Care Home Food Guide: Menu Ideas for Elderly Residents

Fabio Ellis
22 mins

Chef cooking with vegetables The purpose of every care home is to make day-to-day life as pleasant and comfortable as possible for residents while also preserving their health and wellbeing. The type and quality of food you serve is crucial to this and can have a big impact on the wellbeing of your residents. But how can you ensure your care home food menu is suitable for all your facility users, and what should you take into account when cooking and serving your dishes? In this care home food guide we’ll take you through everything you need to know about care home catering, from the importance of good quality care home meals to food hygiene in care home kitchens. We’ll also provide you with a customisable care home menu to help make planning meals a straightforward process.


Care home food: The basics

Before planning your care home menu, you should first make sure you understand the basics of care home catering. Knowing these basics will help you craft safe, nutritious, and tasty dishes for the health and wellbeing of your residents.

The importance of good quality care home meals

Good quality meals are important for all of us, but especially so for elderly care home residents. As people age and their health needs change, the right nutrition becomes even more crucial for maintaining their quality of life. It’s also relatively common for elderly people to have specific dietary requirements due to age-related changes. For example, foods rich in calcium are important for maintaining bone health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. On top of these specific physical changes, a well-balanced and nutritious diet can support the overall physical health of your residents. This is beneficial for immune system support, which is especially important in care homes as bugs and illnesses can spread quickly from person to person.

It’s also common for elderly people to experience a change in appetite. Preparing delicious and appealing meals can help stimulate your residents' appetite and make mealtimes more enjoyable, which is essential for preventing malnutrition.

Good quality care home food doesn’t just have a positive impact on physical health, but it’s important for mental wellbeing too. A nutritious and satisfying meal can positively impact a person's mood. Some nostalgic dishes can even be a talking point for the patients at your facility and may encourage social interaction, which can also have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing.

What are the food and drink regulations in care homes?

According to The Health and Social Care Act 2008, the “nutritional and hydration needs of service users must be met” for any overnight care home resident, unless it would not be in the person’s best interest. The Act defines meeting nutritional and hydration needs as the following:

  • Providing residents with “suitable and nutritious food and hydration which is adequate to sustain life and good health.” This means that each resident should have a meal plan that is appropriate for their dietary needs, and they should also be able to refuse nutrition and hydration unless it is in their best interests according to the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
  • Giving residents dietary supplements if prescribed by a doctor or other healthcare professional.
  • Catering to service users dietary restrictions and preferences.
  • Supporting the service user if they require help eating or drinking. This could include liquidising food for dysphagia patients, or putting food and drink within close reach of those with restricted mobility.

The Care Quality Commission provide additional guidance on these regulations:

  • Care staff should regularly review each resident’s nutrition and hydration needs, and work swiftly to make changes if necessary.
  • There should be a wide selection of nutritious and appetising food on offer, served at an appropriate temperature.
  • Residents should be encouraged to eat if necessary.
  • Water must be available and within easy reach at all times.
  • Staff should still provide meals at an alternative time for residents who were absent or unavailable during their usual mealtime.
  • Small meals or snacks should be available for residents who prefer eating little and often.

What to consider when catering for elderly residents

There are a wide variety of dietary factors to take into account when making your care home food menu, from dietary restrictions and modifications to enjoyment. Below, we’ve listed some of the most important features of care home meals you should take into consideration.

Balancing requirements

A well-balanced diet is important for everyone, but especially so for care home residents. Ensuring your facility users have nutritious, balanced meals every day can have a significant impact on their long-term health and quality of life. A good way to make sure each meal you provide is well balanced is by using The Eatwell Guide. This guide tells us how much of the five main food groups people should be having per day. These portions are as follows:

  • Fruit and vegetables: At least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. This includes fresh, tinned, frozen, and juiced fruit and veg.
  • Starchy foods: Foods like bread, potatoes, and pasta should make up a third of our diets. Elderly people may benefit from high fibre versions of these foods, like added fibre wholemeal bread.
  • Milk and dairy: You should serve your residents three portions of milk and other dairy foods, such as cheese and yoghurt, three times a day. This is an especially important food group for the elderly as it is rich in calcium, essential for bone health.
  • Protein-rich foods: You should serve your residents two portions a day of meat, fish, eggs, pulses, and other protein-rich foods.
  • Oils and spreads: The Eatwell Guide recommends that high-fat oils and spreads should be eaten “less often and in small amounts”. This is especially important for residents with heart conditions, but these foods can also be useful when it comes to adding calories to meals for residents with low appetites.

While you should take dietary restrictions and health considerations of your residents into account, this guide will no doubt be appropriate for the vast majority of your service users.


Generally, the recommended amount of daily calories is 2,000 calories for women and 2,500 for men. However, as many older adults expend less energy they may well require less. That being said, it is common for elderly people to lose their appetite, which can lead to malnutrition if not managed. Ensure residents with small appetites get enough calories in a day by incorporating high-calorie additions in their meals, like butter, cheese, or olive oil. Alternatively, for those who struggle to stay on or below their recommended daily calorie intake, low-calorie snacks can be a good way to satisfy hunger and curb cravings.

Vitamins and minerals

You should ensure your residents get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets. Below are some of the ones elderly people tend to lack/require more of:

  • Vitamin B12: Found in meat, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals
  • Calcium: Found in milk and other dairy products
  • Vitamin D: The best way to get this vitamin is to get enough time out in the sunlight, but you can also add it to your diet with fatty fish and fortified foods
  • Fiber: Found in pulses, wholegrains, and berries
  • Magnesium: Found in nuts and seeds, wholegrains, and leafy greens
  • Omega 3: Found primarily in seafood, but is also in some seeds, like flaxseeds and chia seeds

If it isn’t possible to incorporate all of these vitamins and minerals into a resident’s diet, you may want to consider supplements. A multivitamin is good for providing a little bit of everything, but you can also get specific vitamins, such as Omega 3 capsules. We stock a selection of pill organisers in our medical dispensing equipment range which can be used for supplements, as well as prescribed medication.

Dietary restrictions

Whether for religious reasons, health reasons, or personal reasons, every resident with a dietary restriction should have their needs met. Below are some of the most common dietary restrictions which you may have to cater for in your care home:

  • Kosher
  • Halal
  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Coeliac disease/gluten intolerance
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Nut allergies
  • Fish allergies

Other conditions can also have an impact on a resident’s diet, such as diabetes or dysphagia.

Eating difficulties in the elderly

Senior drinking tea

Another vital consideration you’ll likely have to take into account for some of your residents is eating difficulties. It’s fairly common to develop some sort of eating or appetite problems as we age. Here are a few of the most common you may come across in your care home, and how you can navigate these situations.

Difficulty swallowing in elderly residents

Difficulty swallowing, also known as dysphagia, is a common issue that affects many elderly individuals. As people age, the muscles and tissues we use when swallowing can change, making it more challenging for some elderly people to eat and drink safely and comfortably. As well as difficulty swallowing, coughing while eating is common in elderly people with dysphagia, which can become a choking hazard.

There are four types of dysphagia:

  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia: Struggling with the first stage of swallowing, moving the food from the mouth to the throat.
  • Oesophageal dysphagia: Difficulty moving food down the oesophagus.
  • Neurogenic dysphagia: This dysphagia is caused by a neurological disease or neurological damage.
  • Functional dysphagia: This is when a person has difficulty swallowing when there seems to be no reason for it. This can sometimes be caused by a mental barrier.

Symptoms of dysphagia can include malnutrition, dehydration, and weight loss. Swallowing difficulties in the elderly can be reduced by swallowing exercises, but one of the most effective ways to manage the condition is with a dysphagia-friendly diet.

Loss of appetite in the elderly

Loss of appetite is a common issue that affects many elderly people. As we age our nutritional needs change, and so do our dietary habits, which can lead to a decreased desire to eat. An elderly person not eating enough can have some serious consequences, ranging from physical impacts like malnutrition and fatigue, to cognitive decline and mental health conditions.

Making food for elderly people with no appetite can be a challenge, but there are a few ways to ensure your residents are getting as much nutritious food as possible:

  • High-calorie additions: To ensure your residents with loss of appetite are getting enough calories, try incorporating high-calorie ingredients in their meals, like butter, cream, oil, avocado, and peanut butter. Nuts are also a high-calorie and nutritious snack.
  • Smaller meals: Offering smaller, more frequent meals with nutrient-dense and calorie-dense foods can be less overwhelming for residents and more appealing.
  • Reduce liquid intake before meals: Drinks like water, coffee, and tea are low-calorie but can be filling, especially for elderly people with little to no appetite. Ask your resident to avoid drinking for an hour before a meal if possible to ensure they have enough room for their food.
  • Enjoyable foods: Even with a small appetite, a resident is more likely to want to eat if something they like the taste of is on offer. Work with them to find foods they enjoy and offer these to encourage them to eat. This can also help improve their relationship with food.
  • Nutritional supplements: If you’re struggling to give an elderly resident who isn’t eating enough all the nutrients they need, nutritional supplements can help you meet your residents' dietary needs.
  • Physical activity: If they are able to, encouraging a resident to take part in regular physical activity can both improve their appetite and their overall health.
  • Emotional support: Addressing emotional and psychological factors is important too. Encouraging social interactions during meals can make the dining experience more enjoyable and engaging..

Care home meal ideas

Soup meal with bread

While there are a number of considerations to take into account when planning your care home menu, the good news is that you’re still left with plenty of nutritious and tasty options for your residents. Below are just some of the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you can serve on your care home menu:

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Yoghurt and fruit with honey or agave syrup (add seeds nuts, or granola for added calories) Steak and kidney pie with a side of mashed potatoes and steamed greens Lentil soup with a side of wholemeal bread and butter
Wholemeal toast with a choice of preserves Stew and dumplings with a side of greens Omelette with two to three fillings
Porridge/Ready Brek with choice of toppings Chicken or vegetable pasta bake with a side of salad Quiche with a side of new potatoes and vegetables
Cereal with a side of fruit Cottage pie with a side of mixed vegetables Fishcake with a side of mashed potatoes and vegetables
Scrambled egg on toast Fish pie with a side of mixed vegetables Roast chicken with a side of new potatoes and salad

Dysphagia-friendly diet

Pureed and soft foods tend to be best for seniors with swallowing issues, so it’s important to include these in your meal plan. Soups and smoothies are good options for residents with dysphagia and are a great way to get plenty of fruits and vegetables in. Other soft foods for a dysphagia-friendly diet include:

  • Yoghurt drinks
  • Ready Brek
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Well-cooked pasta
  • Cottage pie and fish pie
  • Finely minced meat served with gravy
  • Very soft boiled vegetables, cut into small bite-sized pieces
  • Stewed fruit
  • Rice pudding

When it comes to swallowing, there are also some foods residents should avoid. Foods to avoid for dysphagia include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Hard cereal: Some cereal softened in milk — such as Weetabix — is okay
  • Tough meat, such as steak
  • Most bread, but especially bread with a hard or chewy crust, like baguette
  • Toast
  • Raw vegetables
  • Some raw fruits, such as apples or pears
  • Foods with stringy textures, such as pineapple and celery
  • Foods with thick skin, such as beans
  • Crisps or popcorn

It’s important to note that the food you provide your dysphagia residents depends on the severity of their condition. The International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) has created a framework consisting of eight different levels, which are as follows:

  • Level 0: Liquid, thin
  • Level 1: Liquid, slightly thick
  • Level 2: Liquid, mildly thick
  • Level 3: Liquid, moderately thick
  • Level 4: Pureed food
  • Level 5: Minced and moist food
  • Level 6: Soft and bite-sized food
  • Level 7: Regular, easy-to-chew food

Those with a more extreme variety of dysphagia may only be able to eat IDDSI level 0 – 3 foods, like juices, smoothies, and yoghurt drinks, while those with a more mild version of the condition may be able to handle foods like scrambled eggs and well-cooked pasta.

Elderly nursing home food menu sample

If you’re looking for an easy way to plan your meals, CLH’s customisable care home menu template is perfect for you. We’ve provided you with a week’s worth of nutritious meals, including options for various dietary requirements. And with our customisable Google Docs template, you can adjust and alter the menu as you see fit. Simply click the customisable care home menu template link and click the “use template button” in the top right corner of your screen to customise them with Google Docs.

To make the planning process relatively straightforward for your team while still providing your residents with enough variety, you should aim for a six-week rotating menu. You can use this weekly care home sample menu as inspiration for one or multiple weeks, and customise it for the remaining weeks to make an easy-to-follow and maintain catering plan.

Food hygiene in care homes

Chef chopping asparagus

It isn’t just your menu which is important for the health of your residents, but the hygiene of your care home kitchen too. Here we’ll cover the importance of food hygiene in your care home kitchen and dining area, as well as how to ensure the kitchen in your facility meets the required standard.

Why is good food hygiene important in the care home?

The health and wellbeing of residents is the top priority of every care home, which is why maintaining good food hygiene practices in care home settings is so important. Of course, food hygiene is crucial in any commercial kitchen, but in a care home environment, where residents may have weaker immune systems or underlying health conditions, the significance of following strict food hygiene standards cannot be overstated. Food poisoning can be a serious illness for vulnerable people and it can take a long time to recover from. Throughout the illness and recovery period, it is easy for elderly people who have suffered with food poisoning to become dehydrated, and it can also lead to extreme weight loss.

On top of this, the risk of a foodborne illness outbreak affecting multiple residents is high in a communal setting like a care home. A single instance of contamination or poor food handling practices can lead to widespread illness among the vulnerable population. Not only is this distressing and dangerous for your residents, but it will put added pressure on your staff too.

Food hygiene doesn’t just have a physical impact on your residents, but can have a huge psychological impact as well. For many residents, mealtimes are a significant part of their day and an opportunity to socialise with others in your facility. If they contract a food-related illness in the care home, this may put them off the food for a long period of time and make them reluctant to join their friends at mealtimes. The psychological impact can be even more damaging to residents with small appetites, as a bad experience with food may diminish their appetites even further.

Maintaining good food hygiene in a care home: Regulations and inspections

When it comes to maintaining good food hygiene in care homes, the Food Safety Management System (FSMS) is essential. Every business which prepares and serves food must have one in place by law, so it is essential that you have one to protect not just your business, but your residents and staff. When creating your FSMS, you should consider the following:

  • What are the hazards in your kitchen?
  • How can you control them?
  • What is the plan if something does go wrong because of a hazard in your kitchen?

Your FSMS must be documented and regularly reviewed and amended if necessary. During your Food Standards Agency inspection, the inspector will request to see your FSMS plan and assess whether it is thorough enough for your facility.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will also inspect your care home kitchen during comprehensive inspections. Here are the five key things they assess for and how they may relate to your care home kitchen:

  1. Safe: Is the residents' food prepared in a clean and safe environment?
  2. Effective: Is the food provided effective for helping maintain your service users' quality of life?
  3. Caring: Are residents given the dignity and respect they deserve when it comes to food? Are their dietary requirements met and is cross-contamination avoided for residents with dietary restrictions?
  4. Responsive: Are services organised to meet the dietary needs of patients within good time and at a high enough standard?
  5. Well-led: Do the care home management team ensure that food hygiene standards are met?

Tips for food safety in care homes

We know that food safety is crucial for any care home, but how can you ensure the highest hygiene standards are met in your care home kitchen? Below are some useful tips that are essential for food safety and hygiene.

  • Regular cleaning schedule: Establish a cleaning schedule that includes daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. Assign specific responsibilities to staff members to ensure that all cleaning tasks are completed regularly. If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow cleaning plan, use the care home cleaning schedule in our care home cleaning guide.
  • Clean as you go: Encourage staff to clean up spills and messes immediately. This prevents the accumulation of dirt and bacteria and makes the overall cleaning process easier.
  • Food safety practices: Emphasize the importance to all staff of following proper food safety protocols, such as storing food at the correct temperatures, avoiding cross-contamination, and adhering to expiration dates.
  • Separate cleaning tools: Use colour-coded brushes and brooms and cloths and scourers, and other cleaning equipment for different areas to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Sanitising surfaces: Regularly clean and sanitise all food preparation surfaces with hard surface wipes, kitchen cleaners, and disinfectants, to kill bacteria and viruses effectively.
  • Refrigerator and freezer maintenance: Regularly clean and organize the refrigerator and freezer to prevent cross-contamination and spoilage. Remove expired food items promptly.
  • Dishwashing protocol: Establish a clear dishwashing protocol, including pre-rinsing dishes, using hot water for washing, using a rinse aid to reduce water spots, and ensuring proper drying and storage.
  • Waste disposal: Dispose of kitchen waste properly and regularly. Clean bins and surrounding areas frequently to prevent odours and pests.
  • Pest control: Implement a pest control program to prevent infestations and address any issues promptly.
  • Staff training: Provide ongoing training to kitchen staff on proper cleaning procedures, hygiene practices, and food safety measures.
  • Personal hygiene: Encourage all kitchen staff to practice good personal hygiene. Make hand washing easy and accessible by providing ample hand sanitiser and hand soap, and ensure staff wear appropriate catering clothing and hair coverings, as well as PPE if necessary.
  • Inspections and audits: Conduct regular inspections and audits of the kitchen to ensure compliance with cleanliness and hygiene standards.
  • Reporting system: Establish a system for staff to report any issues or concerns related to kitchen cleanliness, maintenance, or safety.

Care home mealtimes

Family member talking to senior

Establishing a high-quality care home food menu and meeting food hygiene standards is vital for your residents. But another crucial factor of care home catering is the importance of a pleasant and successful dining experience. Below we’ll cover how to create a positive dining experience in your care homes, and how you can help residents with additional needs who require some extra support.

Creating a positive dining experience in your care home

Creating a positive dining experience for care home residents is essential for their wellbeing, enjoyment, and overall quality of life in your facility. And aside from the quality and nutritional content of the food, there are plenty of ways to make mealtimes pleasant. A good place to start is by investing in high-quality dining furniture. Not only will this ensure your residents are comfortable throughout the meals, but well thought out interiors can make the room more inviting. Small decorative touches can be a great way to enhance your dining room too, such as artwork, photographs of residents, table linen, and vases with fresh flowers.

Your staff can have a positive impact on your residents dining experience as well. Having someone to show them to their table and be on hand for any queries or assistance, or simply for a chat, can make mealtimes feel a lot less overwhelming, especially for newer residents who may be struggling to adapt. As well as being on hand to talk to residents, staff may also want to encourage social interaction amongst the diners.

While having meals cooked and prepared can be appealing for many residents, some may struggle with losing their independence, especially for those who once enjoyed preparing their own meals. You may want to consider planning food related activities, such as cooking demonstrations, baking sessions, or even gardening activities where residents can grow herbs and vegetables used in their meals.

If you’re looking to mix things up, you could try organising special meals or food events. This could be based on certain days like Halloween or Easter, or you could have a theme night every once in a while, such as Italian or British classics. This is a great way to add variety and excitement to the dining experience.

The best way to ensure your residents are getting a pleasant dining experience is to ask them directly. Getting feedback via surveys or suggestion boxes can help you understand what your residents want and how you can make mealtimes more appealing to all service users.

Helping residents during mealtimes

Some residents will need more help than others during mealtimes, so it’s important to pay close attention to those with additional needs. Things your staff may need to do for some residents during mealtimes include:

  • Ensuring residents hands are clean before and during mealtimes. Having wet wipes and hand sanitiser nearby can be useful for this.
  • Helping residents get into a comfortable seating position for eating comfortably and safely. You may need to provide cushions or other support aids to help them maintain good posture.
  • Cutting up food into small, bite-sized portions.
  • Prompting residents to chew or swallow if necessary, while avoiding rushing them.
  • Helping residents eat if they are struggling. However, if possible, it’s important to encourage residents to feed themselves. This can help maintain their sense of autonomy and dignity. Those who do need assistance should be provided with it discreetly and respectfully.
  • Monitoring for signs of distress, such as choking or difficulty swallowing.

There are also some catering and dining tools which can help residents in need of extra support stay comfortable and have a pleasant dining experience. These include:


Good quality care home catering is vital for the mental and physical wellbeing of your residents. With the advice and information above, you should be able to create a safe and pleasant dining environment, with a variety of high-quality and nutritious dishes to suit the requirements of all your residents. If you’re looking for care home food menu inspiration, make sure to use our customisable sample menu.

Here at CLH Healthcare, we have everything you need to for your care home kitchen, from cleaning supplies to catering essentials, including kitchenware, cookware, serving tools, catering equipment, and much more. Explore the full range now.

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