Food for thought: What role do meals play in a care home?

With Christmas just around the corner, many of us are reminded of how important food can be for bringing people together. All around the country, people are counting down the days until all of their family will be gathered around the table, sharing memories and life updates, as well as turkey and mince pies!

However, time and distance often means that people can't see all of their friends and relatives over the festive season.

Being in a care home means that no older person needs to be alone over the holidays. Our staff look forward to spending the festive period, especially Christmas Day with our residents.

Christmas at Barchester

Many of our staff and residents will share a meal together - with all the trimmings - on the big day. However, we don't want to keep the yuletide cheer to ourselves.

Every year we invite older people living in the community to come and eat with us through our Don’t Dine Alone initiative. The free lunch brings new faces into our homes, while giving elderly people who may live alone the opportunity to get out of the house, have a chat and share a delicious meal handmade by our chefs.

Of course, it's not just the community element of food that makes it so important to so many of us. The nutritional value of the meals we eat can have a massive impact on both physical and mental health, which is even more essential than normal at this time of year.

Many older people feel isolated over Christmas and throughout the winter period, with Age UK estimating that 1.9 million older people feel ignored in the UK alone. Food may sound like a small matter with so many of our elderly feeling lonely but it can have a massive impact on their lives. A balanced diet helps ensure they stay mobile and able to go out to visit their friends and family or even just grab a pint of milk when they need it.

Food is also a crucial element for maintaining good mental health, ensuring your blood sugar levels stay high enough to avoid any sudden drops in mood or energy.

Diet and dementia

Diet can also be an important element of dementia care. A lot of research has been done to look into the link between diet and dementia and it is now a standard conversation for all of our residents when they first come to our homes, especially if they are managing a long-term condition like dementia.

A healthy diet is crucial in all elderly care, helping people avoid problems, such as fatigue, higher risk of infection and reduced muscle strength that often come with weight loss or a poorly managed diet. For this reason, it can be necessary for some people with dementia to need specialist diets to ensure they are getting the nutrients to fight off infection and stay healthy and mobile.

Those who have been diagnosed with dementia are at a higher risk than many of becoming dehydrated as well as they can forget to drink or are unable to communicate the fact that they are thirsty.

The importance of meal plans

Our chefs can devise tailored meal plans for each of our residents to ensure they are getting the balanced diet they need, but also to ensure the foods chosen are ones they are likely to eat.

Loss of appetite and having trouble with chewing can become significant problems for people as they age, so having a menu packed with meals that are easy to eat and are enticing to the recipient is important.

When someone first arrives at one of our homes, our chefs will meet with them and talk to them about their likes and dislikes to accommodate this as much as possible, while also making sure they're getting the nutritional intake they need.