Healthy and sustainable food environments are urgently needed, also in nursing and residential care homes. Malnutrition in care homes is becoming an increasing problem as populations worldwide are ageing and many older people do not consume sufficient protein, fibre, fruit, and vegetables. Nursing homes also often experience a lot of food waste. A transition in the food environment like a nursing home, involves the participation of facility management and food service staff members. This study aims to map out their perceived barriers and facilitators for this transition.
A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews was conducted with food service staff members (n = 16), comprising of kitchen staff (n = 4), wait staff (n = 10), and facility management (n = 2) of two nursing homes in the Netherlands. Thematic analysis was used to derive content and meaning from transcribed interviews.
Four main themes were identified. Theme 1: ‘Communication, transparency and accountability in the chain’, highlighting the lack of effective communication flows and a fragmented overview of the food service chain as a whole. Theme 2: ‘Understanding, knowledge and ability of the concepts healthy and sustainable’, revealing the gap in staff’s understanding of these abstract concepts, despite perceiving themselves as having sufficient knowledge and ability. Theme 3: ‘The pampering service mind-set’, highlighting the contradiction in the staff’s shared goal of proving the highest quality of life for residents while also pampering them in ways that may not align with promoting healthy and sustainable food choices. Theme 4: ‘Transition is important but hard to realize’, describing the barriers such as existing routines and a lack of resources as challenges to implementing changes in the food service.
Facilitators to transitioning nursing homes towards a healthy and sustainable food environment as perceived by staff members included transparent communication, accountability in the food supply chain, staff’s perceived ability and shared goal, while barriers included lack of understanding of the concepts healthy and sustainable, the current pampering mindset, and top-down decision-making. These findings provide valuable insights for nursing homes seeking to transition towards a healthier and more sustainable food environment.