Bringing joy to mealtimes

Posted on Wednesday, November 16, 2022

It’s not quite lunchtime but already the dining room at Onslow Gardens – Brightwater’s aged care home in Subiaco – is filling with residents.

They’re keen to peruse the menu and decide whether they will have the beef or the salmon, or perhaps the vegetarian pie.

Some will quietly ask chef Niki Gannon for a sandwich instead. Niki smiles. This is what she enjoys most about her job.

“It is about having that lovely relationship to enable our clients to make their own decisions, their own choices,” she says. “We’re looking holistically at how our clients are mentally and physically. That's very, very important.”

This is ‘Reimagining the Meal Experience’ in action. Brightwater’s innovative approach to preparing and presenting food was rolled out across all residential aged care sites last year.

The approach was developed in consultation with chefs, dietitians and speech therapists – as well as clients. It has two key objectives according to Brightwater’s Hospitality Services Manager, Phil Waldron.

“Our main goal was to improve nutrition across the whole of the group, but we also wanted to bring the joy of mealtime to our clients,” he explains. “It is hospitality in the true sense of the word.”

Providing more choice

As part of the project, a new food service model is being trialled at Onslow Gardens. The team has moved from a system where clients pre-order meals – sometimes weeks in advance – to a daily a la carte menu, with three or four choices represented in pictures and words.

Every day, a range of pre-prepared meals are delivered from Brightwater’s central production kitchen in Malaga. Meanwhile, at site, the kitchen produces individual meals for clients with particular needs and diets.

Niki says this approach is working remarkably well.

“We’re giving people what they want to eat so they are getting better nutrition,” she adds. “And we have less wastage.”

Lunch and dinner options come from Brightwater Catering, along with a selection of snacks. Breakfasts and additional items – such as birthday cakes – are prepared at Onslow Gardens.

The team is also trialling buffet breakfasts, which have been met with great enthusiasm.

“We do bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes, Danish pastries and fresh fruit platters,” Niki says.

“It encourages people to come out of their rooms and engage, and to help themselves if they can.”

Meanwhile, Brightwater Madeley has become the pilot site for the newest part of the program, which provides opportunities for families to pay a nominal amount and share a meal with their loved one.

“We've developed ‘Come Dine with Us’ where they can select from the menu and join their relative or a friend,” Phil says.

“I'm hoping that by getting families involved, we will get more feedback and more involvement, which will then facilitate further growth.”

Positive changes for staff and clients

‘Reimagining the Meal Experience’ is not just about the food. It is an approach that also prioritises the importance of the dining environment – with an emphasis on music to set the mood – as well as the relationships between staff and clients.

As new staff join Brightwater, their induction will include meal experience training, which will cover the importance of staff getting to know the clients and their needs.

“Niki and other trainers will highlight the relevant touch points of what makes hospitality,” Phil adds. “And that’s a really positive change for the good because it's really the engagement with the people that's been the most important and the most fulfilling part of this project.”

More than a year after ‘Reimagining the Meal Experience’ was introduced, the overall feeling is that it has been a welcome change.

“When we do something new, it is received with such warmth and gratitude. Nothing is taken for granted. It's really beautiful,” Niki adds.