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Have a caring Christmas

Have a caring Christmas

Creating festive magic in care settings

Christmas catering is markedly different in care settings (as opposed to the hospitality sector) due largely to the fact that care home residents receive all their meals in the same location throughout the entire festive period.

This involves considered menu planning to ensure there is plenty of variety on offer, whilst still being mindful of a wide range of complex dietary requirements and medical conditions. Here, Preston Walker and James Ball, of Oak House Kitchen, a catering consultancy and training facility specifically for the healthcare sector, based in Rutland, share their tips and advice for a stress-free yuletide…

Plan ahead

Christmas is the busiest time of the year so planning ahead is the key to success. The first thing to decide is ‘How much of December do you want to be festive?’ Make sure you offer plenty of variety in terms of your centrepiece dishes, beef, salmon, gammon, pork – and don’t forget your vegan and vegetarian residents, and those following special diets. Think how you are going to use up any leftovers the following day. Get your food orders in early: Everyone is going for the same products at the same time so you don’t want to get caught out if stocks are low.

Classic cuisine

There are several classics which must make an appearance at some point during the festive season to avoid disappointing your residents. Host taster sessions with residents in November to get advance approval on your menus. You could also host a seasonal weekly cookathon in November and urge residents to participate with various tasks. 

Be prepared

Consider staffing issues as you may be operating on different work schedules to allow staff members to spend some quality time at Christmas with their own families. This can be achieved by preparing in advance. Get all of your party food prepped and frozen so that it literally just needs heating up. You’ll get through a lot of mince pies in December so spend an afternoon in November making and freezing them in batches.

The big day

It’s important to deliver Christmas Day well and have time to be involved with your residents on the day. It can be difficult to achieve when you are on a budget but we do it by getting rid of expensive branded items such as branded butter and spending the money saved on more expensive ingredients where guests will definitely taste the difference in quality.

For example, instead of using a powdered chocolate mousse mix, make a homemade chocolate mousse with good quality chocolate, or buy better quality sausage meat for your sausage rolls. Ask your butcher to split the turkeys into ‘crowns’ (breasts on the bone) and boned and rolled leg and thigh meat. The cuts have different cooking times and doing this will allow you to create a wonderful gravy and, if you wish, you can stuff the leg/ thigh meat as these benefit from a longer cooking time. Speak with your butcher about the size of bird you need for the number of people you are catering for as they are best placed to know what will be delivered.

Boxing clever

We like to serve something a little less rich on Boxing Day, however this doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. Poached salmon or glazed ham served buffet-style with boiled potatoes, slaw and salads is a good choice. Party time Pidy pastry cases are a great place to start for handheld buffet items. They save time having to make your own from scratch, leaving you time to make up a variety of mousses and fillings. Be savvy and batch cook in advance. For example, if you’re having steak and ale casserole in November, make one and a half batches and freeze half for your pie filling. Adding ingredients, such as stilton or cranberry, will make your fillings more Christmassy.

For example:

Beef and stilton – Save a delicious beef casserole or pie filling. Spoon into pastry cases and top with a piece of stilton. Bake until cooked through, the cheese will create a wonderful topping!

Fish pie – Save a fish pie mix and spoon into pastry cases. Top with buttery dill mash potato, piped with a fluted nozzle. 

Ham hock and cranberry – We serve ham hock with a mornay (cheese sauce). Save these components and spoon over a dollop of cranberry sauce into the pastry cases. Cook through and the sauce will bubble and brown nicely.

Coronation chicken – Save a chicken Madras and mix with mayonnaise and some mango chutney. Spoon into pastry cases and serve cold as a coronation chicken canape.

‘Pigs in blankets’  – Wrap small sausages in bacon and cook through until golden brown in a hot oven. Mix one part cranberry sauce to two parts mayonnaise to make a delicious dip to go with them.

Just desserts

Add a bit of booze into desserts to elevate them and give them a little festive kick. Port and wine-based desserts such as trifle go down well.

Traditional Christmas pudding is a must but offer a chocolate version for those who aren’t keen on the fruit based option. Profiteroles are a great option (and can be made and frozen in advance). Make them in different colours for added appeal. For a super decadent dessert, try a chocolate marquise.

Pre-made, individual desserts have a premium feel and you can make them ‘sing’ by adding a few classy finishing touches, such as chocolate bastons, stars and shapes from the Hillbo range

Ring in the New Year

For the big celebration that is New Year’s Day we like to serve roast beef with all the trimmings. Make it distinctly different from any other festive meal. Here we have a great method for beef shin in port and red wine gravy and a ‘cauliflower and cheese’ that goes so well with your usual roast dinner accompaniments.

Top tips

The sense of taste often deteriorates in older people so give your creations a power boost by adding Sosa flavourings.  Texturisers are a fantastic aid when freezing down your creations. Use Sosa Gelcrem Hot in your profiterole fillings.  Click here for the full Sosa range.

Recipe ideas

Roast Beef


3kg beef shin, boned but kept whole

½ bottle red wine

½ bottle port

1 thyme sprig

salt and pepper



In a large baking tray cover the shin with oil and season with the salt and pepper.

Place the beef into an oven at 220°C for 25-20 minutes until golden brown

Remove from the heat, add the remaining ingredients and cover tightly with foil

Reduce the temperature to 170°C and cook for a further 2-3 hours until the meat is completely tender.

Check every hour and ensure the liquid content is topped up with water.

Once cooked through and tender, remove from the oven, strain the liquid and for ease, thicken with a suitable gravy.

Cauliflower and cheese


2kg cauliflower cut into florets

100g butter

100g plain flour

1.5 litre milk

1kg grated strong cheddar

2 tbsp dijon mustards


In a large saucepan make a roux with the butter and flour and cook through for 2-4 minutes.

Add the milk, a little at a time until a thickened sauce consistency is achieved.

Add 800g of the cheese and stir until melted, taste and season if needed.

Add the cauliflower florets and stir, over a low heat for 5 minutes.

Pour into a baking dish and cover with the remaining cheese.

Bake in an oven at 180°C for 50-40 minutes until golden brown and the cauliflower is tender.

To serve

Serve the beef, gravy and ‘mac and cheese’ with your favourite accompaniments, such as roast carrots, buttered greens and yorkshire puddings.

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