What is seasonal eating and why is it important in a care home setting?
Many of us have heard the term ‘seasonal eating’ but it is hard to fully understand what that means with the vast choice and array of foods so readily available to us, year-round.
The fresh food items you buy carry labels showing they’re from all over the world… tomatoes from Spain (when they’re available!), sweet potatoes from South Africa and asparagus from Mexico.
Having such a selection of food at our fingertips, all year round, is something we have come to expect. It may seem like something we should be incredibly grateful for, is it really such a good thing?
Let’s take the humble spring onion for example. A huge proportion of spring onions consumed across the UK are imported from Thailand meaning it has travelled approximately 5,900 miles to get to our supermarkets. Egyptian spring onions are also shipped into the UK. From a sustainability perspective, this clearly has an impact on the environment… especially if the mode of transport is airfreight. Long distance travel may mean increased environmental costs for us however it’s important to note that the food miles argument in its most simple state is defunct. The transportation of food only accounts for a small percentage of the value chain when it comes to emissions.
A shipped spring onion will have a lower carbon footprint than one grown out of season in a hot house in the UK, requiring extensive resources to recreate the growing conditions needed. There’s that word again – seasons are important.
Coming back to our little spring onion, when it comes to the quality of the produce, if imported it will mean that by the time we actually eat it in a delicious dish, it will be days, if not weeks old.
Why does it matter if foods are days or weeks old?
In general fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of their ripeness and also, the peak of their nutritional status. The problem in our spring onion example is that it has had to travel for days to get to the point of being eaten, meaning it has started to age.
Unfortunately, this aging leads fresh foods to lose their nutritional density. This means that you don’t get the same nutritional benefits that you would have if you had eaten it when it was freshly picked. And it is not just a small change or deterioration. One research associate at the University of Austin reported that fruit and vegetables found in supermarkets are anywhere from 5% to 40% lower in vitamins and minerals.
Why is this important in a care home setting?
Older people tend to have smaller appetites meaning that it is of utmost importance that everything they do eat is as nutritionally dense as possible. This helps to ensure that your meals will provide their bodies with all they need to function optimally.
Therefore, if you can base your menus on food that is both in season and local you are potentially increasing the nutritional density of their meal.
Going beyond the impact of nutrition, eating food that is seasonal, local and fresher means that the quality is much better too.
How do you know when food is in season?
As previously mentioned, with the majority of fresh produce being available almost all year round it can be hard to decipher what is in season and what isn’t. To help you easily plan ahead you can buy seasonal posters which can be put on walls or you can use one of the links provided below to look in more detail.
Top tips for preparing seasonal meals for older people:
- Get in tune with what is in season and when. Speak with us at allmanhall so that we can help you stay informed about what is in season and best to use in menus.
- Use cookbooks based on seasonal eating. This will take the stress out of having to come up with recipes using ingredients you may be less familiar with cooking
- Ensure you are providing variety. Although you might be choosing ingredients from a smaller pool, it is still important to focus on variety throughout the week. This will ensure you are delivering a variety of nutrients which will support overall health, including gut health. The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the good gut bacteria will be!
Do also speak with the team at allmanhall. We will be able to advise you regarding what is in season and or what has done particularly well and is abundantly available through suppliers at that point in time.
You may find this produce is better quality and value for money too – nutritional, environmental and budgetary benefits? That is truly welcome all year round!