This week (11 – 18 March 2024) is Nutrition and Hydration Week, when dietetics professionals promote awareness of the importance of balanced and fulfilling dietary intakes. 

At Plena our dietitians work primarily with older people, in residential aged care facilities and within the community. A wholesome and nutritious diet is important for the wellbeing of all, but within aged care there are special considerations that need to be met to ensure quality of life.

The Australian government is implementing strengthened Aged Care Standards, due to launch in mid-2024. The Strengthened Standards introduce new benchmarks focusing on food and nutrition (Standard 6), incorporating new concepts and enhanced expectations that are important for dietitians and those working within aged care to understand.

The enjoyment of food and mealtimes is significant in our culture, with mealtimes representing a time for not only the pleasure of good food but also a time to connect with those around us. It is this sentiment that is reinforced by the Strengthened Standards. We know a lot of aged care residents look forward to mealtimes and so it is important to deliver an enjoyable dining experience that supports a sense of belonging, opportunity for social engagement and reablement. 

Key areas of focus for the new Standards include;

  • Partnering with older people on how to create an enjoyable and satisfying food, drink and dining experience.
  • Enable choice in food preference and selection, as well as when, where and how older people eat and drink.
  • Provide an environment which encourages consumption of food and drink to maximise nutrition and hydration, and allows older people to eat as much as they want, when they want to.
  • Regularly assesses each older person’s nutrition, hydration and dining needs and preferences, their dining experience, and their ability to eat and drink.
  • Menus are developed and reviewed annually via a menu and mealtime assessment in collaboration with older people and dietitians.
  • Provide a dining environment that supports a sense of belonging, social engagement, reablement and enjoyment. 
  • Ensure there are opportunities for older people to share food and drinks with their visitors. 

Residential aged care facilities are required to partner with older people and their families to create an enjoyable food, drink and dining experience. This may mean including foods specific to a culture or background in order for an older person to feel their identity is recognised and honoured, while familiarity of food can enhance enjoyment and in turn consumption. 

Choice is important for each resident, and a key concept within Standard 6 is for older people to be able to express what, when, where and how they eat and drink. Flavoursome and appetising meals that provide variety is a priority, so too is access to nutritious snacks and drinks at all times.

Food satisfaction is essential for older people, as the enjoyment of flavoursome meals can reduce the risk of unplanned weight loss and support quality of life. Older people have specific nutritional needs with protein and calcium-rich foods being extremely important. Dietary needs can change over time so an individual’s needs and preferences must be regularly assessed by a healthcare professional. 

A new concept in Standard 6 is that there should be opportunity for older people to share their food and drink with visitors. This reinforces the connection between food/drink and social engagement, and helps older people enjoy practices that were part of their life before entering care.

As part of the strengthened standards, menu and mealtime assessments will be required annually, and allow a dietitian to support the development of a food service system that not only meets the nutritional needs of its clients but also delivers enjoyment and satisfaction for all recipients. This focus on quality and satisfaction serves all residents, including those on texture modified diets, reinforcing the importance of nutrition and hydration in aged care.

Plena Dietitians are highly qualified and experienced in menu and mealtime assessments, and can provide the support you need to best serve your residents and ensure you’re able to meet the new standards. Contact us today to book your menu review, and allow your residents to enjoy the satisfaction of quality nutrition and hydration and improved quality of life.