Speaking to Aged Care Food Services Expert Karen Abbey

By Adriana Rehbein
Friday, 22 February, 2013

In speaking with you Karen, it is clear that you have a genuine passion to improve the delivery of food services and nutritional content to aged care communities throughout Australia. Tell us, how did this come about?
My passion for food started when I was about five and I used to cut out recipes from the Australian Women’s Weekly. Then when I started my Dietetics degree at the Queensland University of Technology I knew from the first Food Service lecture that this was the area I wanted to explore and develop.
Upon finishing my Dietetics degree I started in aged care and have been working in the aged care sector for 17 years. I have been very fortunate to have had exposure across the spectrum of aged care from clinical rehab services in hospitals, meals on wheels, working as a community-based Dietitian delivering aged care services to people in their homes, and as a manager of foodservices in an aged care facility.
I think it is always important to ask yourself questions like, if I was in this aged care facility – what kind of services would I want to be receiving? This gives you a good platform for how you want to make a difference.
Geriatric Nutrition is complex and often involving more then one disease process, tell us what the consequences are when nutrition levels are poor, how does it affect the social dynamics of aged care residents?
Nutrition is the key to quality of life no matter how old you are. This statement becomes more important as we age. Food for people in aged care is not just about turning up for a meal, it can be the last part of their lives in which they have some control. When everything around you has slowed down and you can’t move or think like you use to, food often provides comfort and a sense of stability in their lives.
When supporting frail residents with low body weight, food intake becomes a challenge. This is because the reduced intake leads to changes in the textures of foods where it resembles baby food, and requires assistance from staff to feed. Poor nutrition can lead to malnutrition, which has very poor outcomes for residents.
What are your thoughts on aged care facilities using nutritional supplements as a means to get nutrients to their residents?
I think supplements have a role to play within aged care, however, the menu should always be the first line of nutritional care. Using the menu to provide nutritional care through foods and fluids, which the resident is familiar with, is essential.
Food fortification strategies using foods on the menu is a better way to supplement food intake for our residents. There is nothing wrong with using supplements so long as they are consumed. Often they are not, and therefore, it is important to monitor supplement intake and offer foods from the menu that provide comfort and have meaning.
How important is it that residents take a part in choosing items on the menu? Does it matter what time of day this occurs? Overall, how big a role should they play in determining the food they receive?
It is always important to involve residents in the menu planning and it is an expected outcome under the aged care standards that this process is undertaken.
We need to remember that a lot of residents don’t have access to fridges or are able to leave the facility to buy food. Every aged care facility has the responsibly to ensure that the menu reflect the foods which residents like to eat.
Facilities also need to be careful that while staff feedback is important it is the residents who decide what goes on the menu. So if residents enjoy eating party pies and sausage rolls put them on the menu, and if you make changes to the menu consult your residents.
What has your PhD project on the National Residential Aged Care Foodservice Menu Survey revealed so far?
The National Menu Survey in Residential Aged Care wanted to examine how foodservices operates and how facilities plan and structure their menus. The project has revealed the way menu planning is currently undertaken and what are the popular foods used to plan menus.
The research has also revealed that aged care foodservices is a very complex model with numerous level of complexity around design and delivery of services into the meal environment.
What are some of the challenges in aged care?
If we think about the amount of residents in care across Australia and how many meals a day are produced, catering departments have quite a challenge to feed our residents and provide the nutrition residents need to maintain a high quality of life.
Meeting residents’ individual food preferences, dietary and texture modification needs, while making the meal tasty and enjoyable, further increases this challenge. This will again increase as the aged care population become frailer, with increased cases of dementia and the growing demand for menu planning which takes more and more food allergens and intolerances into consideration.
Often the mealtime is considered just another task to complete in the day. The challenge in aged care is to not allow the dining rooms to be subjected to the task culture, and to appreciate that meal times are an important part of a resident’s day. It is when foodservices interfaces with the dining environment to provide meals which residents would enjoy even in their own home.
Tell us about your workshops and consultancy service, what can you do to help any aged care facilities out there who may be reading this and would like to improve the nutritional level of their residents?
I provide a range of services firstly, the free electronic Food and Nutrition Journal (FANJournal) which provide practical information across nutrition and foodservices, secondly, consultancy services on foodservice design and interface with dining room services and
thirdly, comprehensive training for catering, care and management staff.
It is really important that food services has a good workflow, staff have the right equipment, and nutritional needs of the residents are met. I believe that education and skill development is the key to food service improvements.
To subscribe to the FANJournal visit www.nutcat.com.au or email Karen at 0nacc@live.com.au
Karen Abbey B Sc. Hon Human Nutrition, Grad Dip Nutrition and Dietetics, Masters Health Science Management, Cert IV Trainer and Assessor
Karen is an aged care and foodservice specialist dietitian and has presented nationally and internationally on all topics to do with aged care nutrition and foodservices. Her roles have included working with Queensland Health, Queensland Meals on Wheels and working in the residential aged care sector. Karen specialises in aged care foodservices problem solving and finding solutions to improve services and outcomes for residents and staff. Her extensive background in training and development includes a wide range of topics across nutrition and foodservices. She is currently undertaking her PhD in menu planning in residential aged care foodservices.
Karen is the Director of Nutrition and Catering Consultancy, which publishes the Food and Nutrition Journal that aims to provide the necessary information for people working in foodservice and nutrition related fields.
Nutrition and Catering Consultancy provides a range of services from:
• Menu/review and nutrition audits
• Foodservice consultancy on system design
• Dining room and foodservice system designs
• Foodservice information systems
• Provides training and workshops
• Publishes the Food and Nutrition Journal (FANJournal)
• Web based resources
Karen Abbey
Contact details:
Karen Abbey
Nutrition and Catering
Consultancy Pty Ltd
(+61) 0417 608 206

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