Better brie-lieve it: Increasing dairy in aged care is achievable and affordable
Last updated on 24 January 2024
Like many other developed countries, Australia is facing the challenge of an ageing population. As people age, their nutritional needs often change, and they may be at a higher risk of malnutrition due to various factors such as decreased appetite, limited mobility, chronic illnesses, and social isolation.
Malnutrition among the older population in Australia is a significant concern and can have serious health implications including higher rates of fractures and falls, but promising findings have shown that improving the nutritional intake of older adults can have pronounced health impacts.
The barriers that exist to good nutrition in aged care are well reported in the literature – these include lack of knowledge around the ‘why’ of improving the quality of the food, staff training, lack of time to engage in training and lack of support from management. Louise Murray is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, specialising in aged care nutrition. She’s on a mission to remove party pies and sausage rolls from aged care menus and has worked to improve food quality for older adults for the past 20 years.
If you’re working in aged care and you want to improve the quality of the menu by increasing dairy serves, you might be wondering where to begin. Whilst not without its challenges, Louise has successfully demonstrated the ease of increasing serves of dairy in an aged care menu. In this article, Louise shares her experience, including top tips for getting more dairy into the menu.
Why dairy for healthy ageing?
Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are naturally rich in calcium and protein – two essential nutrients that build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. “The combination of calcium and protein in dairy foods make them much more effective at improving muscle mass and bone strength than supplements alone,” explains Louise.
According to Louise, there is also compelling research indicating that a simple increase in dairy food intake can lead to a drastic reduction in falls and fractures among older adults. “Evidence has shown that when aged care residents increased their dairy serves from two to 3.5 serves, this leads to a drastic reduction in falls and fractures – by as much as 11% and 33%, respectively. Hip fractures were reduced by 46% which is an astounding finding”.
These changes were made by simply adding extra milk, skim milk powder, cheese and yoghurt to the menu. Examples include serving cheese and crackers at morning tea, by adding cheese to mashed potatoes, or including mid meal snack options such as fortified milkshakes. Modifying the menu to include more nutritious dairy foods provides a tangible opportunity to positively influence the health and well-being of the ageing population, potentially mitigating the risks associated with bone-related injuries.
“Aside from its nutritional benefits, dairy is easily incorporated into any menu as it’s delicious, versatile, and texturally appropriate, ticking many boxes for an enjoyable dining experience”
Louise added. This versatility opens up avenues for care providers to enhance the quality of meals provided to older adults, ensuring they receive the necessary nutrition coupled with the food they actually enjoy eating.
But won’t the additional dairy cost more?
A common perception is that these types of changes can easily blow the budget, but Louise explained that research from Monash University shows that providing an extra one and a half serves of dairy in aged care homes could save the Australian health system $66 million annually. “The cost of providing the additional dairy was less than $1 – 66 cents to be exact. The overall average saving was $175 per year per patient,” explained Louise.
Louise’s top five tips for increasing dairy in aged care menus
1. Know your data. Does your current menu provide 3.5 serves of dairy? If this is not known, find an Accredited Practising Dietitian experienced in aged care nutrition to complete a Menu & Mealtime Quality Assessment, to identify how much dairy your menu provides.
2. Aim for one serve of dairy at every meal. It might be as simple as including more dairy-based desserts or adding custard to crumbles and pastries.
3. Swap water for milk in porridge and dessert mixes/ commercial dessert powders.
4. Provide full milk drinks e.g. full milk hot chocolate or malted milk drink at supper, to provide additional protein to help with sleep and prevent hunger overnight.
5. Engage your Facility and Clinical Managers. Provide the information behind why this is important to help with discussions relating to food costs. More cost-effective dairy options are available, including shelf-stable items and milk powders. The cost benefit far outweighs the cost of dairy products. My roadmap shows at a glance who you should speak to in the facility and what the goals are.
To read more about Louise’s experience increasing dairy serves in aged care and for handy resources, including delicious dairy-rich recipes tailored for aged care facilities, visit dairy.com.au/ageing.
Louise Murray is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. Louise Murray is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, specialising in nutrition for older adults. She helps chefs and managers of aged care facilities to provide high quality, nutritious and delicious food – all older adults deserve to have nutritious food in an environment that supports this. Louise is a real foodie who loves creating recipes and information for older adults to enjoy their food regardless of their medical conditions, to maintain their independence and enjoyment of meals for quality of life.
Dairy Australia is the national services body for the Australian dairy industry.
For more information please visit Dairy Australia