Many Aged Care Chefs are already planning their winter menus. South Australian UFS State Chef, Andy Stevenson is a menu consultant to aged care facilities across South Australia and the Northern Territory. He has plenty of tips on menu planning to share:
Winter menu planning usually starts a few months out. I prefer to be prepared and start 3 months out, so I’m right in the middle of developing some plans now.
One of the things I do when planning a menu is have face-to-face conversations with the people who are going to be eating the food. An important part of understanding what people want comes from joining residents meetings and listening to what they say and I get a lot of inspiration from their feedback. Having relationships with the residents means the menu planning is as much a process of refining existing favourites as introducing new items and flavour combinations.
Other important considerations for winter menus are making sure we are taking advantage of seasonal vegetables and fruits. In Australia we are lucky to such a large range of foods available all year. Tapping into what is abundant is not only clever from a budgeting perspective but it makes a big difference to the quality of the food. Check out which produce is in season.
I also like to look at cuts of meat that are better for casseroles and stews. These cuts are better off with a longer, slower cooking process for flavour and tenderness.
In terms of desserts, there are lots of warm, dairy based desserts that can be added to the menu. I find residents tend to favour dishes such as creamed rice and sticky date puddings.
The other big consideration for menu planning is the variation of diet between residents. With food allergies and intolerances on the rise, Aged Care Chefs are working much more closely with dieticians and nutritionists to make sure individuals are receiving the right nutritional profile for them. When I’m planning menus, I make sure there are options to accommodate vegetarian, gluten free and dairy free diets.
Aged Care is changing. It is becoming more competitive and the clients who are coming into the facilities have much higher expectations than even 12 months ago. There is more emphasis on food quality and presentation - so your winter menu must take these things into consideration.
Nowadays meal preparation for aged care has become a balancing act between quality, presentation and the time it takes to train the kitchen staff to make these changes effectively.
Every menu has favourites the residents never tire of. If I had to come up with a short-list for winter it would be:
And for desserts,
Trifle and any of the self-saucing puddings are always popular.
Really, winter menu planning is part feedback, part variation and part innovation - where variation is the key. Changes and updates to time-honoured favourites works every time.