Hosting elderly family members can present a unique set of challenges, not just because they are the holders of many family memories, traditions, and stories, but they may also have health conditions that are important to consider when menu-planning. Even if they don’t want to talk about it and refuse to ask for special treatment.
Below, Glendalyn Fodra, a devoted mother and wife with a strong commitment to her Filipino community, shares seven tips to help you plan a holiday dinner that won’t compromise anyone’s health.
• Seating. The grown-up table has more purpose than just getting the kids out of the way. Family elders may have mobility restrictions that make navigating a buffet or balancing a plate on their lap difficult. Some may also have trouble getting into or out of low or deep seats. Keep this in mind when planning your seating chart. They may do best with a seat at the table and even then may need additional help if the food is served elsewhere.
• Textures. Many older people wear dentures or have other dental work that limits what they can bite, chew, and eat. When planning your meal, consider serving melt-in-your-mouth and softer foods as alternatives for each course. For instance, creamy cheeses or pates make tasty appetizers, soups, and slaws can replace salads or side dishes and puddings or poached/baked fruits are delicious dessert options.
• Weight. Ok, this isn’t just a problem for older folks; however, it can become more severe for them because it may be accompanied with other health problems from heart disease to diabetes to arthritis to undernutrition to high/low blood pressure. Low-calorie options may not be enough. Bake foods rather than frying or sautéing and go easy on the salt and sauces. Also pay attention to portion sizes, number of helpings, and snacking.
• Diabetes. Many family favorite foods may be hiding a surprising amount of sugar, making it tough for diabetics of any age to enjoy holiday meals. Consider using sugar substitutes or adding herbs and spices to enhance flavors while cooking. Serve water instead of alcohol or other sugary drinks with dinner. Consider serving fresh fruit or sugar-free alternatives for dessert.
• Lactose Intolerance. Sugary drinks and desserts aren’t the only beverages or sweets some elderly folks need to avoid. Some may also suffer from lactose intolerance, which is why you’re better off serving glasses of water than glasses of milk as an alternative to alcohol or soda. When it comes to dessert offerings sorbet is a good option. And don’t forget to have non-dairy creamer and whipped toppings on hand as well.
• Heart Disease. Many older people suffer from cardiovascular diseases ranging from congestive heart failure to clogged arteries to heart attacks and strokes. Try cooking without salt and allowing diners to apply their own. Lean beef, poultry, or fish are better main course choices rather than ham. Cream soups and creamy sauces or dips should also disappear from the menu, if not for weight concerns or lactose intolerance.
• Medications. This last category might be the most fraught. Some people don’t like anyone, even family to know what medications they are taking. This can be a real problem because many medicines should not be mixed with alcohol, and seniors may not admit they are taking them. Some medications also need to be taken with food, on an empty stomach or at specific times that may require changes to the dining schedule. You can, and should, ask, or consult the warning labels on the bottles to minimize any adverse reactions.
Holiday gatherings bring a family together. They are supposed to be a joyous time of celebration. By following these tips and taking a few precautions, they will be exactly that for a long time to come.
About Glendalyn Fodra:
Glendalyn Fodra is a devoted physical therapist with 25 years of experience in various settings. She is also BLS certified and has mentored PT students. In her professional life, she’s devoted to teamwork and achieving excellence through patient care. Mrs. Fodra focuses heavily on skilled nursing and geriatrics, an interest fueled by her desire to improve the quality of life of her patients.
Glendalyn Fodra selflessly devotes all her time and efforts to caring for her patients, family, and friends. Her main goal is to help everyone around feel better and to provide a superior level of care and support. She is a devoted wife who enjoys taking care of the household and her children. She also volunteers with her youngest son’s swim meets and swim league during the summer.