OPINION: A change in dietary trends

As changes continue to be catered for in care homes, Richard Woodward, general manager of apetito, looks at how care home staff can ensure vegetarian and vegan residents get the nutrients and variety they need

One of the biggest trends we are currently seeing as a country is a move towards plant-based meals, and care homes are no different. There are an estimated 350,000 people aged over 65 in the UK who are vegetarian or vegan and, as of 2019, 7,000 of these were living in care homes.

Many individuals choose to follow a plant-based diet for animal welfare or environmental reasons. However, some individuals may also choose to reduce their meat consumption for health reasons. Studies suggest that following a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.

Whether it is for environmental, ethical, or health reasons, we have seen a shift in the dietary needs of residents in care homes, as more are moving away from regularly eating meat. Fundamentally, the number one priority for care homes when looking at menu provision is the delivery of exceptional food and nutrition, and catering for vegetarian and vegan residents should be no exception.

Vegetarian dishes must not contain any part of an animal, including meat, fats, or derivatives such as gelatine or rennet.

In addition to the above, vegan dishes must not contain any ingredients which come from an animal, including dairy, eggs or honey. While this may sound a little restrictive, there are plenty of foods vegetarians and vegans can eat and most recipes can easily be adapted using vegan alternatives.

What’s more, all residents can enjoy plant-based meals, and through including a meat-free option on menus, you’re able to increase variety for all and promote inclusivity. Care homes might want to consider introducing ‘Meat Free Mondays’ to their menus as a way of increasing variety for all and supporting their sustainability activity.

Having spoken to our in-house dietitian at apetito, Emily Stuart, she noted how important it is for care home staff to remember when planning menus that vegan diets can be inadequate in nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12, and focusing on wholegrain starchy foods only can fill up residents’ stomaches before they have consumed the energy and nutrients they need.

The Vegan Society is a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to follow a vegan diet that is nutritionally complete and they offer essential information on topics such as supplementation and nutrient-rich vegan food. 

Over the last year at apetito we’ve worked hard to increase our vegetarian and vegan offerings, recognising that there is a real growing need to provide a wider range of both vegetarian and plant-based dishes, so residents can enjoy a far greater variety of meals.

We recently expanded our selection of vegetarian and plant-based options, which already included delicious dishes such as Moroccan bean casserole, Provençale vegetable bake, chana masala, and vegan Thai red curry.

Our in-house chefs and company dietitians have worked closely together to develop a new range of vegan dishes which continue to be nutritionally balanced and full of flavour. 

These include meals such as Plant-Based Shepherd’s Pie, made with beans and pulses, and topped with sweet potato mash on menus, alongside a seasonal Spring Vegetable Medley filled with carrot, green beans, cabbage and asparagus tips. 

For residents with dysphagia (swallowing difficulties) we’ve made sure that we offer multiple Level 4, 5 and 6 vegetarian and plant-based dishes including Level 4 Beans on Toast, Level 4 Pureed Cheese Toastie, Level 5 Vegetable & Lentil Casserole, and Level 6 Vegetable Bake. This helps to ensure residents who require a softer foods diet are still able to enjoy a variety of dishes. 

We know that the number of residents who follow vegetarian and vegan diets will only continue to grow, but with a little thought and planning, catering for them need not add any stress or extra work. 

Working with suppliers like apetito, who offer dedicated support to each care home, means that providing vegetarian and vegan residents with a great choice of nutritious, delicious meals has never been easier.