EAT WELL: Dietitian Cherie Hugo is passionate about nutrition in the aged care sector.
EAT WELL: Dietitian Cherie Hugo is passionate about nutrition in the aged care sector.

Mealtimes made happier and healthier for aged care

DIETITIANS, chefs and nutrition experts around the country are working together to ensure that fresher, healthier meals are served up to aged care residents.

Gold Coast studies have found that more than half of aged care residents are malnourished – a figure borne out at a national level.

Two years ago, when The Lantern Project was launched, that figure was up to 80%.

Project founder and dietitian Cherie Hugo, as part of her PhD studies at Bond University, set out to improve the food served up to residents in aged care.

After 15 years of working with the elderly, she had a desire to see food become a part of the day elderly residents looked forward to.

"It should be a highlight of their day and, at the moment, it is not always. It is a complex problem that goes beyond the food itself," Cherie explained.

"If someone is undernourished, they are more likely to be depressed, have falls, pressure areas and not recover from wounds or infection, so the ultimate goal is improving quality of life.

"We know a mealtime is more than just food and nutrition. Mealtimes are also about communication, company and connection.

"If you get this right, then nutrition falls into place with less wastage, less reliance on supplements and happier residents and staff."

The Lantern Project has high-profile supporters, including Maggie Beer, Simon Bryant and Peter Morgan-Jones, and The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation.

Cherie is pleased with the project’s progress so far.

"Awareness has been raised and we are pleased that a working group to develop new guidelines has recently been formed in conjunction with the Dietitians Association of Australia," she said.

"This should be a great step in the right direction in terms of moving towards more enjoyable, less restrictive aged care menus.

"We have a number of Gold Coast-based aged care homes involved with the Lantern Collaboration - each have their own food-based priorities and projects under way.

"Terraces Assisted Living Facility is currently involved in the ‘nourish study’ as part of my PhD research, where we have introduced staff nutrition training and set food-based strategies to replace commercial nutritional supplementation with the purpose to improve residents’ mealtime enjoyment, nutritional status and quality of life."

Lantern "ambassadors" are being recruited and trained to help gather food stories.

Four working groups focus on legal and quality management, dining experiences, edible gardens and lifestyle, and communications.

"In terms of my PhD research for the project - the next steps involve gathering and analysing food stories shared by the community," Cherie says.

"The more stories gathered, the more clear we will be on where priorities lie in terms of aged care menus and dining experience.

"This is where we really invite readers to share food experiences online now at or become a Lantern Ambassador to assist us to collect more stories in the community.

"The cost benefit study is also in line to assist in helping us to demonstrate the economic value of focusing on fresh food and the dining experience.

"Without this, food budgets and staff assistance at mealtimes in aged care will continue to be over-restricted  and under pressure.

"We are aiming to demonstrate there are cost savings to be made by focusing more on fresh, tasty foods and staff training." 

Anyone interested in The Lantern Project can contact Cherie Hugo via email at


Make fresh, seasonal, varied food an absolute priority. It may raise food costs slightly but

will reduce healthcare costs significantly.

Focus on food wastage, not cuts to quality foods, to tighten budgets. If residents are

leaving meals, identify why and respond swiftly to save dumping foods and having to

introduce expensive supplements to compensate for poor food intake.

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