In this insightful piece, with the help of industry experts, we highlight the importance of caregivers in fostering a positive eating environment, and provide tips and training suggestions for caregivers to encourage healthy food choices among residents.

In the intricate tapestry of healthcare provision within care homes, the significance of caregivers extends far beyond the realms of physical assistance and medical support. Amidst the myriad responsibilities they shoulder, one often overlooked, yet profoundly impactful, duty is that of promoting healthy eating habits among residents. The importance of nutrition in fostering overall wellbeing, particularly in the elderly population residing in care facilities, cannot be overstated. As such, caregivers emerge as pivotal agents in the endeavour to cultivate and sustain healthy dietary practices within these environments.

By exploring various strategies, challenges and best practices, this piece aims to underscore the invaluable contribution of caregivers in nurturing nutrition within care homes. From empowering residents to make informed food choices to collaborating with dietary specialists and leveraging innovative meal planning techniques, caregivers wield immense influence in shaping the dietary landscape of care facilities.

As we navigate the complexities of promoting healthy eating habits in care homes, it becomes evident that the role of caregivers transcends mere provision of sustenance; it embodies a holistic commitment to fostering dignity, vitality and quality of life for residents. Through their unwavering dedication and compassionate approach, caregivers epitomise the essence of nurturing nutrition, laying the foundation for enhanced well-being and vitality among those under their care.

Cathy Amos, Head of Customer Marketing at Brakes UK, sees that carers in care homes can prioritise the promotion of healthy eating habits among residents by, “Encouraging residents to see the benefits, offering nutritious options, creating personalised meal plans, encouraging regular meals and social dining, providing assistance as needed, monitoring dietary intake and ensuring residents are well hydrated.”

Meal planning and menu development ensure residents receive balanced, nutritious meals, accommodating dietary needs and preferences. Cathy said, “Diverse menus stimulate appetite and offer social dining experiences. Efficient planning supports staff in providing timely, appealing meals, fostering an environment conducive to healthy eating habits and overall well-being among residents. 

Residents who are well nourished are likely to be more alert and less likely to suffer from trips and falls and prescribed medication will be more effective.”

With this being said, Cathy outlined the importance of caregivers ensuring that they fully understand residents’ dietary preferences and restrictions, and commented, “The menu should offer a variety of nutritious options, accommodate special diets and provide support and education to encourage healthier choices. Personalised meal plans and regular monitoring help ensure residents maintain overall health while enjoying their preferred foods.”

You must ensure that meals which are being provided are not only nutritious, but also enjoyable for residents and, to do this, Cathy suggests writing out a balanced menu cycle, “Taking into consideration the guidance of the NHS eats well plate, and making tweaks according to each resident’s specific needs, such as fortification, or medical dietary needs like diabetes.”

Alex Connell, Roving Chef at Vegetarian for Life (VfL), said, “Good menu planning is essential in promoting healthy eating habits for anyone, and particularly important for residents in care homes. 

“The very nature of living in a care home is likely to mean less access to shopping and creating your own food. You are relying on the menu provided by the home. If the menu does not have healthy choices that you actually want to eat, then how can we expect healthy outcomes? Menu planning should encompass all dietary choices. For vegans and vegetarians, gaining better knowledge of food preparation, nutrition and, of course, creating those menus in conjunction with individual residents is essential.”

VfL Roving Chef, Ollie Bragg, added, “It’s important to offer choice. Allowing residents to choose from a selection of healthy options can promote autonomy and increase the likelihood of compliance. Carers can find out what individual residents enjoy eating, and then perhaps swap out certain ingredients for something more nutritious or healthy. Sweet potatoes for white potatoes, for instance, or using wholemeal flour instead of white flour or brown rice instead of white rice. Refined sugars in cakes and treats could be substituted with pureed whole fruit. Have a look at this nutty apple crumble recipe on our website. It’s full of delicious spices, protein and fibre from oats and almonds, with apples and just a small amount of maple syrup providing the sweetness.

“There are other ways to encourage healthy eating and make it a priority in care environments. Carers can ensure that meals are well-balanced, incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (such as lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, edamame, quinoa, seitan, beans) and whole grains,” Ollie concludes. 

Alex continues,“As care caterers, we should always keep the people we care for as our prime focus. Dietary preferences can reflect religious or philosophical beliefs, which individuals may have practiced all their life. These dietary choices are protected in law. Some may describe these choices as restrictions, but for the individual they can be part of who they are as a person. No carer or caterer would maliciously ignore these choices. However, lack of understanding, or even simply being busy, may result in these choices or restrictions being overlooked.  

“For vegans or vegetarians, it is easy to create a broad range of delicious, appetising, colourful, culturally appropriate and, of course, healthy dishes. Talking to individuals, and learning more about their choices and preferences, really is the key. The charity, Vegetarian for Life, was specifically set up to support the needs of older vegans and vegetarians. We offer a broad range of services for vegans and vegetarians and also caterers and carers – from inspiring healthy recipes and menu planners through to guides on nutrition, dietary diversity in the care sector and caterer training

www.vegetarianforlife.org.uk