Nursing homes serve up good food

Swami Home’s head chef, Mr Song Wee Kiat (above, left), and his colleague, Mr Mohammed Monirul, serve dinner while nurse aide Suzanne Ebuenga (below) fills up bowls of porridge for patients.

More cooks working in nursing homes are getting professional help to improve their culinary skills.

Not only are they receiving tips on providing healthier fare, but they are also learning how to introduce a wider range of dishes for the patients they cook for.

The upgrading of their skills will help nursing homes meet higher standards which will kick in next year.

The rules cover everything from diet to mental well-being in nursing homes.

The rules also provide more clearly defined care benchmarks and a greater focus on areas such as skin care, oral hygiene and continence management.

In the area of food, homes will have to get dietitians to supervise the dietary aspects of residents' care. They also have to do a nutritional screening of each resident at least once every six months.

These cooking classes with professional chefs have been organised by the Agency for Integrated Care since 2012 with help from volunteers from the Singapore Chefs Association.

This year, 23 cooks from 14 organisations took part, up from 16 cooks from 11 organisations last year.

In total, 60 cooks from 27 intermediate and long-term care institutions - the majority of which are nursing homes - have taken part so far.

One trainer is executive chef Eric Teo, who works at Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

"We don't expect to teach restaurant cuisine," he said. Instead, he teaches participants how to vary their menus so that residents will not get bored.

"We don't want to repeat what they eat, so that every day they can look forward to something new."

Mealtimes at nursing homes tend to be hectic, with cooks having to come up with at least three full meals a day for an average of 200 residents, many of whom have special dietary requirements.

"Usually we have to soften food for them - we use minced meat or steam eggs," said head chef Hong Kee Eng of Villa Francis Home for the Aged.

She attended this year's boot camp, and was particularly impressed by how they were taught to cook chicken - dipping it slowly into boiling water instead of putting the whole fowl in.

"It's a little bit more time-consuming, but there is really a difference," she said. "The residents all say that the meat is very tender." But it is not always easy for cooks to strike a balance between taste and nutrition.

Some homes - such as the Sunshine Welfare Action Mission (Swami) Home - try not to serve fried food and do not use additives such as chicken powder, which tend to be very salty.

"We have to try to bring out the taste in other ways, using things like pepper," said Madam Leela Narayana, 64, who is a cook there. The home also uses both healthier brown rice and tastier white rice.

"We have to use a mixture," said head chef Song Wee Kiat. "If not, the residents will complain - they find it very hard to eat." Still, long-term residents, such as 65-year-old John Peck, who has been living in the home for nearly 14 years, have tasted improvements.

"The menu has changed, it's good," he said. "It's better than (it was in) the last few years."

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