Developing methodologies to optimise meals and meal components based on the specific nutritional needs of consumers
Assembling daily meals adapted to care patient needs is a challenge that every industrial kitchen cooking for a care institution faces. An additional challenge is getting those meals to people while delicious, nicely presented, on time, and warm. The current trend towards personalised nutrition, tailored to the end user’s needs and preferences, is significant for every actor in the meal production chain.
However, special nutritional needs are not limited to the elderly and those suffering from chronic conditions. More and more consumers are becoming aware of the importance of, and concerned about their personal nutritional needs. It makes delivering meals that meet the needs of the final consumer a challenge, not just for healthcare facilities, but for other institutional kitchens, and by extension for all actors involved in the food production chain, as well. However, the problem encompasses more than providing meals that contain the right nutritional components. Meals also need to be sufficiently tasty, have the right texture and, of course, meet the mandatory food safety criteria.
There is already plenty of knowledge about the positive impact of balanced and adapted diets on health. Making that positive impact a reality though, is only possible when every actor clearly understands how to adapt their processes and products. Essentially, the current knowledge still needs to be translated into concrete practical guidelines. These guidelines may concern modifying the choice of ingredients, adapting recipes, the parameters of production processes, shelf-life and packaging techniques. However, it also concerns logistical processes such as storage, transport, and the distribution of meals.
FoodCare is a collective research, development, and dissemination project (COOCK type) with the objective of developing a generalised, repeatable, and scalable methodology for the preparation and adaptation of meals and meal components that respond to the consumers’ specific nutritional needs.
To this end, processes across the entire chain will be simulated and evaluated using the infrastructure in the Food Pilot in Melle and the FR&D hall in Roeselare. The Food Pilot is an ILVO and Flanders’ FOOD collaboration and consists of a pilot food factory with quality analysis and taste labs. The FR&D hall is equipped with a semi-industrial pilot kitchen and a pilot microwave facility affiliated with VIVES University and Flanders’ FOOD.
This methodology will be translated into concrete practical guidelines for adaptations, along with protocols for the analysis, support and evaluation of adjustments to recipes and processes. To this end, adjustments can be made at any point in the chain, from the selection of the ingredients to the meal’s consumption. Ultimately, sharing these guidelines and protocols with companies will inspire them to start making adjustments themselves.
The project mainly targets food processing companies and their suppliers, which can then employ the knowledge and information gained to adapt their processes and recipes to the end user’s needs.
We also focus on (care) organisations that produce meals for special target groups. That could mean hospitals required to provide many meals a day for several different target groups, all with different nutritional needs. But it could just as easily cover residential care centres for the elderly, which have a different set of specific needs. A central kitchen is frequently used to produce for different centres and different target groups. This project also includes the logistical step (transport, storage) between these different centres. Some institutions prepare their own meals, however, a significant number rely on external caterers and food service companies that offer ready-to-eat meals or meal components.
Flanders’ FOOD manages and coordinates the project. The project will be executed in collaboration with VIVES University and ILVO (Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food).
The FoodCare project is the initial brainchild of the cooperation initiative Nutrition Health Care System (NuHCaS). NuHCaS takes a systemic approach towards uniting the food, health and care sectors in the pursuit of knowledge development and research on how food affects our health.
The project launched in January 2021 and runs through December 2023 (3-year project duration), and participation will remain open during this period.
Would you, as a food company or a care actor like to be kept informed about this project? Would you, as a food company like to brainstorm with us about innovative products and processes? Are you a care actor that would like to shed some light on your challenges and needs? Are you interested in sharing consumer experiences?
Flanders' FOOD manages and coordinates the project. The project is being carried out together with VIVES University of Applied Sciences and ILVO (Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research).
The FoodCare project originated within the Nutrition Health Care System (NuHCaS) collaborative initiative. Through a systemic approach, NuHCaS aims to unite the food, care and health sector to build knowledge and conduct research into the influence of food on our health.