As with any area of the foodservice industry, it’s important for care home caterers to offer a service that is cost effective, efficient, and consistently high quality. Perhaps the most important way for care home and hospital food suppliers to achieve this is to work to meet the requirements of each resident or patient. This means more than just meeting care home rules and regulations, and requires being attentive to both the needs of residents as a whole, but also on an individual level.
It’s perhaps for this reason that many care homes now offer a 24 hour catering system, as first adopted in NHS hospitals. This allows them to offer residents hot food, snacks and drinks at any time of the day or night if required, meaning that they can get closer to offering a catering experience that residents will feel address their specific needs.
Offering a day and night catering service places added pressure on caterers’ to make sure that prep and service run smoothly. This not only means it’s important to work out an efficient staffing and planning system, but also making sure that any ingredients, recipes, and menus are specifically tailored to work within this setting.
We’ve put together a brief introductory overview of 24 hour catering in care homes, with some general suggestions on menu, ingredients, and service planning.
When planning a menu, care caterers might want to consider a few points. Firstly, it’s good if menus contain recipes and meals that are appealing to everyone, and also ones that are familiar to the patient. In order to do this, choice and variety are important aspects; if a resident isn’t keen on one meal being served, then there should be at least something else on the menu they’d like to eat.
Creating a “flexi menu” that works in cycles is something to think about for caterers who want to offer choice and quality to care home residents. These menus incorporate a set amount of meals that residents can choose from in one week, which then change the following week and work in a week by week cycle. This could help to offer variety and familiarity, with residents being able to pick and choose a different meal – or the same, if they’d like to – each day.
In providing a menu that is flexible, varied, and meets a range of nutritional requirements, it’s important to think about the ingredients you’ll be using. As well as incorporating seasonal produce, having a stock of ingredients that can be used all year round in a wide range of recipes could be an advantage.
This doesn’t mean looking far and wide for ingredients – for example, simple products like McCain Menu Signatures Jacket Potatoes can be useful for care home caterers. With minimal preparation, a quick cooking time, and no waste, McCain Jackets can be a cost and time effective addition to a care home menu, that can be easily prepared both in bulk or individually if needed. What’s more, they can be used in a variety of ways on a menu too, being served with a filling as a hearty lunch option, as a side with a main evening meal, or even as a light bite option that can be cooked quickly if requested. Plus, as they’re frozen and packed compactly, they’re a great way to get around any seasonal restraints or variations in quality.
If caterers choose ingredients well, with a little ingenuity and planning, on any given day a wide variety of meal options can be offered to residents which still use the same core products. Preston Walker, the co-owner and head chef at Oak House Residential home found that potato was particularly good for this, being both “flexible and popular with residents”. For example, McCain Chef Solutions Simply Mash can allow the use of the same basic ingredients to provide two completely different and flexible meal options. For example, by putting Chef Solutions Simply Mash to use in a Cowboy Pie alongside a Honey Mustard Chicken Stew, caterers can reduce prep and offer two meal options to be served in different portion sizes either at lunch or as a main meal.
Of course, it’s also important to consider the individual needs of residents when choosing and serving ingredients, as many may be going through a recovery process, or could be suffering from age-related illnesses. If this is the case, residents will require foods that are simple and easy to eat, alongside being energy dense and tasty. According to Wayne Reed, Catering Services Manager for the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, Menu Signatures Chips have formed an essential part of the “Forget Me Not” menu, which is designed especially for people with dementia, as they’re a “familiar favourite” and provide comfort as well as ease of consumption.
When planning a menu and considering which ingredients to use, it’s important for caterers to consider their service situation.
In care homes, it’s often the case that more staff will be on hand in the kitchen during the day than in the evening. With this in mind, working out peak service times and adapting to suit these, regardless of staffing, is essential. Although it’s likely that even under a 24 hour system meal times will roughly be in place, with traditional breakfast, lunch, and evening meal service periods, ad-hoc requests from residents who might eat outside of these periods due to special requirements, or simply preference, should be anticipated.
This of course comes back to having a well-planned menu and stock of ingredients - if caterers have a menu incorporating low prep and quick cook ingredients that can either be prepared for bulk or individual service, then making sure that staff are well prepared should just the icing on the cake.
As with any area of the catering industry, requirements will differ individually from location to location. Whilst not all this advice will be relevant to all care homes, we hope that it’s provided a good introduction to some of the considerations that care caterers might make when trying to formulate a menu that works well.
To find out how McCain Foodservice can help healthcare caterers, get in touch today.