A team of researchers at Edith Cowan University in Australia is exploring an innovative way to boost nutrition for vulnerable populations – using 3D printing technology to create nutrient-packed “meals” out of pureed fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients. Their goal is to find new solutions for groups like elderly nursing home residents, schoolchildren, and military personnel who often struggle to get adequate nutrition from traditional meals.
The 3D printed concoctions might not look very appetizing, but looks can be deceiving. Although they resemble small puree blobs, these foods are meticulously designed to deliver maximum flavor and nutrients in just a few bites. For example, one spinach frittata recipe packs in eggs, ricotta, feta, onions, and garlic into a tiny customized package.
Catherine Stoddart, CEO of aged care agency Brightwater, calls it “cutting edge technology” that allows them to blend foods with extra proteins, vitamins, and minerals that recipients normally miss out on. This boost is especially helpful for elderly residents suffering from chewing and swallowing difficulties that lead to malnutrition. By modifying the texture while punching up the nutrition, the 3D printed meals aim to stimulate appetites.
The applications extend far beyond aged care facilities too. Lead researcher Dr. Liezhou Zhong envisions feeding school kids and troops with these high-energy foods within the next year and a half. He says they’ve “created beautiful presentation, more nutritious food and a more enjoyable dining experience.” Zhong also notes they can provide lightweight but nutrient-dense options for situations where portability is important, like the military.
On top of nutritional benefits, this technology reduces food waste by repurposing ugly or imperfect produce that would normally get thrown out. The university partners with agricultural companies to collect these discarded yet totally edible fruits and vegetables.
The 3D food revolution is still in its early stages, but holds tremendous potential. With such creativity and innovation, it’s only a matter of time before these nutrient-packed puree prints start popping up in cafeterias, mess halls, hospitals and nursing homes – bringing both taste and enhanced nutrition to those who need it most.