by Sanjay Dhrona – Managing Director of The Close Care Home.
We have a simple ethos within The Close Care Home, “recognise, innovate, implement and share”
We recognised a need to improve consumption levels at meal times and create excitement around dining experiences. I had a light-bulb moment idea when we thought about building appetite and expectation for excitement around meal times… why don’t we do a take away like you have at home? Innovate, how can we make 5 choices for 90 people of a take away menu, served in under 30 minutes with all of the side dishes you would have with the take away so for a curry you would want mango chutney, poppadum’s, naan bread rice and the curry and of course how to texture modify all of the items so it still looked like a take away curry when it arrived. Implement the idea and make it a success and share, in the next chefs club we hosted for other chefs in care homes around Oxfordshire we told everyone what we did, how we did it and how it all worked.
We featured in a specialist short documentary on the process, and it really was a real success we have followed this up with Chinese, burgers, kebabs Mexican and pizza nights. Essentially just bringing every day life to the residents.
Menus are delivered in the mornings, residents make their selection, menus are dropped of at the kitchens and a few hours later a proper takeaway is delivered to the residents room!
The CQC noted in their report
“There was a strong emphasis on the importance of eating and drinking well. The service provided good quality food with a variety of different options and choices. For example, the service offered three different meal options a day as well as an additional option choice in the morning in case people had changed their minds. In addition to this the provider and leadership team had introduced a ‘Takeaway night’.
The provider told us “We were inspired by our hairdresser who brought in a takeaway menu from a local take away joint that had just opened. The thought of a takeaway kept me hungry and excited all day and my appetite grew in turn. Whilst I was tucking into my takeaway that night, I thought that this may be a good activity to introduce to encourage some people to eat. Our residents have lived a life where they have ordered takeaways, so why not now, the fact that they are in care should not be a barrier. The very next day I challenged the kitchen team to come up with something”.
“We saw evidence of how the service had fully involved people to come up with their preferred takeaway options and how these events were turned into a social occasion for some people, for example we saw how one group of people had ordered a curry and met in one of the services lounges to watch a game of football. Another group of people had met to have a Chinese style takeaway around a friend’s room. On the morning of the takeaway night, menus were put in people’s rooms to so they could inform the staff of what they wanted. We saw evidence of how the service had ensured that these meals were available to people on soft diets and in line with their outstanding IDDSI standards.”CQC Inspection Report Published 16th January 2020.
One other important thought process I want to suggest is what does your service do to motivate, train, involve and inspire your kitchen teams?
We place so much focus on the residents eating and the Carers supporting residents with meal times. What if the food itself is lacking creativity, taste and most importantly PASSION? In my old career working in producing global events we had language of visual references. It was a short form basis of discussion that would help us get to the point very quickly, we would research, read, experience and have a wide range and scope of interests, that would help us create events. How does this relate to your kitchen team? You need to understand they skills and capability levels, what are their knowledge basis and where are their experiences.
Moreover what can you do to widen this knowledge basis with them what can you do to support them in learning and training, so that they can meet and surpass your expectations? At The Close we had a resident who loves spicy food, not just spicy, scorching hot level food, the team make him special dishes, procure and supplies the best selection of HOT condiments he could ask for, that is Good care, how do we make this an example of outstanding care?
He suggested a Mexican themed takeaway night, which went up on our resident voting system and was selected with a huge majority.
I asked the kitchen team what they would put on the menu and truth be told was disappointed at the proposals. It was what we asked for, was manageable and nutritious, but it wasn’t proper Mexican food, it was standard version of what you can do yourself from the supermarket. Now this was the moment to make that change and support the team rather than just correcting it based on my knowledge and experiences. The proposals for a basic tex-mex style menu were struck through and we thought how can I show the kitchen what we want to achieve. We believe in true and authentic experiences was wanted to really give the residents a great night.
We hatched a plan where the resident KM, 3 of the kitchen team and a member of the activities team would travel from Oxfordshire down to London’s Borough market to El Pastor. I popped in the day before and made sure it was accessible for the resident, disabled toilets were available, ramps and everything where present and working. The team and residents came down in our mini bus, they knew were to park etc. completed and filed the risk assessments. We had a great evening sitting under the Shard trying all the different sauces, spices, tacos, rices, guacamoles the works.
The chefs were excited and motivated, they now understood what they were trying to aim for. They felt appreciated and recognised and now appreciated the exact level and quality of food we wanted to deliver.
The resident said to us all that evening, it was the first time he felt normal again since his illness developed, it was just a lovely night out.
On the day of the take away night which featured 5 different menu options, and 4 different salsas from sweet and gentle to fiery hot, the resident spent the day sat in PPE in the kitchen, watching and observing the chefs, and approved the taste and flavours as good as the restaurant, so they could be served to the residents at the service!
What we learnt is that we need to train and developed the experiences of the team to help them serve the residents better. Now often we have random tastings, treats, food experiences and dinners out together so show them the new trends, and innovative ideas that they can bring back to The Close and translate into something the residents will love. The kitchen is crucial in helping you meet the needs to fully satisfy Regulation 14 and its imperative they are invited to work with the nurses, carers, activities team, and even our garden team and are not siloed into just the people that cook the food.