By Laura Byrne, Dietitian Connection newsletter editor

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The doyenne of the Barossa, Australia’s reigning culinary queen: Maggie Beer is beloved for both the recipes she dreams up and the passion she brings to food.

Her passion is contagious – those present at Dietitian Day were lucky enough to experience this passion in person, as Maggie joined us as a guest presenter.  [Missed it? Check out our complete recap here]. Now she’s bringing that passion to a new arena: championing the cause of improvements in aged-care nutrition.

As Maggie noted on Dietitian Day, we have a responsibility to the aged: to provide the right nutrition, to celebrate and encourage the cooks and chefs in aged-care facilities, and to bring flavour and taste back – all, within often challenging budget constraints. The pleasure one finds in food, she says, does not stop because you’re aged.

Dietitian Connection spoke to Maggie in greater depth about her mission.

A positive approach:

Certainly, given her stature in the media and with the public, Maggie could have taken an approach to improving aged-care nutrition that was critical: deriding existing conditions, or pointing a finger of blame.

Instead? She’s accentuating the positives: exploring creative solutions, focusing on what’s possible, and creating a dialogue on the topic with a variety of stakeholders who have the power to bring about change.

These stakeholders, of course, include dietitians, whose input and influence can make a world of difference to aged-care nutrition.

Why dietitians are so important:

The role of the dietitian is “a very important one”, Maggie told us. She is keen to engage in conversation with dietitians to gain their opinions and feedback, so she can incorporate this input into the changes she hopes to bring about. “I’d like to see current thinking shared,” Maggie said. “I get different views from people, and I like to think dietitians are right up on top of the latest information. It’s so important they are.”

She appreciates that dietitians must make the balance of nutrients in food a critical priority for the aged, and that there are limitations in place: there isn’t an overarching standard for food in aged care across Australia. “It doesn’t seem to be taken seriously enough by the government,” Maggie noted.

Her top suggestion for improving aged-care nutrition is one born of pure love for food: Maggie would love to see everyone involved in the food preparation process – including dietitians – “focus on the flavour of food, which comes from using the right ingredients, in season, locally, all of those things”.

Maggie understands that this must be kept in balance with “exactly the right amount of nutrients”, but encourages dietitians to “embrace a holistic sense of what food is for the aged.”

“It’s all about wellness,” Maggie noted. “It’s about giving (the aged) enough protein in a way they’re going to love their meals, they’re going to want to eat them – and they’ll then have the energy to be more active.”

Nurturing the soul:

Maggie suggested that perhaps it’s an opportune time to look at “the whole food experience (for the aged) – to ask, what is going to give pleasure, what is going to nurture the soul, as well as the body?”

“If people feel good because they’ve had a beautiful meal – which means it’s got to be cooked with love – they are more positive. The (aged-care facility) staff gets feedback. It’s a circular, positive energy.”

“If you give delight, people show it in all sorts of ways!” she shared.

How dietitians can get involved:

Maggie has developed a plethora of positive suggestions on how food quality can be improved in aged-care facilities, from educating chefs and cooks, to helping facilities know what’s local/in season in their area, and engaging the support of CEOs.

But she remains keenly interested in collaborative input from APDs – especially on the challenges and successes they’ve had in working with aged-care nutrition. If you’d like to share your experiences and ideas, you can contact the Maggie Beer Foundation with your feedback.  [email protected]

You can also view a new report from The Foundationdetailing the feedback received to date on aged-care food, compiled by student dietitian Renee Fenton from Flinders University.

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