Enjoying a meal ‘experience’ makes all the difference

Monday, 24 October, 2016

As we get older, we all want to remain in our home where life is familiar, comfortable and we are close to our memories. To remain in our home, we need to remain healthy, which includes eating well. But this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. To really enjoy a meal and maximise nutrition, we need to have a positive meal experience.
We all know nutrition is important, however this knowledge doesn’t always drive our meal choices. Each time we eat, our unique, complex collection of backgrounds, experiences and circumstances influence our ‘food mood’ and choices. As we age, our appetite declines and health issues, including limited manual dexterity, can further limit our ability to consume a variety of foods. Even if our meal meets energy and protein needs but doesn’t suit our mood at the time, part of the meal may be shared with a friend, a pet or the bin. The result is less consumption, and reduced nutritional benefit.
These are only some of the challenges faced by Meals on Wheels services focused on providing nutritional support for individuals to remain in their homes.
Enjoying the taste, smell, appearance and texture is only part of the meal experience. When wait staff, friends and family chat and share the moment, there is a sense of ‘connection’ with the food, the company and the environment. This meal ‘experience’ is much more positive compared to eating a meal we prepared ourselves, at home, alone.
Manufacturers and suppliers of meals can easily become absorbed in the latest production and delivery technology. However, people eating the meal only experience the ‘front of house’ such as meal choice, the food, meal presentation and the service. Today’s older population are diverse and ‘food conscious’. They know about and are used to choice, cultural variety and desire a responsive service that meets individual needs.
For Meals on Wheels clients, a friendly exchange on the phone, a timely follow-through on a request for a meal choice, or clarifying a delivery time can create that positive, personal connection to the meal service.
There has been considerable discussion within the industry, including a recent review of food services1 provided under the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP), and initiatives are underway that could support services in meeting these complex needs.
The Australian Meals on Wheels Association (AMOWA) received Australian government funding to develop national ‘meal’ guidelines. The change of wording from ‘nutritional’ to ‘meal’ guidelines could be the first step forward in developing guidelines that acknowledge the importance of a ‘food focused, individualised’ approach.
The successful tenderer, Smart Foods Centre from the University of Wollongong, is undertaking a broad consultation process to inform the development of these guidelines, due to be released later this year.
Congratulations to AMOWA for taking the lead on this strategy to further encourage independence by helping people to stay living in their own homes and connected within their communities. Follow the progress of this project at http://mealsonwheels.org.au.

Jacquie Krassie
J Krassie
Jacquie Krassie is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and food service consultant. Jacquie’s work with Meals on Wheels began in the mid-1990s as she undertook a series of projects developing guidelines for the NSW Meals on Wheels Association. Subsequent projects in the Hunter, Central Coast and Southern Highlands focused on developing sustainable meal distribution models. In addition to lecturing and research at Victoria University, as the principal of J Krassie & Associates, Jacquie consults to private and public health care facilities in acute, residential aged care and community nutrition programs across Australia. Jacquie takes a holistic approach to the development of efficient and effective food service and nutrition operations, addressing food quality, safety and cost issues while acknowledging the impact of the meal ‘experience’ on intake and nutritional health.
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