By Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP
As we head into the holiday season, it can be a time of celebrations and great memories. But for many of our clients, the holidays are a time of loneliness and even depression, especially if family isn’t nearby to celebrate.
No matter one’s culture or religious practices, special meals are almost always part of a holiday tradition. Here are some tips for using mealtime as an opportunity to create comfort and joy and help elders to get nutrition that is vital to their health and well-being.
Honor Culture and Traditions
The holidays present an opportunity for a caregiver to learn about an elder’s food culture and traditions. Asking about favorite holiday meals from past years will help to start the conversation. They can offer to prepare those favorite dishes or some clients would even enjoy the opportunity to teach their caregiver how to make their favorite traditional foods.
Elders enjoy sharing mealtime memories from their younger years. Caregivers can use these conversations to learn about food traditions and preferences.
Making Holiday Memories
Caregivers can go a step farther and plan a special holiday meal. This can be very comforting if the client’s family isn’t nearby. They can invite friends or neighbors to share in the meal. Planning is a very important part, as it helps to get the elder excited and gives them something to look forward too.
Work with the elder to choose a few favorite dishes but consider special dietary needs, like low sodium. We want the elder to fully enjoy the special meal, not to end up in the hospital for a heart failure event the next day.
Feed the Senses
Aging changes the way we taste food, so it’s very important to feed all the senses. Follow these tips for using the foods flavor, aroma and presentation to enhance mealtimes.
- The smell of food contributes greatly to its flavor, it will also stimulate the appetite. Garlic, onion or ginger add great aroma. Using cooking methods like roasting or braising with fill the kitchen with an enticing aroma.
- Food should be well-seasoned. Remind caregivers that there are many ways to flavor food without just using salt. Fresh and dried herbs and spices, vinegar, citrus, mustard, honey and other sauces all add different dimensions of flavor.
- The meal should be well presented on the plate. Add an edible garnish or use special dinnerware to set a festive mood.
- Set a pretty table. This can be done with a colorful table cloth or center piece.
- Finally, often having the caregiver sit with elder as they eat can add to the cheerful mood and encourage to elder to eat better.
Holiday meals are the perfect time for caregivers to connect with their clients. Elders appreciate their caregivers making an effort to serve their favorite foods and honor their culture and traditions. Caregivers can take pride in making mealtime a meaningful experience for their client; strengthening the special bond. Encourage caregivers to think of meal time as more than just feeding the body, but also as food for the soul.
Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP, is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She is passionate about empowering caregivers to make positive nutritional changes and mealtime meaningful for those in their care. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.