The importance of offering a wide range of foods and styles of food to meet an individual’s needs cannot be overstated.
Every person has preferences, dietary and nutritional needs, and likes and dislikes. Add to this the issues of fluctuating and reduced appetite, as well as distraction, and the struggle for some residents to sit down at the dining table to eat.
Bite-sized finger foods that can be eaten on the go may be a good option to consider and further develop on your menus. You may very well be doing this already, so we’re here to help with some meat-free options. Perfect for your vegan and vegetarian residents – and you may find all your residents enjoy them.
The advantages of finger foods and the little and often approach are well documented. Serving finger foods can provide independence when eating, reduce issues when struggling with cutlery, lessen the need to be fed by a carer, and bring dignity and confidence. It may make mealtimes a pleasurable and sociable experience again. It also helps to ensure that those that struggle to sit down for a meal and are easily distracted are still able to get enough calories throughout the day by making use of suitable on the go options.
So, what are finger foods? Just about anything can be classed as a finger food if you can eat it with your fingers. The trick is to know how to adapt an interesting and wide range of foods into foods you can eat with your fingers. The good news is most foods can be easily adapted. Finger foods should be convenient to pick up, not create a mess or easily crumble. And, in the context of catering for older people, they should be nutritionally valuable, and where necessary fortified. If you buy your meals in from a catering supplier have a look at available products because they may have a wide selection of finger foods available.
Foods such as sandwiches are obvious examples, but hardly inspiring. While others are enjoying a hot dinner, those eating sandwiches may be left underwhelmed and, more importantly, not part of the group. Getting creative with sandwiches is starting to move in the right direction. VfL’s searchable recipe section has a great selection of sandwich ideas, which is a good place to start.
Bruschetta is a slightly different take on a sandwich. Think about wraps, burritos, quesadillas, taquito, taco, and pitta pockets – all sandwiches give or take, but they add a level of interest, and of course are traditionally eaten with fingers. Toasted sandwiches also have a place.
Start building on your finger food ideas from your existing menus. How about 'sausage' rolls, spring rolls, risotto balls, mini pizza slices, quiche or potato cakes? All of these may be on your menus; they just need a little adaptation. These can be served with vegetables that are easy to pick up, such as broccoli or cauliflower spears, carrot batons, asparagus, cucumber sticks or halved cherry tomatoes.
Fritters add all sorts of possibilities. Serve with a dipping sauce to suit. Onion bhajis, cauliflower bites, tempura, and croquettes for example. These are a couple of fritters you may want to give a go.
Mini pies, pasties, and pastry slices are also good options with countless styles and filling options to choose from. Even burgers in buns, hot dogs, macaroni cheese balls or 'fish' and chip style bites may be something to consider. They are all traditional finger foods.
Dips can be used creatively. Serve hummus, guacamole, bean pâté, cheesy dips, chilli or curry dips with a selection of vegetable crudities, toasted breads or dippable chunky wedges.
Canape ideas are a good place to get a little inspiration. A quick recipe search will bring up hundreds of recipes. Also think about how you can adapt more familiar dishes. Latkes, potato cakes, pastry cases, savoury pancakes and Yorkshire puddings can all work well as a base/case for a variety of toppings and fillings. Cottage pie can be made into mini bites. Simply line a cupcake tray with strips of filo pastry to act as a case, add your standard veggie base, top with mash, and bake in the oven.
For dessert, try making pancakes, rolling them up and slicing into mini pieces and include a dipping sauce such as chocolate, golden syrup, toffee, peanut or lemon and sugar. Mini muffins can be adapted into apple crumble muffins. Allow your imagination to run. When designing your menus, cakes may seem an obvious choice. Take care not to choose cakes that are too fragile or crumbly, which may create more problems than they solve. These three fortified sweet options are easy to make and delicious, as well as providing a good amount of protein.
Snacks can be easily incorporated, too. Soft muesli bars, dates, dried apricots, prunes, sliced fresh fruit, ice cream in cones, veggie jelly cubes, yoghurt served in pouches, cheese slices or toasted fingers topped with peanut butter.
Themes can be a good hook for residents to enjoy finger foods, so 'normalise' them. BBQs, picnics, buffets and tea parties are all generally finger food friendly. Doing this also gives the opportunity to have a party and increase socialising.
For additional support and ideas on finger foods and fortifying recipes, VfL has produced two helpful guides Food Fortification for Vegans and Nutrition for Older Vegetarians and Vegans. For any specific questions feel free to use our ‘Ask the Chef’ service and email email@example.com with your query.