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On a mission with food and dignity

Peter Welfare is the Head Chef of our southern region. Recently, he and our dietitians used some creative cooking techniques from our cookbooks to help a resident with dementia experience the joy of food once more.

I recently met 51-year-old mother of two, Sandy, who has younger onset dementia. Unfortunately for Sandy, dementia means she can no longer use her mouth and tongue the way she used to. Eating is difficult, and her food has to be pureed for her not to choke on it. The problem is, Sandy doesn’t like pureed food and she’s been living on ice cream, custard and fruit for a long time. And even those foods were proving difficult and causing some occasional choking.

Our new cookbook, with recipes for older people and those on a pureed diet. Buy it here

After hearing her story, I was on a mission, along with her care workers and dietitian Lisa Greedy, to help Sandy reclaim some quality of life. We came to her cottage armed with two recipe books published by HammondCare: Don’t give me eggs that bounce and the newly published It’s all about the food not the fork, plus some equipment to help us with our task. These books detail recipes and techniques written by Peter Morgan-Jones HammondCare’s Executive Chef and nutritional information by our dietitians Emily Colombage and Lisa Greedy.

As we rang the doorbell, I knew we had a challenge on our hands. It wasn’t going to be easy to interest Sandy in food again if all we could offer was pureed food. The subject of tube feeding had been raised. This was not an option anyone wanted including Sandy.

Nothing could have prepared me for the moment our introduction was made. Sandy was tall and quite elegant in her manner. She walked with a graceful gait and had the most piercing gaze. I got the sense that she knew we were here to try and help. I certainly hoped that we could.

Together Lisa and I went to work. First, we created Peter’s Chicken drumstick satay. It is a beautiful chicken dish that is suitable for a person who requires a modified diet. It is set in a mold and cooked and served fresh from the oven, holding its form to look like a chicken drumstick should.

I held my breath as the staff invited Sandy to sit at the dining table and brought her meal out. She looked at it for a second, then picked up her knife and fork and cut a slice of chicken, placing it in her mouth. Sandy immediately got up from the table and walked swiftly back to her room. I was crestfallen. I thought to myself that she had not enjoyed the food and that I had failed her.

This moulded chicken dish was the first proper meal Sandy had eaten in a long time.

But within minutes, Sandy returned from her room with a napkin. She had decided after that first taste, this was a meal she was going to eat. As she sat and ate the entire meal I looked around at the staff and saw not only relief, but joy on their faces. A breakthrough at last!

Buoyed by our success we then looked through more of Peter Morgan-Jones’s recipes. The staff told us Sandy loved fruit but she choked whenever she ate it. I was sure I could find the answer that would give me the tools to help Sandy in the pages of the two cookbooks, and I did.

Together, Lisa and I were able to make a fresh fruit salad with watermelon, peaches, pears and apricots. This was served with natural yoghurt. All of it was able to be eaten by hand and was suitable for a person on a modified diet. This was puree food that looked like the fruit it was made from.

As with the chicken meal we served Sandy, the fruit salad and yoghurt was a smashing success. We had found food that Sandy thought was appealing and had brought hope to the staff caring for her. 

This is not the end of Sandy’s story that is true, and there will be challenges ahead for her to face. What I do know, though, is that the dedicated team at Sandy’s cottage will be there for Sandy and her family supporting them with those challenges and that today we were able to regain some quality of life and dignity back for Sandy.

Learn more about HammondCare's cookbooks and purchase them here.

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