Background Nutritional problems concerning older people in care can be affected both by their illness and by the standard procedures surrounding food provision, for example rigid routines of food supply and ritualized mealtime situations.
Method The aim was to study how organizational structure and staff members' routines and actions influence activities related to food and meals in different caring context in Sweden. The qualitative methodology chosen for this study was participant observation.
Result Care recipients were given different opportunities concerning what, how, when and with whom to eat, depending on where their meals were served. In restaurants, older people could choose from several foods and they could also choose the time of and company for the meal. At care units with 'part-of-day' care or 'around-the-clock' care, food choices, time and company were limited, especially at the units with 'around-the-clock' care, where the most ailing older people lived.
Conclusions Food provision and the mealtime situation for the elderly are shaped by the individual's living arrangements, and the social organization surrounding it, not determined by the individual's needs and wishes, including social and cultural meanings of food and meals, which could, thereby, affect nutritional intake.
2005. Vol. 18, no 1, 45-52 p.