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Food Standards – A Way Forward for Nutrition in Care Homes?
Food provision in care homes is governed by quality care standards but these are not food based standards. This week, the government announced new food standards for schools. The question to be posed is would such standards be useful for care homes.
Creative and nutritionally balanced
School food standards aim to ensure healthy, balanced and nutritious foods that provide an appropriate amount of energy and nutrients and encourage healthy eating. Previous food standards have been revised to ensure they are now easier to understand and use. Certainly, the previous food standards were deemed too complex, rigid and operationally costly. The new standards provide caterers with a framework on which they can build creative and nutritionally balanced menus.
Food-based standards can allow nutritional standards to be met without the complex nutritional analysis of recipes and menus. To this end, one of the key aspects of the new standards is increasing variety to help ensure adequate provision of nutrients. For example, in terms of fruit and vegetables, at least three different fruits and three different vegetables must be provided each week. Other standards for this group advised that:
- one or more portions of vegetables must be provided as an accompaniment to each meal
- one or more portions of fruit needs to be provided
- a fruit-based dessert with a content of at least 50% fruit must be provided two or three times a week
It was thought that such fruit and vegetable standards would help contribute to the fibre, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C content of meals.
Would such standards be useful in a care home setting? The real challenge in the care industry may be focused on the quality of the food being produced, its presentation, and the dining environment. YouGov’s recent care home catering research reported that around half of relations and acquaintances of current and recent care home users say that the standard of care home food provision is better than in hospitals However, over a quarter say that the users are treated as children at mealtimes, and almost 1 in 5 were perceived not to have had enough help to eat or to remain properly hydrated.
Food-based standards may indeed be a useful tool for care home caterers in guiding their food provision to Service Users. However the standards would need to be flexible enough to be modified for the diverse range of health concerns in the care home community, and of course food standards can’t change the care needs that ensure our vulnerable population is well-nourished.