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  • Mealtimes in care homes: The importance of good nutrition within the elderly

    By Silas Campbell at Blueleaf

    As we get older, our bodies have different needs and as a result, we need more nutrients in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    It should be ensured that elderly people living in residential care accommodation are offered a variety of different foods in order to have access to all vital vitamins and minerals. In this article, Blueleaf explores the importance of not only good nutrition, but the benefits of a positive dining experience for residents living within care establishments… 

    Importance of good nutrition

    It is common knowledge that a combination of eating well and physical activity is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But not many people are aware of the specific benefits that good nutrition can have. It has been proven that having a balanced and varied diet can reduce the risk of some diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, some cancers, and osteoporosis as well as reduce high blood pressure.

    In addition, good nutrition can support in improving a person’s ability to fight off illness, as well as recover from illness and injury more efficiently. This is incredibly important within the elderly. The right kind of nutrients have also been known to improve overall well-being and increase energy levels.

    One of CQC’s regulations is meeting nutritional and hydration needs. The intention of this regulation is to make sure that people living within care remained nourished and hydrated to sustain good health and reduce the risks of malnutrition, especially those that are receiving specialist care and treatment.

    Staff at care homes have a huge responsibility when it comes to ensuring all residents are receiving the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need in order to stay healthy or fight off illness. There are many challenges faced staff working within care homes: 

    Residents don’t enjoy the food on offer

    Some medicines can affect a person’s appetite or sense of taste, so it is important to ensure that you are offering alternative choices. Not everybody likes the same meals, so make sure there is something for everyone, so that nobody misses out on their food due to not liking what is on offer.

    This doesn’t mean cooking a separate meal for every resident; talk to those they you care for, or even send a survey to help you accommodate their preferences when deciding what meals to prepare.

    Poor appetite

    Although poor appetite doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious health problem such as dementia in the elderly, it is still important for staff to ensure their residents are getting enough nutrients.

    Stimulating appetite can be done by planning and encouraging residents to go on trips and outings outside the residential care home. This may activite appetite by providing exercise, fresh air and a change of food choice.

    Eating alone can also decrease appetite, so making mealtimes a social occasion is advantageous, as it will remove any feeling of loneliness.

    Chewing difficulties

    Chewing and swallowing difficulties is very common within the elderly. It is a common symptom of those suffering with dementia, so it is important to try softer foods like cooked vegetables, beans, eggs, canned fruit and minced and pureed alternatives.

    Problems with chewing and swallowing poses threats such as the risk of food or other items getting stuck in the upper airway (causing choking). Be vigilant at meal times and look out for signs of residents being at risk of choking or aspiration. Main signs of chewing and swallowing difficulties are; pocketing food in the cheek, under the tongue, or in the roof of the mouth, refusal of certain foods and fluids and eating slowly, or even leaving meals uneaten.

    Poor digestion

    Ageing puts us at risk of many health problems, with poor digestion being one. Digestive tract problems can lead to other health issues such as heart burn, peptic ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, so it is important to care for those that suffer from poor digestion.

    Ensuring residents are hydrated, avoid fatty foods and stick to healthy portion sizes will reduce the risks of poor digestion and help those suffering from the symptoms of it.

    Meal planning

    Good nutrition means your body gets all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs to work its best. Forward-planning menus with various options not only allows nutritional food to be planned in,  but also allows residents to create an appetite for a particular meal.

    A recent report which comprised the opinions of 302 residents, 81 visitors and 250 staff from 31 care homes, showed that within care establishments across the UK, there was no publication of a second food option and no menu plans for the week ahead displayed. This shows that resident choice and control was limited and that more needs to be done to create a menu that reflects the needs and wants of residents.

    It is also beneficial to keep records of the food preferences of each resident in some cases, a food diary. This will allow nurses to keep track of what residents are eating and drinking when, and how much, to reduce the risks of malnutrition and dehydration. In 2018 it was reported that hundreds of care home patients have died suffering from malnutrition or dehydration. From 2013 to 2017, dehydration was noted in 398 cases, whilst malnutrition recorded 226 times, so more needs to be done to ensure less patients are at risk of these conditions.

    What nutrients should be incorporated into meals?

    When forward planning meals, it is good to think of ways to incorporate the vital vitamins and minerals that elderly people will benefit from. Below are list of the important nutrients and foods that they can be found in:

    Calcium and Vitamin D

    Calcium and vitamin D is needed to help maintain bone health, so is are important nutrients among older adults. Having three servings of calcium-rich foods and beverages each day is recommended, so serving food such as fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, canned fish, milk and fortified plant beverages like soya milk is advised.

    Taking calcium supplements or multivitamins which contain vitamin D.

    Vitamin B12

    Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy, also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.

    To ensure residents do not suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency, ensure they are getting the nutrients they need. Serve lean meat and canned fish such as tuna and salmon at mealtimes. For residents who stick to a vegan or vegetarian diet, nutritional yeast and non-dairy milk is a good source of vitamin B12.


    Incorporating fiber into a diet can help lower the risk for heart disease as well as prevent Type 2 diabetes. Fibre can be found in whole-grain breads,cereals, pasta and nuts and seeds. Fruit and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, melons and oranges are also high in fiber.

    Ensuring residents who suffer from poor digestion have plenty of fiber in their diet is also important as fiber helps move food through the digestive tract.

    Other benefits of meal times within care homes

    For those living within care establishment, the dining experience extends past the core need of maintaining adequate health. The experience of dining also plays a key part in helping residents to maintain a good quality of life and mealtimes are a mainstay of life in a care home.

    A good meal is often used to provide comfort, celebrate success, nurture companionship and even mark welcomes and goodbyes and celebrations such as birthdays. Making mealtimes a social occasion will benefit the residents and staff alike, as they are a pivotal point for the delivery of care, so the benefits should not be overlooked. Not only do mealtimes offer the chance for residents to chance to establish emotional and psychological connections with other residents, set meal times also establishes a sense of familiarity and routine.

    Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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