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Care Home Caterers Training

Care Home Caterers Training

Guest post by Christopher Robbins

Seven enthusiastic chefs/cooks from Sunset West group and The Fairways (Scheme CHJ Kitchen) came to Demuths for a nutrition and cooking workshop organised by Vegetarian for Life. The group was enthusiastic for vegetarian cooking and was also a well gelled and very interactive group. They were a pleasure to work among and we felt they got a great amount from the day.

Vegetarians are usually a small percentage of the clients in most care homes. It is common that any home may have only a single vegetarian client, and there are often weeks without any. Yet, these chefs came with the clear belief that vegetarian food would probably be enjoyed by anyone. One member of the group said she had delayed reworking their menu cycles until after the workshop. She said their group didn’t have a ‘vegetarian option’ on the menus at present, but were thinking of making two changes. First to make her vegetarian meals the general menu items, as being simply more varied and interesting than the usual ‘side-dish’ form of vegetables. Second, to have the meat dishes as the options on the menus.

The fact the even meat-eaters nearly always ate ‘meat plus 2 or more vegetables’ on their plate, which meant that even meat-eaters happily consumed vegetables, led to the obvious conclusion that vegetarian dishes and meals were not ‘special’ food and that probably most eaters would happily choose vegetarian dishes, if not prefer them. They would eat or prefer them because they can easily present more variety of ingredients (vegetables and herbs/spices), more colour, more fresher flavours and textures. Vegetarian cooking is just more visually and taste appealing food, and more easily and can easily be cheaper. With that conceptual clarity, the demonstration session was interesting.

Helen demonstrated:

  • Fruity Muesli Bars, a high energy and soft fibre snack for the small eaters
  • Green Pea and Mint Pate
  • Spring Vegetable Frittata
  • Glamorgan Sausages
  • Small Mediterranean Pies or Tartlets, with options of: squash and red pepper; or chickpea and spinach; or broad bean and feta fillings
  • Celeriac Fritters - amazingly tasty with the texture of battered fish for Fridays
  • Nut Roast with Rich Onion Gravy, for the Sunday Roast meal

Focused questions and discussion punctuated description of the cooking of each recipe. There were many perceptive queries about the flexibility of each recipe for the client-specific needs of each chef in the group. Helen described how each recipe is adaptable to modifications like:

  • Food processing ingredients like nuts, whole broad beans, oats, and even dried apricots to suit the needs of poor swallowers, denture problems, or the risk of inhaling small solids.
  • Increasing flavour for typical elderly eaters by increasing amounts of herbs and spices used in dishes. Loss of flavour and taste perception, even among the healthy elderly, is a common reason for lack of interest in eating.
  • Increasing energy content for low-intake eaters with increasing amounts of olive oil in appropriate recipes. The elderly have a need for higher nutrient density food as they eat smaller amounts than younger eaters.
  • Helping increase soft fibre intakes for general clients and especially for individual low-intake eaters.
  • Having snacks with high energy and high soft fibre if appropriate for meeting the energy gaps in individual clients.

After the two hours of demonstration, lunch was devoted to eating the resulting dishes. There was clear pleasure with repeated replenishing of plates. The food clearly looked inviting and there was no difficulty in enjoying it. One delegate was heard to say (then to repeat),”I didn’t know vegetarian food could taste so good.”

It was clear to us that they enjoyed the workshop. One delegate was so impressed with the demonstration, that she said that it made her realise how simple the recipes were and how quickly such food could be prep’d and cooked off. She said too, that if she was just given a book or a set of these recipes, she knew they would never be opened again. This same person said she would like to return to repeat the course, and would be recommending that more chefs/cooks within the Group’s other homes should be sent to that workshop. I suppose the most flattering comments were that several of the delegates said that they would like to come and repeat the course, and we parted with some additional topics within the vegetarian rubric that they would be interested in coming to do.

Christopher Robbins

29 February 2016