Professional Comment

How to Sensitively Handle Different Dietary Requirements Within a Care Home Environment

By Aarti Popat, Registered Manager of Watermead Rose (Macc Care) –

Dietary requirements in care homes can be diverse and varied, and it is important to handle them sensitively in order to ensure that residents receive the nutrition they need — whilst respecting cultural and personal preferences. As a care home that manages two kitchens, using one specifically dedicated to vegan and vegetarian food, we’ve found there are some key tips for handling different dietary requirements, which are as follows.

Create a comprehensive dietary assessment for each resident
This should include information about allergies, cultural and personal preferences, and any medical conditions that may affect the resident’s diet. This assessment will help you to understand the specific needs of each resident and ensure that they are receiving the appropriate nutrition. Double checking and being thorough not only protects you as a care provider, but also helps to ensure that residents are happy, and their preferences and needs are fulfilled.

Offer a variety of options
To accommodate residents with different dietary requirements, it is important to offer a variety of options at mealtimes. This may include vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, as well as dishes that cater to cultural preferences. This ensures that all possibilities are covered, preventing someone from being upset or unable to eat at a mealtime where nothing suitable is offered.

Consult with residents’ and their families
It can also be very useful to consult with a resident’s family about their loved one’s dietary preferences and needs. This will ensure that the residents have communicated clearly about their needs, and to guarantee nothing has been missed that could present an issue at a later date. By including everyone in the planning process and adopting a person centred approach means that a menu can be created for each resident that is bespoke, nutritious and well balanced. It’s important to remember that dietary planning also includes snacks and beverages, ensuring there are a wide variety of tempting treats for everyone in the home to enjoy. Food is fuel, but it should also be something that the residents look forward to.

Educate care home staff
Ensuring that care home staff are educated about different dietary requirements is paramount and can help to prevent mistakes — especially around allergies and cross contamination that could potentially lead to a medical emergency in some severe cases. It also helps to be educated on different cultural and religious beliefs that might affect dietary needs, as this can allow workers to engage in meaningful conversations with residents by showing they have an understanding about their choices, which could lead to residents opening up and interacting with staff, who would otherwise not.

Be flexible
It is important to be flexible and willing to make changes to accommodate the dietary needs of residents, as ageing has no straight trajectory — with resident’s needs changing all the time. If a resident has a new dietary requirement, be willing to adjust ensure that they are receiving the appropriate nutrition. For example, as dementia progresses, people may experience difficulties with using cutlery, recognising food, or their taste may change — meaning their dietary needs change too.

Handling dietary requirements in care homes can be a delicate task, but it is an essential aspect of providing high-quality care for residents. By prioritising the dietary needs of residents, care homes can not only improve their overall health and well-being, but also help foster a sense of respect, inclusivity, and community among the residents.