There is no doubt meal times are important.
For most residents, a facility’s menu provides 100% of their daily food intake. Many residents look forward to meals as an opportunity to make some of their own decisions (such as what and how much to eat) and get pleasure from social interaction with other residents and staff.
The atmosphere in the dining room also influences the residents’ enjoyment of their food. While it is very important to serve delicious and nutritious meals, if the dining room is not set up appropriately, this can hinder how much a resident will eat and lead to wastage of meals.
Read on to find out the factors that can affect the dining room setting and what you could do to help improve your dining room.
Furniture and Layout
How accessible is it?
In general, dining rooms should be easily accessible and welcoming to all residents. This includes considering how furniture is placed to allow wheelchair access around tables or avoiding unnecessary obstacles for residents independently mobilising to the dining room.
How comfortable is it?
The height of the tables and chairs might also need to be considered. A comfortable height to eat at can vary from person to person and this can affect a person’s ability to easily reach and independently eat their meal. Consider having available height adjusting chairs or using cushions to elevate residents who are not able to reach their meals. Wheelchairs and tub chairs also need space, and ideally residents in these chairs should also be seated at a table.
The dining room will be more appealing if it is well lit. Having suitable lighting can also ensure safety for residents and staff and enhance the appearance of food.
Natural lighting from skylights and windows is always preferable, but additional lights can be turned on if there is not enough natural light.
On sunny days or the late afternoons, glare can be a problem, especially for those with vision impairment, and windows with sheer blinds/curtains could help to minimise this.
Decorate tables with simple arrangements of flowers, ornaments or place-mats that create interest in the dining environment but without distracting from the plate. You can vary this for different occasions or seasons. Salt and pepper shakers can be made available for residents to use. However, you may need to consider minimising distractions like these for residents with dementia.
A large percentage of residents in aged care will have a level or form of vision impairment. Consider having contrasting place-mats or table cloths for these residents so they are able to distinguish between items in the dining room and table. A plate of pasta in white sauce seems to be hidden from sight when served on a white plate that is sitting on a white tablecloth. Coasters for clear cups can also provide some visual guidance as to the location of the cup.
Extra noise can be unpleasant and distracting for those who have trouble concentrating while eating.
While it is convenient for the kitchen to be close to the dining room, kitchen noise can impact on the dining room atmosphere. Kitchen noise can be limited by closing doors and turning off kitchen radios during mealtimes.
Televisions within the dining area ideally should be turned off unless residents have specifically requested to watch it. Instead, try having soft music playing in the background. This can provide a relaxed atmosphere for the residents and staff, and can also encourage conversation. Think about what you would expect at a restaurant.
Staff should be encouraged to interact in a positive manner with residents during meal times. Staff can explain what is being served and offer encouragement and prompting as required.
Ensure your environment is one where residents do not feel rushed, and instead feel comfortable asking for seconds, or to sit and chat after the meal. Ensure residents are allowed enough time to complete their meals and have courses served separately, which may assist in avoiding confusion for residents with dementia.
Avoid having medication trolleys going around during the meal as this can be distracting and can lead to poorer appetites. Aim to provide medications at least 20 minutes before or after meals. But if medications need to be taken with meals, place the medication trolley in a spot hidden away from the dining room, so residents don’t need to see it while eating.
Outdoor eating can change the routine and provide a chance for residents to get sunlight exposure for Vitamin D (which assists in the absorption of calcium, which is important for strong bones). Outdoor settings can be used for special events such as residents’ birthdays, Melbourne Cup lunch or other celebrations such as a monthly BBQ. But keep in mind that when UV light and heat are strong to use a shaded area.
Do any of these dining influences make you wonder if they impact your site? Consider trialing one of the strategies listed above and observe any subtle changes to the way residents eat their meal. When planning any changes, asking for residents’ input can be very valuable to enhancing dining room experience.
Do you need more assistance to review your dining environment? Your Plena Healthcare Dietitian and Occupational Therapist can also assist in providing additional strategies and information!
If you would like more information, please contact Plena Healthcare Dietetics on 136 033