As dietitians working in aged care we frequently get panicked phone calls from facility managers: “The auditors are coming next week and I need a menu audit done ASAP, how much do you charge?”
So, it seems that some facilities only think about getting a menu audit done when their certification audit is due, and preferably at the lowest quote. Sure, the auditors look for a dietitian menu audit as an important component for assessing compliance with Health and Disability Services Standards and DHB Accreditation. But hold on, the menu audit offers so much more than just a quick look over the menu to make sure you’ve ‘ticked the all the right boxes’.
Food is only nutritious if it is eaten! Meals should look, smell and taste good, as well as provide sufficient variety and meet the residents’ nutrition requirements and preferences. This is a tall order, and how do you assess this?
The best place to start is having a Menu Audit undertaken by a dietitian with expertise in aged care nutrition! A good way is to think of the Menu Audit as a comprehensive ‘WOF’ (warrant of fitness) of nutrition practices in your facility. Like the WOF for your car, your dietitian should use a comprehensive checklist to audit your menu, which is why we recommend that all dietitians use the 2016 Dietitians New Zealand Menu Audit Tool. The menu audit will provide reassurance when you are on the right track, and can also help to identify issues and potential problem areas. As with your car, knowing the issues helps you to be proactive in putting plans and strategies in place to avert major problems down the line.
Done properly, the menu audit covers many different aspects of food, nutrition and hydration. Key components of the Dietitians New Zealand Menu Audit include:
- Checking whether your menu is likely to meet the nutrition needs of your residents? To answer this your dietitian should check that the menu includes sufficient daily serves of the core food groups. Next up, we would look at your food orders. Using this information, we work out the average daily serve for key food items, per resident and compare this to the Ministry of Health guidelines. Although this does not guarantee the intake of the individual resident, this information does confirm whether your menu has the potential to meet residents’ nutritional needs.
- Seeing how varied your menu is. Most people enjoy meals where there is a variety of flavour, texture, colour and type of food. Some red flags of poor menu planning would be:
- Colour: such as having only white food served on a white plate (e.g. steamed fish with white sauce, mashed potato, cauliflower and vanilla blancmange).
- Texture: like only having only ‘sloppy’ food on the place.
- Flavours: do they complement or clash, or is the whole meal bland and tasteless?
- Foods / menu items: for instance, serving some variation on minced meat every other day.
Once we have identified any issues we will give you practical suggestions on how you can make the menu more varied and appealing to your residents.
- Are your residents special diet needs being met? This can be complicated. In a facility we may find residents needing diabetic, renal, vegetarian, food allergy, gluten-free as well as modified texture diets. Fortunately, your dietitian is the expert in this field and can help you find your way around this minefield. We can advise how to adjust your menu to meet special dietary needs of all your residents, and where you need to offer alternatives. And sometimes, you may just need the reassurance that it’s ‘ok to relax the strict dietary rules”.
- As part of the menu audit your dietitian will want to visit your facility and meet with the Chef and other food service staff. This helps gives us a better idea of:
- what are the issues your food service staff face?
- how are meals prepared and served?
- do staff have access to good recipes?
- are residents provided assesistance with meals?
- how inviting is the dining environment?
While the menu audit can’t solve all your food service issues, we can advise where to turn for expert advice.
- Finally, as part of the Menu Audit your dietitian will have a chat with nursing staff to get a brief overview of your facility’s nutrition policies and procedures, nutrition monitoring practices and how residents at increased nutritional risk are managed. We can work with you to plan strategies to address these issue.
So in summary, a well planned and executed Menu Audit is not just aimed at ticking the boxes. Your dietitian will work alongside you to achieve a quality menu, to support your food service. Nutrition is now recognized as a key component of aged care. Serving your residents delicious and nourishing meals will not only enhance their well-being and quality of life, but will also be a fantastic marketing opportunity for your facility.
For more information on how getting your menu audit done, contact us today!