From hygiene to meal planning, we look at the important role a kitchen plays in the setup of a care home and why it should be at the centre of your marketing strategy.

The kitchen is a vital component of a care home, and its importance stems from various aspects that contribute to the wellbeing and quality of life of the residents.

Offering residents nutritious and tasty meals should be a key aspect at any home and in order to execute this, organisation and forward planning is essential.

Wayne Wright, Culinary Development Chef for Education & Health Care, explained that before meal planning can begin in care kitchens, care home residents will need to receive a care plan from the hospital or undergo a health assessment. This information is crucial for caterers and must be obtained immediately as it will not only identify any dietary requirements, but also prevent stock from being ordered and wasted on a resident to whom it is not appropriate.

“Meal planning is something that needs to be constantly reviewed, as a resident’s requirements can change regularly. To make sure this is reflected within meal plans, it’s essential for staff to be liaising regularly with residents and their families to ensure nothing is missed. However, it’s not just dietary requirements that care home caterers should be checking in with their residents. Understanding what dishes they like and dislike will help to keep them happy, ensure they remain well fed and remove unnecessary food waste”, added Wayne.

To help caterers keep on top of this, Wayne advises keeping a log book with resident’s likes, dislikes and any special requirements. This will not only help to keep menu planning organised, but will also limit errors from occurring.

Life in a care home for many can sometimes become monotonous, so ensuring residents don’t get bored of the meals which are provided is a great contributor to their overall happiness.

To ensure that resident’s meals don’t become repetitive and boring, care home kitchens need to be equipped with a range of different and interesting recipes. Wayne explained: “Our dedicated online care space has a bank of over 700 care home specific recipes which are available to all customers. These can also be adapted depending on residents’ unique needs and requirements.

“Care home kitchens should be looking to change their menu several times a year. This can coincide with the changing of the seasons, allowing chefs to draw on flavours and dishes that link to the time of year. A spinach and goat’s cheese tartlet would be perfect on a warm summer’s day, or a beef Boddington and stilton pie would make for a tasty winter warmer.”

Themed days are another way to keep things fresh around care homes, as well as create a sense of excitement. Wayne told us that his most recent support around themed days has included The King’s Coronation and ‘Spin it back to the 50s’, a play on a Retro Love trend which gave residents a chance to relive past favourites from retro eras.

“As well as having a selection of dishes on the menu at meal times, care chefs should also be prepared to provide a number of off-menu dishes as well. For example, if a resident would like an omelette for lunch, the kitchen would benefit from being ready to provide one. To do this chefs need to have a well-rounded skillset, being able to cook more than just what’s on the menu”, added Wayne.

Caterers Campus can also help with creating menu options, preventing the repetition of dishes. Wayne revealed how the modules allow chefs to achieve a well-rounded skillset, which in turn gives them more scope to develop new and exciting menu options.

In terms of the key foods which should be staples in most care home meals, Wayne sees that there are always a number of cult classics in care homes – fish Fridays and roast dinners are always very popular – but residents are becoming more travelled and tastes are changing.

“We’re being asked to support care homes more and more to offer different cuisine options. Our flavours less travelled trend helps chefs tap into this with a focus on Pan-African, Cuban and Sri Lankan cuisines, as well as looking into unusual fusions, where ingredients, flavours and formats of popular dishes are mixed up to create something new and exciting.

“Care operators should also consider their location as this can influence the type of cuisine that may be popular. For example, African food is very popular in London, so if your care home is local to London this is something that should be considered”, Wayne finished.

At Sanctuary Care, menus are based on a framework which balances nutritional requirements with the food their residents like to eat. This framework offers flexibility for our care home chefs on a local level to make small changes to accommodate regional dishes or to bring residents’ favourite meals onto the menus.

Mark Ord, Head of Hospitality Services for Sanctuary Care, explained that the process for creating their menus takes around six months: “Our hospitality team gathers information from our chefs, resident ambassadors (who act as representatives for residents within their individual care homes), home managers and food forums.

“Through the concept of co-production, all residents are actively encouraged to input into our menus. This a key part of Sanctuary Care’s overarching mission to enrich our residents’ lives. Working together to develop our menus helps to facilitate a sense of purpose and achievement amongst our residents, which we know from academic research[1] is one of the six senses people need to live an enriched and fulfilled life.”

Mark explained how before a new menu or product is introduced, they hold tasting sessions with their residents. This creates an opportunity for residents to trial the product and share their feedback.

Sanctuary Care also have an annual review process, whereby feedback forms are shared to assess residents’ satisfaction with menu standards and food choices: “Local satisfaction is also monitored continually; if a particular dish isn’t well-rated, it is changed”, added Mark. Reviews are a great way to check that you’re still delivering in terms of your food offering as it is a key part of all residents’ days.

Sanctuary Care have put a series of touchpoints in place to ensure their menus stay fresh and interesting. Across their homes, they hold monthly meetings with residents and relatives, offering the opportunity for menu changes to be discussed.

“Our resident ambassadors are proactive with their input into the quality and choices of meals provided and certainly keep us on our toes. Some of our residents even enjoy getting involved in the preparation and serving of food.

“We have also recently introduced a new initiative, called ‘Grow Your Own Way’, across our care homes nationwide. This project encourages residents to get involved with menu planning, by sowing and growing their own fruit and vegetables both indoors and in the care home gardens.

“The produce grown through this project is invariably used in dishes prepared by the home’s chefs, so our residents can enjoy the fruit and vegetables they have harvested – again keeping residents interested in mealtime, whilst fostering a sense of purpose and achievement amongst our care home communities”, Mark added.

With most people in care homes being of the older generation, they require specific nutrients and in order to meet this demand, at Sanctuary Care, the dishes and menu choices are thoroughly researched and analysed by the hospitality team to ensure residents’ dietary needs are catered to through healthy, nutritionally balanced meals.

Due to the environment of a care home and the risk of infection being quite high amongst older and more fragile individuals, hygiene is of optimum importance in a kitchen setting.

To ensure high standards of food safety and hygiene, we advise working with Environmental Health Organisation bodies to develop a robust Food Management Safety System, like that of Sanctuary Care.

Mark revealed how each Sanctuary Care home undergoes multiple levels of local compliance inspections, including daily Chef Manager check lists, weekly Home Manager inspections, monthly Regional Manager Compliance inspections, and Annual Hospitality Audits, to ensure high hygiene levels are maintained.

As we know, the kitchen in a care home is much more than just a place for food preparation. It serves as a hub for nutrition, socialisation, therapeutic activities, cultural sensitivity, and maintaining residents’ overall wellbeing. Investing in a well-equipped and efficiently run kitchen is paramount to ensuring the best possible care for residents in a care home setting.

[1]  Nolan MR, Brown, J, Davies, S, Nolan, J and Keady, J, 2006. The Senses Framework: improving care for older people through a relationship-centred approach. Getting Research into Practice (GRIP) Report No 2. Project Report. University of Sheffield.