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Puree fruit salad with fanned puree peach prepared by chef Terence Austin.

Chef raises the bar on texture-modified food

Chicken drumstick on mash with peas and carrots.

Chef Terence Austin is on a mission – to ensure those with the eating condition dysphagia get presented with meals that look, smell and taste just as good as those served to people without the condition.

People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing liquids and solids. It’s a growing problem among older people, who can develop the condition as a result of stroke, dementia or other age-related health conditions. Those with dysphagia need their food to be of a certain consistency for them to swallow without fear of choking.

New Zealand has adopted the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative, or IDDSI, an internationally recognised flow chart for food and liquid consistencies. This has

Chocolate panna cotta.
Beef casserole with pumpkin and peas.

put us alongside other countries and allows access to a larger pool of chefs and aged care facilities striving to prepare and serve texture-modified food that is appetising as well as nutritious.

Based at Rawhiti Estate retirement village in Remuera, Terence also advises chefs at other facilities around the country on ways to prepare and present food that looks and tastes like a standard meal. As you can see from the photos, he nails it!

For Terence, it’s important that someone on a texture-modified diet have the same number of choices as someone on a standard diet, not fewer. “It is only limited by imagination, time and effort the kitchen allows when preparing textured food,” he says.

Terence’s wizardry requires some specialist tools and techniques, which is why he is keen on facilities providing their kitchens with the resources they need to produce quality meals they can be proud of.

“A lot of times I feel kitchens are in a rut and do not have the knowledge to improve. They sometimes lack the confidence or training to provide the variety of food possible, instead preferring to play safe,” he says.

For facilities that are able to do so, Terence says “it’s a lovely idea” to seat those residents on a textured diet alongside those on standard meals.

“Especially if the texture meal is restaurant quality – it shows a level of respect and gives the person the means to still feel independent. That’s particularly the case if the food smells as it should, tastes great and looks like standard food rather than scoops in a bowl,” he says.

Terence’s own experience is that people with varying levels of dementia still smell, taste and enjoy food, so to give them food that may trigger a memory makes it worthwhile. “If there’s one thing I can impress on others, it’s to make food from the heart. Without doubt, food made with pride is appreciated by both the resident and their family,” he says.

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