Regis Aged Care's National Catering Manager
It’s a challenge to create a rota of tasty, nutritious meals to cater for aged care residents from a range of backgrounds, with differing food preferences and medical conditions, but it’s one that still excites Regis Aged Care’s National Catering Manager, Melinda Beilby.
Melinda started working in hospitality during a gap year when she was 17, which led to her gaining a Certificate in Commercial Cookery and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Hospitality. She managed a café and spent two decades as a contract caterer with Spotless before the opportunity to make the move into aged care at Regis arose 12 years ago.
Regis offers retirement living but its core business is residential aged care.
‘We have 63 aged care homes with just under 7,000 residents nationally, and we fresh cook at every one of our homes. We don't outsource anything. It's all internal catering. All our chefs are either qualified or we have put them through a Certificate III in Cookery. We've probably qualified about 30 in the last 10 years,’ she says.
On Melinda’s watch, the Regis menu has been streamlined, whilst remaining flexible enough to incorporate residents’ preferences and cherished recipes.
Knowing she is making a positive impact on residents’ lives is Melinda’s favourite part of her job.
'We find that food is one of the most important parts of their day. They look forward to it. If you include all their tea breaks — morning tea, afternoon tea and supper — we serve them six meals a day.'
'We have a choice of two meals at lunch and dinner. In the majority of our homes there'll be a curry, because a lot of our residents love curries, but the other dish may be more like a meat and three veg, so we try and balance it to capture the majority — and we have vegetarian dietary needs covered as well.'
'We have different levels of textures for different residents, but we don't serve things like steak, we do slow cooked meals so a lot of our meat should just fall apart. We don't put chilli in anything, but if a resident likes spice or chilli we would serve it to them on the side so they can put it on themselves.'
'We often gather the feedback nationally and we'll get like the top five favourites. Roast is definitely up there, so is pasta and Fish and Chip Friday, then scones, jam and cream for morning tea and pavlova or ice cream and topping for dessert.'
Simplot products definitely help with the high workload.
‘The new bite sized vegetables are great for aged care. A lot of our chefs are using them for soups, and casserole dishes. They're all cut. It reduces the use of knives in our kitchens as well, so it's also time efficient. They're not there chopping up 10 different vegetables. We've only introduced them in the last month and the chefs are really loving them.’
Respecting the ability of food to trigger memories, Regis chefs are trained to ask for a recipe if residents tell them that they used to make a meal a different and better way. In one Regis home, Melinda recalls a resident called Jenny contributed a popular recipe, with ‘Jenny’s Almond Slice’ becoming a firm afternoon tea favourite.
Whilst juggling competing demands and considerations to create great menus can be problematic, it pales in comparison to the challenges Melinda faced in her role during Melbourne’s COVID pandemic lockdowns when the whole kitchen team was told to leave.
‘All the food was discarded, and we had 150 residents with no dinner. So, I called a local hotel and asked if they could cook me 150 meals. Then I went to Costco and just bought them out to make sandwiches.’
With her car full of crates of food, Melinda returned to the home and, with the kitchen unable to be used, established a makeshift setup in an activity room.
‘I had no kitchen staff, so we managed to pull a couple from some other homes to meet me there. And then I had some other frontline managers in there helping.’
It was an extraordinarily stressful time that served to reinforce Melinda’s opinion that,