Maggie Beer offers fresh thinking on food for residential aged care

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Maggie Beer offers fresh thinking on food for residential aged care

During National Palliative Care Week (21-28 May) Palliative Care Australia is celebrating aged care services that go the extra mile to provide exceptional care for people at the end of life. In the lead-up, we asked one of the country’s most loved cooks, Maggie Beer, about the influence she is having in residential aged care through the Maggie Beer Foundation.

How is the Maggie Beer Foundation supporting aged care services to achieve quality in the kitchen?

We have had a steady stream of success based on the goals we set out when we began.

There are the big-picture achievements such as our education programs, helping to create a network for those wanting to make a change, benchmarking best practice with recognition for those doing great work, and our Wellbeing Gardens Program.

Seemingly everyday changes have had an equally positive impact; things like making meals times more social, starting gardens to grow fresh vegetables and herbs on site, and allowing more autonomy of choice for residents when deciding on their meals.

With the staff, we do hands-on cooking demonstrations to share new recipe ideas and ways of incorporating simple things like fresh stock, real butter and fresh rather than frozen veggies. We also work to troubleshoot the inevitable challenges both the kitchen staff and management are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

Overall, these achievements have made me especially keen to continue to bring an awareness to aged care cooking and nutrition in the greater food world.

Are there any success stories that you’re particularly proud of, where the Foundation’s work has helped an aged care facility to make a difference to residents’ quality of life?

I have seen so many wonderful changes take place since we began the Foundation, but perhaps a standout was the addition of a veggie garden in one of the homes. It encouraged a man, who hadn’t left his room for many months, to venture outside and plant some vegetables. I couldn't get the smile off my face when I read the thank you letter from the staff. Really wonderful.

What are some of the challenges that aged care facilities have overcome in improving the standard of their catering?

There are many stumbling blocks in relation to cooking in aged care homes, but my purpose with the Foundation is not to focus on the negatives. Rather, it’s to put some fresh thinking around nutritious ingredients, food budgeting, supplier relationships, aged-care specific recipes, menus and dining room management.

This was never going to be an easy road. There have most certainly been challenges along the way. But the common denominator is that everyone involved can agree that change needs to happen, so we start from there.

How much admiration do you have for people who cook in hospitals or residential aged care? Is it a tough gig?

I have every admiration for those working in aged care kitchens! Absolutely!

It might be the toughest gig in food there is. Not only are there extreme dietary requirements to deal with, but also extreme budget pressures, lack of funding and research (although I’m hoping my Foundation is helping to turn that around) and very little opportunity to get the message out.

Unlike so many other areas of the food industry, aged care isn’t glamorous (but we are here to try and change that!).

National Palliative Care Week’s theme is ‘You matter, your care matters. Palliative care can make a difference’. What role can enjoying a meal have on an elderly person’s sense of how much they matter?

We have noticed in our visits to the aged care homes that the social aspect of eating has a major influence on the enjoyment of food.

When I think about the importance I place on my environment when I eat, or when I’m sharing a meal with people I care about, it makes absolute sense that the way food is prepared and brought to the table should be taken into consideration as a natural part of any meal. It is so important; equal to the food itself.

And I see no reason for anyone to miss out on this aspect of pleasure when it comes to sharing the table, especially those in the later stages of their lives.