Eating is a multi-sensory experience. Chefs make food look pleasing, coffee shops waft the smell of pastries and coffee into the streets to seduce the passer-by and indulgent treats are placed at eye level in supermarkets.
It would be logical to think that taste is the sense that rules the roost. The biting, chewing, and swallowing is the bit that tells us what food tastes like. Our mouth is full of flavour receptors telling us that this tastes sweet, or this tastes bitter.
However, research suggests it is our eyes leading the way with our tongues following. Our eyes see the food, they tell the brain what it will taste like and we taste what we think we should.
So, what happens if our food doesn’t look appealing on the plate? How would that affect the taste?
Many people, especially in care homes, need to have their food puréed due to swallowing difficulties. It is estimated that 70% of people in UK care homes need to have some level of purée meals. These meals can be shapeless, tasteless and they generally don’t look like the foods that they are.
Senses we use when eating
We eat with our eyes first. If you see something you fancy, you want to eat it. In restaurants, the server may walk past with something that you may not have considered, but you think it looks good so you order it. In shops, tempting goodies are put at the checkout so you grab them without thinking. This is why you should never do your food shop when hungry!
The appearance of the food we eat plays an important role when eating. If you needed to eat a puréed diet and were handed a meal that resembled baby food, you might not be too excited to eat it.
Smell is another sense you use when eating. You may be in someone’s home for dinner and as you walk in you can smell the food cooking from the kitchen. Freshly baked bread can often be smelt in supermarkets and fast food restaurants pump the smell of their food into the street. All this entices you to eat – hungry or not.
Purée meals can sometimes not smell as strongly as solid foods. This is because they are often mixed with liquids in order to make them soft enough. If all ingredients are mixed together it can be difficult to decipher what you are eating. Coupled with it not looking like it should, it is no wonder that residents may refuse food. A company called Ode have come up with a fantastic sensory device. Their foodie fragrances offer sensory stimulation before meals are served, helping to promote appetite. When placed in a shared room, Ode’s fragrances foster conversation and create engaging mealtimes, helping reduce social isolation in older adults. Creating mouthwatering smells in the room can help bring back memories of mealtimes for those who have memory problems.
You touch your food with your mouth and tongue and if it doesn’t feel right you spit it out. Whilst texture doesn’t affect taste it can certainly affect the enjoyment of a dish. A purée meal is just that, purée. There is no way around it. The food needs to be easy to swallow and therefore the texture will not be the same as solid food.
The recent craze of taking photos of food and posting them on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram means we are seeing and thinking about food even more. In fact, the average Brit spends a whopping third of their waking time either talking about or thinking about food.
When eating, all senses are used and this is what makes eating enjoyable. Eating is a sociable occasion, especially in a care environment. Meal times could be the only sociable activity residents partake in each day. The look, texture and taste of foods can make a world of difference in someone’s desire to eat. If a resident is presented with a meal that doesn’t smell or look appetising they might not want to eat it. At the end of the day, those with swallowing difficulties still eat with their eyes. Purée meals are essential; they provide nutrients to those who otherwise would not be able to eat. The trick is to make these meals fun and enjoyable again. When you serve a meal always ask yourself, “Would I be happy to eat this?”
There are many ways to make purée food more appealing. Rather than liquidising the different parts of a meal all together, liquidise the main element of the meal and the vegetables separately. This way, they keep their individual taste, smell and colour and look more inviting. To improve the appearance of the plate, use a range of different coloured foods in meals to increase variety e.g. fish or meat in sauce, puréed carrots and mashed potato.
Always think about the presentation of food to make it attractive and appetising. You can pipe mashed potato through a shaped nozzle or pipe cream on to puréed fruit; serve puréed food using an ice cream scoop or use moulds to give food shape.
Piping bags and ice cream scoops
The use of piping bags allows the chef to pipe shapes out of puréed food onto the plate. This helps make the resident’s plate look more exciting and ‘normal’ as the purée looks more like solid food. Using piping bags and ice cream scoops mean that food is separate on the diner’s plate. This prevents the food from looking unattractive and encourages less waste. Piping bags and ice cream scoops are readily available and most care homes will have them already, making it a cheap option for improving the presentation of food. The below image shows how you can combine both these tools. Using an ice cream scoop for the mashed potato and a piping bag for the carrots has instantly transformed this plate into a meal that looks more edible.
Another way to make mealtimes with a purée diet more pleasurable is to use food moulds. These can revolutionise meal times for people with swallowing difficulties – bringing a sense of normality back again.
With a little bit of imagination, you can create anything that your residents desire; from curry to salmon. These moulds will encourage residents to eat once again, and will help make them feel a part of the care home community; as the food on their plates will look like that of other residents’.
Food moulds are easy to use. You simply create the puréed food and once the mix has reached the correct consistency, you spread the mixture into the purée food mould and freeze.
There are so many different recipes available, here are a few. Combining the piping bags, ice cream scoops and the moulds will help make mealtimes a happy time once again.
Using the correct foods
Lots of foods work well when softened with liquids such as fruit juice, cream, yoghurt, gravy, stock and meat juices. All these also add extra nutrients to the meal. As with other meals, it is important to ensure the puree is well seasoned as this will improve the taste; especially once blended as when food is pureed it can lose some of its original flavours. Some foods don’t blend well, so using the correct food is important.
Using the correct foods
Lots of foods work well when softened with liquids such as fruit juice, cream, yoghurt, gravy, stock and meat juices. All these also add extra nutrients to the meal. As with other meals, it is important to ensure the purée is well seasoned as this will improve the taste; especially once blended as when food is puréed it can lose some of its original flavours. Some foods don’t blend well, so using the correct food is important.
You may be thinking that all this will make your time in the kitchen longer. However, using these tricks will save you time. You will no longer need to spend as much time cooking and preparing purée food daily as you can batch cook and freeze the dishes. This means there is less time spent making purée meals, and cleaning the food blender multiple times afterwards! The moulds are also oven and microwave safe as well as dishwasher safe making cleaning a breeze!
There are even companies that sell puree food frozen. Companies such as Nourisher who have a range of 12 protein flavours, 8 vegetables & 2 carbohydrates frozen in ready to use ice cubes and pouches. This makes creating meals for those on a soft diet even easier.
If you would like to purchase any moulds or equipment to make your residents’ lives easier when it comes to eating, give us a call today!