Providing nutritional meals three times a day, seven days a week in the care sector while delivering choice and catering for specific dietary requirements is exceptionally challenging. As COVID restrictions on visitors to care homes and children’s homes start to relax, Stir it Up takes a closer look at how care sector caterers can adapt or introduce new activities to make this summer one to remember and safely accommodate family visits.

Be inspired by current events

With live events back on the calendar, celebrate those that strike a chord with residents young and old. National BBQ Day or National Fish and Chips Day are great examples of a theme which can be turned into something special. Harrogate Neighbours will be celebrating both days with “Prosecco on the lawn served in our fabulous interactive ‘Jolly Trolley’ which plays music and projects a showreel of selected pictures” says Hospitality Manager Stephen Wilkins. Of course, popular themes can be extended, as is the case at Nellsar who ran a BBQ competition throughout July “The challenge was for those who entered the textured diets category. The BBQ was fun and as absolute delight for our residents living with dysphagia” Comments Leni Wood, Nutrition and Wellbeing Manager at Nellsar.

BBQ events are ideal for children or adults, encouraging them to spend time outdoors and learn new cooking skills. Making their own ice cream with frozen fruit, icing sugar and cream, creating their own cocktails or designing their own burger, be it meat or plant-based, turns mealtimes into a social activity that can be enjoyed by all. “There are a number of ice cream bases on the market that can be easily adapted” comments James Ball, Oak House. “One real favourite summer activity we undertook previously (which enticed record numbers to the session) was a cocktail class and tasting complete with shakers and martini glasses.”

Although afternoon tea is a firm favourite for older residents, try weaving sporting events such as the Olympics into the menu and create a social event with large screens for everyone of all ages to enjoy the event with their families. Alternatively arrange an outing to go strawberry picking and plate up the sun-ripened fruit with fresh scones, jam and cream.

Take a trip around the world

Going abroad may be restrictive but it shouldn’t prevent you from re-creating favourite holiday destinations at home, transporting residents to far away places from the comfort of their dining room. “Summer holidays revive many wonderful food and drink memories and it can be great fun using these activities to transport residents to Italy, France, China, Malaysia… Or, now with ‘Staycations’ being a brilliant alternative, take the residents to virtual UK tourist hotspots! Combine regional food and drink with images and discussions on history, geography and personal experiences.” Suggests James Bell, Oak Haven.

Through tailored activities, children can learn more about the world they live in and older residents can re-visit fond memories of holidays with their family and friends. This year, the team at Harrogate Neighbours are taking their residents on a virtual trip around the world, visiting the countries explored by the late Duke of Edinburgh with a range of activities and regional food. “The end of the virtual event will be marked by a summer BBQ in the gardens where residents, relatives and local organisations will be welcomed” says Stephen Wilkins.

Be Experimental

Experimenting with different cuisines be they regional, vegan or gluten free helps to make all residents feel included and celebrates their lifestyle choice or heritage. Plant-based charity Vegetarian for Life recommend a vegan food tasting session, giving residents the opportunity to sample vegan ice cream, cheese, plant milks, tofu and dips, using a scorecard system to rate each one.

“Experiment with more unusual ingredients, such as banana blossom ‘fish’, or jackfruit curry. You might even use silken tofu to make
a mousse, quiche or scrambled tofu. Play ‘guess the ingredient’ first and let residents suggest what you might make with it – a great way to start discussions and share experiences. It’s also a good sensory activity because people can see, touch, smell and taste the different foods.” Comments Justina Bajorinaite, Roving Chef, Vegetarian for Life.

Older residents may appreciate the opportunity to share why they have chosen a vegan lifestyle, reminiscing about the dishes they used to eat (such as powdered meat substitutes which were available before the plant-based innovations we enjoy today were introduced). Supplement this with old copies of vegetarian cookbooks and photos that will encourage sharing and conversation.

Introducing new dishes to residents of all ages through activity is a great way to trial ideas, helping caterers to get much valued feedback on what they liked and most importantly what they didn’t! This helps to pave the way for menu development throughout the year. Cooking classes, tasting sessions, themed events and supper clubs are all positive mediums through which a new dish or flavour can be introduced, developing and enhancing life skills for residents, while simultaneously teaching care sector caterers too.

Enjoying some summer fun this year needn’t require too much planning, everyday activities can be enriched by a fresh approach. This may take the form of a change in dining environments (outdoor vs indoor), adding live music to an event or a hands-on cooking session, but it can also be as simple as celebrating Afternoon Tea Week with different cakes and delicacies every day or combining food with an educational experience during “Have a Go Month” in September, to participate in the Festival of Learning.

Be it rain, sun, hail or snow, this summer will certainly be one to celebrate with friends, family and more importantly – food!