As one of Australia’s most iconic cooks, Maggie Beer is passionate about changing the wellbeing of the elderly through access to food full of flavour and nutrients.
“It should be everyone’s right to have good food, and I believe that no one group of people need it more. My hope is that every meal can give comfort and pleasure, always something to look forward to,” Maggie says on the Maggie Beer Foundation’s website.
Maggie created the Foundation in 2014 as a driving force to improve diet in the aged care sector.
Speaking at ANMF’s (Vic Branch) 2022 Health and Environmental Sustainability conference last month, Maggie said she believed that a beautiful meal was the “quickest route to wellbeing”.
While nutrition was one of the many issues plaguing the aged care sector, Maggie said it was possible to fix.
She said that affecting the quality of food residents were being served was the lack of specialised training for aged care cooks or chefs.
“There is no minimum standard of education, so cooks and chefs are thrown in without support, without training. It’s an incredibly specialised skill.
“We need to raise the bar. We need to elevate the skill and the respect of cooks or chefs. We need to give them the tools they need… Give them fresh food. I know it will work.”
To help inspire aged care kitchens, Maggie runs master classes across Australia, where over two days, she brings 30 cooks and chefs together to impart her knowledge.
“I cook with them, I hear what they encounter, and I bring in experts such as a dietician and an auditor that can debunk myths that circulate about what you can and can’t do.
“If you can grab them and give them the feeling of how worthwhile they are, give them the skills and help them find a champion within their home, they will go back, knowing they can do beautiful food where the residents are so happy, and they are so proud.”
According to Maggie the other essential key to good food is fresh ingredients when preparing meals to ensure flavour.
“So if the home has a garden, you can supplement with fresh produce.”
Despite Maggie’s solutions, there are still many brick walls to improving dietary standards, which she said she is determined to break down.
“The brick walls are usually management and budget. Two-thirds of homes in Australia have a budget of $12.43, whereas one third have a budget of more like $8 a day per resident for three meals, morning and afternoon tea.
“You see, when there is a budget like that, what can you do?”
With knowledge, Maggie said the food budget should sit at $12.50 to $15 a day per resident.
“When a cook or chef has their knowledge and has a garden to pull from like the citrus they need, fresh herbs that make a difference, where they easily grow greens that can be repeated again and again, then you can actually do good food for that amount.”
“With knowledge, they can make their own stocks, the base of soups. They can use legumes because they are full of goodness and inexpensive. You see, it’s not just cooking methods, it’s what ingredients are used.”
But Maggie said under $8 per resident, this would be impossible to achieve.
The Labor Government have offered the Maggie Beer Foundation $5 million over three years, where they plan to build on the existing specialised online education modules they recently released for cooks and chefs.
“But more, what I want to do, is have a group of cooks and chefs from aged care that I can train. I know how to impart this knowledge, I know how to give them the ideas and then they go out as trouble shooters to homes – because I don’t know many or any homes that want to change but don’t know how to do it.
“So my concept is to have this group who can actually physically be on the kitchen floor, so to speak and work with the team.”
According to Maggie, the funding will also support the ‘Alliance of the Willing’, a group of over 120 people from all areas of aged care who are working on the solutions to improve diet and nutrition in the sector.
Maggie said gaining direction and support from the previous government had been a battle where it should not have been.
“That’s why it’s important to continue to raise our voices. We need to push the issues more, and I’m pushing.”
For more information about Maggie’s Foundation, visit https://maggiebeerfoundation.org.au/