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Catering for Vegetarians and Vegans in Care Homes


Catering for vegetarians and vegans in care homes

Vegetarianism isn’t new. It seems that Greek philosophers Plato (born 423 BC) and Aristotle (born 384 BC) were vegetarian. More recently, Albert Einstein, born in March 1879, followed a vegetarian diet and (allegedly) famously quoted, ‘Nothing will benefit health or increase chances of survival on earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’ It’s thought he didn’t make the switch until later life, in the 1950s, when vegetarianism really began to flourish, but had thought long and hard about the benefits.

Those adults who started to embrace vegetarianism in the 1950s are among those now requiring care and it is right they have their long-held needs and beliefs respected. One story highlights the plight of an older lady, a long-term animal rights campaigner, who having developed dementia in her late 80s, was given meat-based meals when staff claimed she would not know the difference. Clearly this is unacceptable.

It doesn’t need to be difficult

Charities, such as Manchester-based Vegetarian for Life (VfL), are working hard to dispel the myths that providing vegetarian menu options is more expensive and also to ensure that vulnerable older people are not served an endless diet of beige-coloured meals consisting only of eggs and cheese.

As Amanda Woodvine, director of VfL, commented:

‘We understand that by eating differently to everyone else, vegetarians and vegans can be viewed as something of a nuisance and catering for vegetarians in care is often a hit and miss affair. But it doesn't have to be difficult.’

Providing nutritious meals on a restricted budget

Vegetarian cuisine, with its ingredients including pulses, vegetables and soya-based meat substitutes, tends to be less expensive than meat-based meals and is often more filling and therefore goes further. The wide variety of ingredients ensures that meals are colourful, tasty and tempting – and provide a good balance of nutrients.

It’s important that vegetarians of all ages continue to obtain micronutrients such as zinc and calcium, so protein-rich (and delicious) ingredients such as hummus, avocado, peanut butter and ground almonds should be incorporated in the diet.

Vegans also need to increase their vitamin C intake to help with iron absorption from non-meat sources. Using citrus fruit in recipes will help with this. And remember, love it or hate it, Marmite is a great source of vitamin B12.

As with a vegetarian diet, there is likely to be a growing need to care for vegans as more people embrace this lifestyle.  Since veganism is now a belief recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights, care home providers who limit or prevent the life choices of vegans through indirect discrimination can now be seen as acting unlawfully.

Help is available

There’s a wide range of resources available to help the care sector ensure the needs of older vegetarians and vegans continue to be met as they move to rely on social care. Recipes and advice on the VfL website will enable care home caterers to provide good standards of care for those with alternative beliefs and choices.

And with interesting research by VfL revealing that many older adults’ food preferences centre round fruits, vegetables and beans rather than red meat, milk and dairy products – suggesting vegetarian meals could have wide appeal for older people – perhaps they could be introduced as regular menu items for all.

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