I have been privy to the kitchens of care homes a few times over the years in the course of my work. I even ran one once for a weekend while visiting Perth, Australia and my host, a family friend asked me to go in with her where she worked as a nurse when their regular chef was ill at short notice and the residents needed to be fed. It was certainly an unexpected experience while backpacking but it was an educational eye opener to see the mushy or pureed food and tiny portions really showing our cycle of life when we revert to being cared for in our old age.
I often wonder how they might cope when I am a grumpy old resident in one someday perhaps and me giving out daily about their cooking if it’s not up to my scratch. I can see ructions in the place when I keep sending stuff back to be redone and the chef then throwing in the towel saying I can bloody well go in and make my own meals. I think I will be only too happy to do this if I can still stand up and move my arms. Health and safety might have something to say about it though.
It is no joke to be in one however, it is a serious business and the regulations are sky high bringing it right up there with the hospital standards if not higher. It is not cheap either and the costs of running one are off the scales from what I have learned with my subsequent interactions with their catering operations alone. The kitchens are managed most professionally and policed very well by authorities so you can be assured the food is as safe as it is going to get with no risks being taken whatsoever.
The menus tend to be conservative as it is industrial or institutional budget cooking for the masses and the catering cannot go too far off the most popular dishes. It has to be what people are used to eating all their long lives as well, they are more likely to consume what they are familiar with and they need to be encouraged anyway to keep eating. I noticed with my own parents and elderly relatives how their meal portions started to steadily decrease as they aged to the point where it might have been only a quarter of what ate in their prime.
There are high end nursing homes too with a little more care for the well healed. I was in one in France one time and the menus would not have been out of place in the local fine dining establishment. You would not see foie gras on many care home menus here but its par for the course in the more expensive French abodes for the elderly. If you have been enjoying the finer things all your life then why stop just because you are being cared for in your twilight years.
Of course when one is confined to any sort of residence day in day out eating becomes a pivotal part of the regime as it is something to look forward to. If it can be an interesting and enjoyable experience as well then all the better for both the physical and mental health and overall wellbeing of the residents. As long as we still have appetites and a desire to eat then things are not too bad in the body.
The ultimate scenario is to be able to feed oneself at home for as long as possible and some do manage to achieve this well into their dotage by being able to cook away in their own kitchens and stay healthy enough to do it. I follow a brilliant online page called pasta grannies where octogenarian Italian ladies are filmed still making their own family recipe pastas they would have learned from their own mothers and they are well able to talk and potter around to cook for themselves and their families. Now that is an inspiration for anyone wondering how they might cope later on in life. Cooking is a life skill and it gives us life too, so long may it last for everybody.