Following on from yesterday’s blog on Nutrition and Hydration Week 2014, I had the chance to speak to Derek Johnson, Principal Catering Manager at Leeds Community Meals who told us what he and the team are doing to highlight the importance of eating and drinking well.
Derek, can you tell us briefly about your role and the work you’re doing to ensure that older and vulnerable people have access to a range of healthy and nutritious meals in Leeds?
I oversee the Community Meals Service in Adult Social Care – a service that provides meals for people in their own homes. We currently deliver hot meals with a dessert and a drink, often supplemented by a snack tea seven days a week, 365 days a year. I also support council’s care homes with their food provision; assisting with menus; carrying out audits; and providing professional support to managers when they’ve got queries regarding different types of diet.
Can you give us some examples of the types of people you support?
We provide support for a wide range of people, the Community Meals Service is mostly for older people but there isn’t really an age limit. If someone has critical or substantial needs, there is no age limit because people need food and drink to support & maintain good health within their care package and to support them to live in their community.
We also support people with mental health needs, and I work with the Learning Disability Community Support Service. One of the key issues for the latter service was the quality of the pack lunches provided for their customers when they attend various centres. I was able to provide training and information around those requirements.
How does it make people’s lives better?
Community Meals Service helps people to maintain their independence. It might only be a short visit but it helps to break the social isolation barrier and we also have a few customers who phone us just to check their meals are coming. Most of the time, we know it is just to talk to us and that’s ok too. But overall it contributes to a person’s health and wellbeing because if you’re eating well, your general well-being improves too.
This week is Nutrition and Hydration week, what are you doing to raise the profile of nutrition and hydration in Leeds?
We’re raising awareness about some of the work we already do. So this year, we’re having an information session for professionals on Tuesday 18th March at Technorth from 12.30pm. People can come along and look at what’s available across the city, not just for older people but also as part of Leeds Let’s Change and the Ministry of Food.
The neighbourhood networks are also running various sessions for their customers. In Holbeck, there will be a ‘Drinks around the World’ session prior to their luncheon club. Our own Community Meals team will be providing information from the Eat Well campaign to our customers, highlighting the importance of eating well and how to spot the signs of malnutrition. This will be followed by a food tasting session for one of our neighbourhood networks.
What are the key messages that you want to share this week?
The main message we want to get across this week is that good nutrition and hydration is really fundamental to everyone’s health and wellbeing. We want to remind people that this is something that particularly needs to be considered when someone is vulnerable or feeling unwell – they need to eat well and drink plenty of fluids.
One of the other key messages, more relevant in the care home setting is about protecting meal times. We want to ensure there is no interruption from visitors during meal times, whether that’s medical professionals or other visitors because understandably it (mealtime) is often the highlight of an older or vulnerable person’s day and a visit can interrupt their meal time which is critical to their recovery and wellbeing. Everyone needs to consider this when supporting or visiting service user, we ALL need to ensure these times are protected.
What do you see as the main challenges now and in the future? How are you overcoming these challenges?
The main challenge is the current pressures we’re all facing in the local authority in terms of budgets and ensuring our services are running efficiently. We’re at the stage with Community Meals Leeds where the more people we serve, the more efficient and effective we can be. So we need to ensure that people know about the service and use it when needed because that ultimately reduces the cost of the service itself.
Within the care homes and day centres, the pressure comes from the food budget as we all know, food prices are always going up. The biggest challenge is to continue to produce good, quality food within the budget.
With community meals, more people are starting to self-refer which is great news. We’ve noticed the type of clients have changed too. We don’t tend to have many long-term clients anymore – most people use the service for a few weeks/months until they get back on their feet, or for a short time during their respite care, when loved ones or carers are away. It’s there for those reasons and part of the work I’ve been doing over the last year is dispelling the myths that community meals or ‘meals on wheels’ as it is sometimes known, is not for life, it is a short-term solution to support a person’s wellbeing.
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
It’s listening to people say they’ve enjoyed the service and that it has helped to get them back on their feet again. Sometimes it’s just seeing residents that are happy with the food, or being able to have the food they like.
Overall, I enjoy seeing it all come together, working with different people and organisations who look at food from slightly different angles but nevertheless, going in the same direction – improving food access and nutritional care. That has taken a long time to pull together, not just in Leeds but nationally to get people to start to think in the same way.
Going back to the national Nutrition and Hydration Week, the key thing is that it is led by Patient Safety First, the Hospital Care Trust and the National Association of Care Catering, it’s these organisations that are working in the same direction to spread the messages nationally and internationally.
And finally, do you have some top tips on how people can help themselves to eat and drink well, without too much expense?
Three meals and two snacks per day! Make sure you’re eating food that you not only enjoy, but that is good for you too. At some point, you may need to follow medical advice if you have a medical condition to determine what you can or cannot eat but generally it’s about eating good, wholesome food in the right portions. On the drinks side, it’s 6 to 8 drinks a day, and before you ask, that doesn’t include fizzy drinks or alcohol!
Our thanks goes to Derek for taking the time to talk to us.
You can find out more about the Community Meals Service on our website or by calling 0113 247 8577. Call them today to find out how you or someone you care about can start receiving healthy and nutritious meals straight to the door.