Ahead of the Game
Stuart Middleton is the head chef at Meallmore Lodge Care Home in Inverness and support chef for the whole of independent care provider Meallmore Ltd. He was crowned National Association of Care Catering (NACC) Care Chef of the Year 2017 for his traditional Scottish dishes which feature on a menu chosen by his residents.
‘A great place to live and a great place to work’ is the ethos behind Meallmore Ltd – and by the passionate way Stuart talks it’s clear to see why…
“Meallmore wants to be the most trusted care provider in Scotland,”says Stuart. “And if the team continues to do what it is doing then I believe we are well on our way to succeeding.”
Food is a massive part of the residents’ day – to some it’s what they look forward to most and for those with health challenges, it’s vital that they eat. It’s that reason alone that led Stuart and his team of two chefs and three kitchen assistants to ask the residents what they would like to see on the menu by holding a ‘Strictly Come Dining’ event each month to let the residents trial – and decide – what they eat.
“When I joined Meallmore and heard that curry, stir-fries and Thai salmon were on the menu I was shocked,” he admits. “I knew that the older palate responds better to spices and flavour, but I wasn’t expecting them to opt for a spicy dish over a traditional, home-cooked one like cottage pie!”
And it was the residents’ passion for food that helped and inspired Stuart to become an award-winning chef with his dish Traditional Fayre with Flair: haggis, neeps and tatties followed by a dessert of Culloden Cranachan (a Meallmore twist on a classic) at the National Association of Care Catering (NACC) Care Chef of the Year competition. It’s no surprise that the calibre of chefs in the care industry is high, considering the skill needed to provide the first-class service that is expected.
“At Meallmore there is a huge emphasis on food to make sure everyone, whatever their dietary requirements or tastes, is catered for,”says Stuart. “Everything we offer for a normal diet we offer for our residents with dysphagia. For example, when we offer a cooked breakfast we ensure that residents requiring a texture modified diet are offered one. Their sausages and toast may be textured but to the eye it just looks like a cooked breakfast.”
And that’s the point. For those residents living with dementia or suffering from dysphagia it’s crucial that food looks the same as that served to residents on a normal diet. “You eat with your eyes,” explains Stuart. “And colours and shapes help people living with dementia to distinguish what they are eating – we call that ‘rainbow food’ – and if they can see what they are eating then it means they will eat more of it.”
Meallmore also encourages eating – and nostalgia – through its soup and cake clubs where residents choose their favourite one to make. Meallmore offers three main meals, plus snacks, everyday, and they have a carvery-type roast every Sunday. However, food is available 24 hours a day. “You don’t have a lock or time restraint on your fridge at home so why should we have one?” asks Stuart.
Little touches, like playing background music to create a lovely ambience, and having crockery and cutlery matching and polished makes the residents feel special – and at home. Meallmore also encourages residents’ families to come and eat with them, making mealtimes a family-orientated, social occasion which they enjoy more.
“There is a snobbery towards care home catering within the industry and beyond,”says Stuart. “We are hard working, innovative and creative and produce first-class cuisine – I just hope one day everyone realises it.”
Tips for Caterers
• Encourage residents to get involved in choosing what they want to eat
• Serve nostalgic food that encourages appetite and memory
• Have food available 24 hours a day
• Make food colourful and visually attractive
• Older palates respond better to spicy, flavoursome dishes
“Caterers should start planning Christmas menus around October or November, as there are a number of different factors to take into consideration; from product ordering and availability, to planning dishes for residents with specific dietary requirements,”said Mark Taylor, customer controller at Premier Foods. “Turkey with all the trimmings is certain to be a winner with residents, and for those with dysphagia Christmas dinner can be modified and presented creatively to look as appetising as a non-dysphagia one.”
With an ageing population and conditions such as dysphagia (approximately 60-75% of people in care homes are estimated to have the condition), dementia and diabetes posing challenges to caterers, Premier Foods’ Care Catering Solutions Guide contains recipes, product recommendations, dietary guidance and advice.
Heinz has launched a nostalgic memorabilia pack full of historical images of its iconic products Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Heinz Beanz and Heinz Tomato Soup to evoke fond memories among residents and encourage conversation, and eating. For more info visit heinzfoodservice.co.uk
Here are Stuart’s award-winning recipes – Traditional Fayre with Flair: Haggis, Neeps & Tatties and Culloden Cranachan