On a mission to improve food in aged care

Friday, 14 February, 2020

On a mission to improve food in aged care

In the year that Maggie Beer was made Senior Australian of the Year — 2010 — she was asked to present at many events. She spoke at an aged-care conference for CEOs, deciding to share her love of food and make it relevant to the audience.

Researching to prepare for her keynote speech, Beer saw the aged-care dining experience needed many improvements, and this was what she raised within her keynote speech. The presentation was not well received, but set the wheels in motion for a foundation with a mission to make a difference to food in aged care. 

The Maggie Beer Foundation (MBF) was established in 2014 with the aim of bringing about real change to food experiences for aged-care residents. With a committed and passionate board, the primary activity of the foundation is the provision of Appetite for Life training programs (master classes), which deliver education to practitioners in the aged-care sector. The foundation’s premise is that everyone has the right to good food, including older Australians. Its hope is that every meal can provide comfort and pleasure and is always something to look forward to.

There is an understanding that food is the fuel of life, of great conversation and of memorable meals. Its substance is far more than just the nutrients acquired in the act of eating. It’s the knowledge of loving preparation; the anticipation of sharing a beautifully cooked and presented, fresh and flavourful meal; and the delicious pleasure of engaging all our senses as we eat. Food is nutrition not just for the body, but also for the soul. It’s what fires our appetite for life, no matter what age. The MBF is guided by the belief that, with help from many committed people, we can bring about life-altering change to the wellbeing of the elderly by having access to fresh food full of flavour and nutrients.

To date, the MBF has delivered face-to-face education programs across the nation to over 450 cooks and chefs. Its mission is to provide support, kudos, training and inspiration for these cooks and chefs to produce simple, fresh and tasty meals.

The roles of cooks and chefs in aged care is extremely demanding, with much responsibility. Their main responsibility is the preparation of flavoursome, safe, wholesome foods for the often-vulnerable people in their care. However, in the busy world of aged care they often take on responsibility for menu design, staff, procurement, budgets, and kitchen and dining room management. Cooks and chefs in aged care are expected to have knowledge of the special needs of older people, their nutrition and special diets, the psychology of their social interaction, the institutional assessment and governance processes of the organisation, and much more. Yet many of the cooks and chefs currently in aged care have no formal training in hospitality and are expected to learn on the job. For this reason, the MBF runs workshops for CEOs and managers to educate on the why and how to support the complex yet powerful work of their cook.

There are currently no accredited training courses available in Australia through TAFE or specialist training providers to meet the needs of cooks and chefs in the aged-care sector; therefore, the MBF has designed an online training program in short, manageable modules to fill this critical gap. Government funding has allowed the foundation to develop the first 11 of 46 modules. The development of the online community is in the pipeline along with ongoing research.

The MBF seeks the expertise of professionals in the field to share knowledge, tools and practical advice. Support from research groups such as SAHMRI and CSIRO put evidence behind practice and connects the organisation with appropriate experts so educators continue to be current with their teachings. Flinders University has supported the foundation from day one and continues to analyse recipes and contribute to the education programs, newsletters and research.

Ask Maggie Beer what good food looks like: “Flavour, flavour, flavour! Meals need to stimulate all the senses. It doesn’t need to be fancy … make simple, familiar, seasonal, flavoursome meals that smell delicious, with colours of the season, sounds of the kitchen and pride in presentation. Nutrition will come naturally, it is byproduct of good food.”

Good food is everyone’s right and the goal of the MBF is to see flavoursome meals served to the beautiful elders of Australia who have lost the ability to cook.

For more information, go to www.maggiebeerfoundation.org.au.

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