Peter Kennett is managing director of Cibus Catering Group, a company that staffs some kitchens for major aged care provider Radius and creates meals for Radius kitchen staff to serve to an audience for whom food is especially important. Peter Kennett says rest home residents requests range from tripe and onions to fish 'n chips, but is all part of the job and not unusual for this leading aged care food provider.
As Radius founder Brien Cree says: "Food is something we all look forward to in life, and this never really changes no matter how old you are. It's our desire to create a warm, homely environment where our residents enjoy living and, frankly, you're not going to get that if you serve up slop.
"To me, it's essential to get the heart of our homes right by offering our residents food that is heartwarming and nourishing", says Cree.
Radius and Cibus staff hold regular residents' feedback meetings where the menu is discussed and where family members, keen to check their loved ones are being looked after, also attend.
"Tripe and onions is a dish you either love or hate but, with an older age group, it is requested quite often. So we have to have the flexibility and ability to meet requests like that," Kennett says.
Working on a four-week non-repeating menu cycle if bacon and egg pie is served once in the four-week period, then it is not served again until the next cycle.
Ensuring residents' nutrition and dietary needs are being met, menus and meals are checked by independent dietitians, who report back to the relevant DHB's. Kennett says there are few emerging trends and patterns across the Radius sites, with most residents preferring "New Zealand-based", traditional cuisine prepared by qualified chefs in Radius kitchens armed with the latest commercial kitchen equipment.
The most popular dish is fish 'n chips Fridays with a close second being that New Zealand favourite - a roast (lamb, pork or beef). When Kennett thought that perhaps fish 'n chips mightn't be considered a healthy option, it was off the menu for a while but had to be brought back when residents kept asking for it.
"So with a little change to meet health requirements (we cook it in oil) it's back on the menu and is our number one dish," said Kennett.
Kennett is a trained chef himself and ran several restaurants before heading overseas to the UK for spells in Brighton and Scotland before returning to run his own restaurant in Dunedin. He says Radius has also attracted many other chefs to work in their kitchens: "Many of them have worked in good restaurants and cafes long term – but they like the nine-to-five working hours.
"I think that is part of the reason why the standard of cooking and quality of food in places like Radius has gone through the roof in recent years and over the 20-or-so years, I've been involved in the field. It's so far from being just three ways with an egg."
Kennett says there isn't much difference in regional preferences and that most have similar tastes.
"But what you do find is that even within a suburb two homes may have very differing menu requirements and favourites. You'll find that one Radius home with residents who love macaroni cheese but go down the road a bit and they hate it. Flexibility is key to dealing with these varying tastes."
Often it's the small things that need changing out, like sauces.
"We heard from one residents' feedback group they didn't like the fish with the lemon and caper sauce - a quick change fixed that."
Kennett says most residents prefer traditional New Zealand cuisine but there are some food trends that are beginning to show up. Gluten-free has become more mainstream, and with the changing ethnicity of the residents, we are also seeing changes around the use of herbs and spices.
"I suspect that gluten-free and other allergy driven menu changes will be something that we will see more of in the future, particularly if you look at the numbers in the population who have allergies or are lactose or gluten-free", Kennett said.
Cree says when he attended a Radius resident meeting at one facility the feedback on the food from residents was that the food was 'fantastic'. That shows that Radius is on the right track in delivering varied healthy options to residents, along with firm favourites.
Dietitians check the menus to ensure they meet nutritional requirements, but the biggest measurement tool relied on by Radius is customer satisfaction. Great feedback means that Radius has hit the right note with the menu options.