On the Menu - the Winchester business helping keep elderly people healthy

Hampshire Chronicle: Elizabeth Jones, left, with customer June Brunton, with two of her meals for the elderly Elizabeth Jones, left, with customer June Brunton, with two of her meals for the elderly

AUDREY Martin was a ‘fiercely independent’ 88-year-old with two loving daughters who visited her regularly.

But her daughters began to notice that she was losing weight and her health had started to deteriorate.

“My mother lived in Lymington and I worked in London while my sister was on the other side of Hampshire,” says Elizabeth Jones.

“We visited at weekends and noticed the fridge was getting barer as she was finding shopping and cooking more difficult.

“We started scouring shops for appropriate prepared chilled food that we thought she would like but would come back the next week and find it had gone out of date uneaten or it was in the bin, half eaten.

“We turned to home delivery and tried a number of services but she didn’t necessarily like what came or it arrived at a time of day when she wasn’t hungry and there was a lot of waste.

“Like a lot of older people she resorted to tins of soup and biscuits.”

Eventually Audrey had to go to live in a nursing home, where her nutrition improved, but following a fall and an operation she died shortly before Christmas in 2009.

It was a watershed moment for Elizabeth.

She decided to hand in her notice and her high-flying job in London where she worked at a baby and children’s food business and set about creating her own company to fill the gap in the market and provide elderly people with the kind of nutritious food they want and need.

“When my mother passed away it stopped me in my tracks,” says Elizabeth.

“I felt I could make a difference for older people in a similar situation to my mother – who wanted to stay in their own homes and for whom the food that was on the market wasn’t quite right.”

Elizabeth spent nine months conducting detailed research into the food needs of older people, speaking to the elderly themselves at lunch clubs, as well as social services and adult services.

The result of this was her business, On the Menu, based in Winchester.

The company provides handmade frozen ready-meals, which have been especially created to cater for older people’s nutritional needs,taste and appetite. Elizabeth explains that factors such as older people’s need for high protein meals, smaller appetites and issues such as intolerance of strong spices, difficulty in cutting up food and the need for easy to read packaging have also been taken into consideration to create the sort of meals she would have liked to have been able to give to her mother.

The dishes are attractively presented and are created with the help of a nutritionist to ensure that they have a high vitamin content, while research from focus groups has led to a range of fairly traditional meals, such as beef ale casserole, pot roast chicken and liver in onion gravy.

The idea has proved a success.

There are now six permanent members of staff at the company as well as a host of experts, who are brought as consultants.

The meals are on sale in around 200 stores across the country, including Co-op stores and a home delivery service is beginning to be rolled out.

But what Elizabeth finds most gratifying are the letters she receives from happy customers.

“I really want to make a difference to older people and help them to stay in their own homes for longer but also to help their children, who are faced with the same challenges that we were as a family, so there’s a real sense of a mission to make a difference.

“My mother really was the catalyst for the business,” she adds.

“She would have been thrilled to know that. The acid test for me when we’re developing a new meal is ‘would I have given this to my mother?’”

  •  For more information about On the Menu go to onthemenufood.com or call 01962 832566.

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