Are You Using the Food First Approach?

Aged care residents are often at risk to a range of illnesses and therefore generally have higher nutritional requirements than the younger adult. Despite popular belief, malnutrition is not a normal part of ageing and can lead to reduced quality of life by increasing chance of infection, falls, fractures, pressure injuries and admission to hospital.

There are many different nutrition approaches to preventing malnutrition in our residents. However, a Food First Approach is the gold standard.

How can we use Food First Approach in aged care?

Offer food and fluids in addition to the planned menu
It is best practice to be offering food and drinks regularly and in addition to the regular main meals and mid meal snacks. Doing so gives residents a higher chance in consuming more and also takes away the pressure of eating large-sized meals. Examples of great snacks (in addition to the standard mid-meal baked items) could be fresh cut-up fruits, yoghurt bowls, ice cream, ribbon-cut sandwiches and milkshakes.

Ensure mid-meal snack options are nourishing and of adequate size
Provide dairy, grain or protein based based products at morning tea, afternoon tea and supper. These can include home-baked biscuits/cakes, savoury scones, mini pizzas, milkshakes, custard, ice cream or cheese and biscuits. Look for ways to add extra milk powder, eggs, cheese and butter!

Try fortifying foods to increase nutritional value
Adding milk powder can increase both protein and energy content of foods without increasing the overall volume. Milk powder can be added to almost anything; such as cereals, porridge, cream-based soups, mashed potatoes, smoothies, cakes, scones and most desserts. You could even add a few large scoops into your Milo tin which can be used at mid-meal rounds. Nutrient-dense foods such as cream, legumes and cheese can be added to many dishes including soups, pasta-bakes and steamed vegetables. Have you tried using avocado and extra mayonnaise as a base in sandwiches?

Provide fluids that are nourishing
Providing drinks such as milk (made with extra milk powder), milky milo, smoothies and juices can provide the extra calories residents need, in addition to providing hydration. Many residents like their tea and coffee so using high protein milk and adding sugar in can provide the extra calories.

Why should we offer food over commercial supplements?

  • More cost effective.
  • Can be incorporated in a range of foods and therefore has reduced likelihood of causing taste fatigue.
  • Is more familiar to residents – increasing likelihood of consumption.
  • Fortification of food can make it taste better.

The options to assist meeting nutritional requirements

It’s clear that familiar fortified foods are the best option to improve the health of aged care residents. However, when residents are unable to eat the food offered or have high nutritional requirements, oral nutritional supplements can be the next option. These supplements come in different forms such as milk drinks, fruit juice, ice-creams, custards, and many more. They provide a concentrated source of nutrients, but in smaller doses. Commercial supplements however can be expensive.

Do you know what food fortification is happening in your facility? Do the care team know what food first approaches are built into the menu and the meal service?  Ensuring everyone is supporting this system is key to its success for your residents.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian can provide expert advice in terms of correct use of oral nutrition support for residents, food fortification, menu planning and further education.

If you would like more information on The Food First Approach or are concerned about the Nutrition provided in your facilities, please contact Leading Nutrition and our dietitians on 1300 712 722 or via our contact page.