Freshly-cooked meals

23/11/2016 - 23:00
The ability to deliver fresh meals quickly to patients is a hallmark of Compass Group’s operations in hospitals throughout the UK and Ireland. Steve Cenci of the group’s Medirest brand explains how they do it.

Providing food to hospital patients comes with plenty of challenges, but at Medirest our answer is to overcome them by making sure our approach is always patient-centric.

The role good-quality hospital food plays in a patient’s recovery cannot be understated. Many depending on hospital meals will be in a weak and vulnerable position, so it is of paramount importance that a great mealtime offering works for all patients and caters to their needs.

Over six million Medirest hospital meals are eaten each year, and we feel that every one is delivered with an unparalleled degree of flexibility while retaining great-tasting and highly nutritious food.

Our approach is centred on freshly cooked food using our unique ‘Steamplicity’ technology. A special valve in packaging, which mimics the principles behind steam pressure cooking, allows fresh ingredients to be ‘micro-steamed’ on site within five minutes. This produces hot, tasty and nutritious food.

Patient meals are freshly cooked in ward kitchens, so we are able to completely eliminate the need for costly and bulky regeneration ovens typically found at the heart of a frozen ready meal.

The ability to cook fresh meals in minutes at ward level provides flexibility to a hospital’s catering service as patients can still be offered a range of hot meals outside of protected mealtimes.

By providing an individual meal offering, food waste, because of uneaten meals, could be cut. Research has revealed that across 200 NHS hospitals and mental health trusts almost 8% of all hospital meals go uneaten, wasting over £26 million. With our Steamplicity cooking process, food waste can drop to as low as 2%.

This statistic demonstrates what it means to produce a great food offering – that patients actually eat the meals served to them. The phrase ‘there is no nutrition in an uneaten meal’ perfectly presents the challenge faced in this regard.

Medirest dietitians work closely with those from the trust and our in-house food development teams to try to guarantee meals are appetising and appealing.

Further research from patients and clients – we speak to 20,000 patients a year, as well as looking at restaurant and retail food trends – helps to establish which recipes are right for the patients.

Traditional meals have historically been well received, but we are seeing that an appetite does exist for new and exciting cuisines.

While producing an appetising and comprehensive menu is imperative, of equal importance is the look and taste of the food offered. A considerable amount of time is devoted to tweaking recipes – and food sampling within the food development team and the clients – to ensure the meals taste great.

Comparatively, our research has proven that visually appealing meals are more likely to be consumed by a hospital patient. Our food development team works tirelessly to produce meals that can be presented in an attractive way, on the plate, to the patient.

Research is a key aspect in producing a high-quality hospital food offering. In addition to speaking with clients and patients, we look at dish-specific feedback through a wide-ranging patient questionnaire programme coupled with tasting panels.

We also recently commissioned a study that was undertaken by the Patients’ Association into patient attitudes and priorities for patient meals received while in hospital.

Knowing that ‘behind-the-scenes’ work leads to a higher percentage of meals being eaten is fantastic, but we know that is only part of the challenge.

Ensuring the food offering is of the highest standards nutritionally is essential and all meals are approved by our dietitians to guarantee they meet necessary nutritional levels set out in the Hospital Food Standards (DH 2014).

By working closely with trust dietitians, we understand the special dietary needs of our patient groups, ensuring these are met through a combination of signposting on the main menu and a range of special diet menus designed to meet specific special needs.

Medirest is fully committed to dietetic support. The NHS currently budgets an estimated £500 million a year on catering, so it should not be ignored that better nutritional care for individuals can also result in significant savings to the country’s health service.

Away from food development, many steps have been taken to improve the patient eating experience, including the introduction of flash card menus for those with language difficulties or living with dementia.

To support the growing numbers of patients living with dementia, Medirest dietitians have worked alongside Compass teams to develop a ‘Dignified Dining Toolkit’ that aims to support the provision of individualised nutritional care for patients and residents living with dementia.

This includes the implementation of finger foods and the use of coloured crockery that can create better eating experiences for those patients living with dementia.

The Medirest team has also worked with the Trust clinical teams to understand how the final steps of the patient meal service can be enhanced, developing a ward host system to bridge the gap between clinical and catering teams.

Included in the system is training staff to enhance the mealtime experience for patients to encourage them to eat, plus special diet awareness training.

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