One of the great joys in life is a well-cooked meal. So why is it that we assume cooking for older adults needs to be bland?
Salt and fat are nearly always cited as the culprits, and, to be honest, they do cause problems, but having to reduce their amount does not mean your food should be lacking in flavor. Something as simple as buying a better cut of meat can reduce fat and increase flavor simultaneously, for instance.
Additionally, one aspect of cooking for seniors (or with seniors, if they are still able and so inclined) that’s often missed is the sense of continuity it can provide. We are all familiar with “comfort food,” and the resonance we often have with food from “home.” This is increasingly true for seniors, as a celebrated cooking personality Rachael Ray noted in the article on The Senior Corner:
Food also helps seniors reconnect with the past, Ray said. ‘What’s great about food is the nostalgia factor that ties all of us to where we’re from. So it’s a wonderful tool for seniors who are having trouble with memory or dementia or an illness that has removed them from the world. Food can allow them to travel in the amount of time it takes to go to the grocery store. If they’re from Russia or Germany or France or Ireland, give them food from those places and take them back to the things that make them feel good, whole, happy and excited about living.’
Be creative to liven up food while staying within a senior’s dietary guidelines, said Ray, who advocates moderation rather than denial.
HelpGuide.org has a great selection of resources for doing just that on its “Senior Nutrition” page. Here is an example:
Avoid ‘bad’ carbs. Bad carbohydrates — also known as simple or unhealthy carbs — are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. Bad carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and short-lived energy. For long-lasting energy and stable insulin levels, choose ‘good’ or complex carbs such as whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
So, that covers what to cook, but there’s one more angle to consider. Many seniors, depending on their circumstances, continue to enjoy cooking. This is an opportunity to “make a date” with the older adult in your life and spend some time in the kitchen together as a family. Make it a social event: after all, making cookies with grandma is not just for the pre-teen set.
Of course, cooking can be harder to do as one ages. Factors like declining balance or hand strength can rapidly impair one’s ability to prepare food. This is why we are lucky to live in an age where technology allows for innovations like one-touch can openers, foot stools with support handles, and electric vegetable peelers to exist. For those who love kitchen devices like these, it can mean the difference between cooking for yourself and not being able to.
Source: “Spice it Up for the Elderly,” The Senior Corner
Source: “Senior Nutrition: The Joy of Eating Well and Aging Well,” HelpGuide.org
Image by toyfoto (Siobhan), used under its Creative Commons license.