.
For people who are unable to eat solids, you can use moulds to help enhance the appearance of pureed food.
It’s important to remember the portion sizes and the size of the bowl/plate as for some people a large meal can be off-putting while others will want more (we all love seconds, right?). Remember, if people are choosing a small portion, they’re still getting enough nutrients.
Getting people who want to be involved in the mealtime process is something I’ve always felt is crucial. It could be supporting people with chopping food items, making dishes, washing up, laying the table, serving meals etc.
This gives the person helping a sense of purpose and achievement. I used to love announcing who’d made the meal to give the individual credit, boost their self-esteem and recognise their skills.
Remember that oral care is vital to prevent dehydration and further health issues. Here are some tips from my previous blog on oral health.
The government’s Eatwell Guide covers all the main recommendations to maintain a well-balanced diet. If you’re working in a care home, here are some tips from my time running a service:
For some residents, you may have more unique needs to consider:
There’s a lot to take in here. But don’t worry, nobody is expecting you to incorporate everything overnight.
Start small – try adding things into your daily routines, bit-by-bit. Before you know it, you’ll start seeing the benefits.
Have a flick through some of our other articles.
Mark Topps discusses the importance of risk assessments in social care, and provides tips for how care teams can better reduce or mitigate risks.
Mark Topps shares 5 tips to help social care teams improve communication with their service users, and the different types of circumstances to consider.