Melody Teh

Caring

Maggie Beer reflects on the importance of food in aged care

Maggie Beer reflects on the importance of food in aged care

One of Australia’s most beloved cooks Maggie Beer, 71, passion of good food for all led her to create the Maggie Beer Foundation in 2014, which aims to change the food culture in aged care. Here she reflects on why food is so important in life and what work the Foundation has achieved to improve the food experience in aged care.

When I think about the importance I place on my environment when I eat, or when I’m sharing a meal with people I care about, it makes absolute sense that the way food is prepared and brought to the table should be taken into consideration as a natural part of any meal. It is so important; equal to the food itself. And I see no reason for anyone to miss out on this aspect of pleasure when it comes to sharing the table, especially those in the later stages of their lives.

The Maggie Beer Foundation is guided by the belief that, with help from so many committed people we can bring about life-altering change to the well-being of the elderly by having access to food full of flavour and nutrients. I believe it should be everyone’s right to have good food. My hope is that every meal can give comfort and pleasure, always something to look forward to.

So, working with a measured approach of equal parts compassion; to ask the questions that make all the difference to dignity, and the science to make change happen, the Maggie Beer Foundation aims to create tangible and ongoing improvement in the aged care environment, at a national level. In fellowship with my board of industry leaders, professors and health advisors, I’ve made it my personal mission to link the latest research of nutrition’s impact on brain health and general wellbeing, with my innate knowledge of what good food can do for everyone’s state of mind.

We have had a steady stream of success based on the goals we set out as our overall plan when we began. Focused on the objectives of establishing a vibrant, influential and authoritative charitable foundation we have been able to improve the quality of life of the current and future generations of older people, by working in conjunction with governments, institutions, non-government organisations and the community. I have seen so many wonderful changes take place, but perhaps a stand out was the addition of a veggie garden in one of the homes, which encouraged a man, who hadn’t left his room for many months, to venture outside and plant some vegetables. I couldn't get the smile off my face when I read the thank you letter from the staff. Really wonderful.

Another story that really impacted me was hearing that one aged care chef had never told his friends or family that he worked in aged care; simply because he was too embarrassed. This fellow then came to one of our Education Programs and his outlook changed; he became proud and passionate and went back to his workplace with a new frame of mind. It became so important to me that we give more respect to these chefs and cooks who work so hard; often with so little recognition. This is what we aim to do through our Education Programs.

There are the big picture achievements such as our education programs, helping to create a network for all those wanting to make a change, benchmarking best practice with recognition for those doing great work, and our Wellbeing Gardens Program, but there are a lot of seemingly everyday changes that I have noticed have had an equally positive impact; things like making meals times more social, starting gardens to grow fresh vegetables and herbs on site, allowing more autonomy of choice for residents when deciding on their meals. With the staff, we do hands on cooking demonstrations to share new recipe ideas and ways of incorporating simple things like fresh stock, real butter and fresh rather than frozen veggies. We also work to trouble shoot the inevitable challenges both the kitchen staff and management are dealing with on a day to day basis. We have also, just this month, completed the first ever aged care focused presentation at Tasting Australia, and it’s made me especially keen to continue to bring an awareness to aged care cooking and nutrition in the greater food world.

We have noticed in our visits with the aged care homes that the social aspect of eating is a major influence on the enjoyment of food. When I think about the importance I place on my environment when I eat, or when I’m sharing a meal with people I care about, it makes absolute sense that the way food is prepared and brought to the table should be taken into consideration as a natural part of any meal. It is so important; equal to the food itself. And I see no reason for anyone to miss out on this aspect of pleasure when it comes to sharing the table, especially those in the later stages of their lives.

For more information please visit the Maggie Beer Foundation.

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