The thorny issue of hospital catering has been well-documented in the media, but the nutritional problems surrounding those with long-term physical conditions are less well-known, even though around 400,000 in the UK are affected.
Behind the scenes at Leuchie House, we have been attempting to address these issues, with a dedicated team in the kitchen devising home-cooked menus based around fresh, seasonal local produce and with an emphasis on tempting tastes and tailoring meals to guests’ individual medical requirements.
People with long-term conditions – such as MS, stroke, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease and cerebral palsy – come here for caring respite breaks and for many of them, it is a break from the microwaveable meals they rely on at home if they are unable to cook for themselves.
As we are geared towards quality breaks in a non-clinical country house environment with an emphasis on sociability, the meals are very important to guests who see the food as part of the overall respite package and are looking for quality and choice, as well as appreciating the long-term health benefits of eating well.
In line with the country house ethos, we provide a sumptuous dinner party on the last night of guests’ 11-night stay in the traditional candlelit dining room.
Local dignitaries and supporters are invited for the dinner parties and we always get great feedback about the food.
But the daily meals for the guests are equally important and we liaise with the nursing team to ensure specialised diets are followed. On some occasions, we may have to encourage guests to eat and build up their strength.
They are weighed on arrival as part of their nursing assessment and it is a great moment for me if they have put on the weight they needed to gain by the end of a break.
We are always conscious of the fact that the people who come here have come for a holiday, so this is very much in mind when we are making up menus and we include plenty of treats where the budget allows, such as strawberries and cream and Pimm’s for watching the Wimbledon finals on TV.
On a more serious note, some of our guests have conditions which may make swallowing difficult and we need to cater for guests who may have other underlying conditions, such as diabetes, which need to be taken into account.
Luckily, there are some wonderful volunteers who come here to help guests at mealtimes and they are absolutely key to ensuring our guests get the time they need to enjoy their meals.
Sometimes it’s difficult to savour a meal if a carer is rushed when they are feeding someone at home – they may only have time to put something in the microwave and then a limited amount of time to help them if they cannot feed themselves.
At Leuchie, because the volunteer meal assistants are there alongside the nursing staff and care assistants, it is a much more relaxed and sociable affair for our guests at mealtimes and they can enjoy their food.
We also have guests who come for day respite to give themselves and their carers a regular break and they join in at mealtimes. .
We have one regular day respite guest who asks me almost on a weekly basis for my soup recipes so that he can go back and ask his carer to make it for him.
One of the other things we try and accommodate is people who have a favourite meal which they may not have had for a long time.
When they arrive I always tell guests to let me know if there is something special they would like me to add and we try and accommodate all requests. We’re also happy to cater for guests’ friends and families when they visit and for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.
For me, the catering is an important part of respite as it can build people up physically and emotionally so that they are feeling better able to cope when they return home.
It also gives them back an element of choice which they may have lost as their condition progresses.
• Margaret Burgon is catering manager at Leuchie House www.leuchiehouse.org.uk