The 2019-2020 Family Resources Survey reported that there are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, 8% of whom are children, 19% are adults and 46% are pensioners. Disabilities can be both hidden and visible, so it is important to understand the wide range of needs customers may have and adapt catering accordingly. By doing so, operators will benefit from additional trade from families and groups who have specific requirements for a member of their party and ensures everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy their dining experience. There are many easy adaptations an operator can make to be more inclusive, this month’s expert panel have given us a few tips to get you started.

Kevin Ashley, founder and CEO of the learning management system, myAko

To build an inclusive menu, consider incorporating dishes from a range of cultures, a range of consistencies to suit developmental levels, and a range of food and drink catering to different allergies and gastrointestinal tolerance issues.

People with sensory issues usually have a limited food range. Bland foods (chicken, bread, pasta), with little to no smell, appeal to people with hypersensitivity. Conversely, spicy, colourful foods such as sticky pork tacos with pickled cabbage or Punjabi-style black dal with cumin rice offer stimulation and improve swallow function in those who are hyposensitive.

A variety of crockery and cutlery is available to assist with eating and drinking, but consideration should also be given to specialist seating, that will optimise and improve posture, chewing and swallowing function.

Dr. Elizabeth Boaden, Fellow of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

Finger foods such as mini carbonara quiches, potato bites, empanadas, arancini and mini cakes prolong independence and dignity for people who find cutlery difficult to use, take longer to eat or wander at mealtimes. The use of finger foods can improve a poor appetite and increase food intake between meals. Specialist crockery and cutlery may assist in improving nutritional and fluid intake. Small, nutritionally dense meals and drinks should be provided for people who consume small amounts. This also applies to all those with hypermetabolic diseases, such as Parkinson’s Disease.

People with dysphagia should have an assessment of their swallow function and should be prescribed food and drink aligned to the IDDSI framework. People may also have swallowing strategies and exercises that optimise their swallowing abilities.

Justina Bajorinaite, Roving Chef, Vegetarian for Life 

It is especially important to make mealtimes enjoyable for those living with dysphagia. Planning menus and ensuring those with dysphagia can eat the same meal as others is really important to ensure they don’t feel excluded. There are some food items not suitable for dysphagia, so you need to be mindful when planning your menus and prepare to pass pureed food through the sieve even though it may look smooth, food such as pulses still have skin. Ice cream or other melt in the mouth foods should be only consumed when the speech therapist advises it is ok.

For a person with dementia, it’s a good idea to have high calorie bite size food available throughout the day. It could be a cake sliced in pieces, finger sandwiches, mini pies or a protein ball. These can be eaten on the go and help ensure they get enough calories even if they struggle with a sit down meal. It’s important to have visible liquids available too, such as juice in a clear cup. Someone with dementia needs a contrast between the plate, tablecloth, and the food so use a coloured plate with no pattern and serve contrasting coloured food.

Alison Smith, Global Product Developer for Mars Foodservice

“At Mars Foodservice, we believe that everyone deserves to feel welcome, to be heard and to have nutritious food which excites the senses. This is why we have dedicated ourselves to helping caterers create meals and experiences that offer everyone a seat at the table.

The range of Ben’s Original™ Professional® and Dolmio Professional® foodservice sauces and rice are particularly good for chefs that wish to cater to the needs of every customer, no matter if they suffer an allergy, intolerance or follow a certain diet out of choice.

The sauces also allows chefs to create dishes with different textures, thus encouraging a sensory eating experience. For example, Ben’s Original™ Professional® Mexican Salsa is a delicious chunky tomato sauce with onions, red, green jalapeno peppers, chilli & coriander – perfect for topping crunchy tacos or filling soft enchiladas. In contrast, the smooth consistency of Ben’s Original™ Professional® Hickory Smoked BBQ offers a silky texture alternative with a moreishly tangy taste.”