Clinical Nutrition
— And food design

When doing a workshop for the students in clinical nutrition at the VIA University College in Århus, we posed the question: "How can design and the social act of a meal affect the lack of appetite?"

As a leading country in sustainable development and organic farming, Denmark provides fertile ground for its young generation to foster a green way of life.  We were therefore very excited when Charlotte Peersen, lecturer/Msc in clinical nutrition, coordinator of the program Clinical Dietetics at Via University College in Århus in Denmark offered us the opportunity to organize a day seminar for the students of clinical dietetics at the education of Nutrition and Health.  That’s how six members of Food Studio; Cecilie Dawes, Jan Svartsund, Runa Klock, Eva De Moor, Nina Sahraoui and Alex Asensi embarked, in the end of March, on a very special trip to Århus.

We wondered about the right way to take the Food Studio experience out into an academic environment and how our tools could be relevant to the subject; how can design and the social act of a meal affect and reduce the lack of appetite?

Upon our arrival the students had been given assignments and done research on a chosen patient group; old people living in institutions.  involved in the process before we went down and  They were divided in teams working on scenography, connecting to locating local and eco-conscious farmers and producers, and working on the menu in terms of the challenges they had experience in their field work with care for elderly people.

To create a unique experience we always base our experiences on the knowledge of people that are passionate about food and sustainability. Therefore we visited Gitte and Casper at Bøgedal Brewery where we got lots of inspiration from their philosophy and way of living. By advise from Gitte we made a stop at Endrik Maat’s biodynamical farmRødmose (nursery) to load a few kilos of freshly picked vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, purple kale, nettles, winter apples and onions. Lugging the heavy bags around in the train was pretty challenging, but we know that quality food always worth the sacrifice!


We wanted to put into practice the idea of consuming local and seasonal produce, because knowing how to source fresh and flavourful products definitely provides a better experience for both the cooks and the guests. The students were challenged to forage for ramsløk in the forest and to ask a local bakery for yesterday’s bread. On the first day, we all met for a quick introduction and we discussed how to include the organic vegetables from the farm in order to finalize a relevant and seasonal menu for their dinner having «a lack of appetite» as the overall theme.

We started the second day by giving the students inspirational talks about our activities and our idea of sustainability, followed by a open discussion on their challenges related to the subject and then guiding them through all the steps of a full dinner production.

The day was a learning process on both parts; we learned a lot from the students on what can be done to help patients with lack of appetite in terms of working with texture and the nutritional level of a meal. We tried to inspire with our way of working with the farmers and the producers sharing the story about the food and ingredients to the guests, using the nature as a backdrop and guiding the guests through a full food experience. The menu was based on the students work in the field. One of the groups had made a full recipe guide for the deists working with elderly in the commune. They had made a soup based on Jerusalem artichoke and potatoes.

Food texture is an important aspect to increase appetite. Thick liquids such as soup, purees, porridge and also soft food like omelet and pudding as well as sparkling drinks makes it easier to eat and drink. Food that is easy to cut on the plate, food that is “held together” on a fork or a spoon also increases the food intake. Visual appearance is also an important factor; there is a balance between the right texture and baby food appearance. Because the vision is reduced with age, colourful food can be used to increase appetite.

Elderly people’s taste buds are less sensitive, so they need more salt, sweet, fat etc. to be able to taste the flavours. To avoid too much salt, sugar and fat, one can use natural flavour enhancers with a lot of natural umami like e.g. cheese, tomato and meat to enrich the flavours.

Systems and budgets can seem like a difficult obstacle when creating a more tasteful, exciting and beautiful food experience, but if we look around and use the local environment, both to find ingredients and decoration, there are many ways to conquer this problem. Small adjustments to how food is served can play a major role in appetite and appearance. The guests, the students and we were all inspired and impressed by the result and experience, and we believe this workshop will lead to many Food Studio inspired experiences in institutions in the time to come.

Studies have shown that environmental factors like atmosphere, eating with others and the presentation of food by shape of plates, glasses and bowls can influence the nutritional intake. Simply improving the eating environment and atmosphere of the dining room, for example by decorating the table, soft music during the meal, using full cutlery, soft light and candles can improve nutritional intake in the elderly.

Studies have also showed that attitudes to eating depend strongly on whether you have a partner to share the meals with or not. Eating together with someone is very important. Eating alone reduces the meal to a necessity rather than a pleasure.

Photos by Alex Asensi and Eva De Moor

Text by Cecilie Dawes, Runa Clock, Britt Signe Granli, Nina Sahraoui and Charlotte Peersen.