With most of the country in a deep freeze many of us are looking for ways to stay warm and cozy. I head to the kitchen to cook a big pot of steaming vegetable soup. Using the recipe my grandmother taught me nearly 30 years ago, the soup is always hearty and delicious but the memories it invokes are just as warm.
Take a moment to think of your go-to comfort food. It can be a whole meal or just a simple dish. Can you remember the last time you enjoyed it? Was it at a special event or with family and friends? Can you remember the aroma and flavor or how it was presented?
Favorite foods can provide comfort and healing, bring back memories and be emotionally significant for your clients, too. Mealtime is a perfect opportunity for caregivers to connect with those in their care. Taking time to learn about food traditions and cooking and serving their favorite meals builds rapport and creates a very personalized level of service. Caregivers can also get creative with meals for added nutrition or for those on special diets.
Favorite foods can provide comfort and healing, bring back memories and be emotionally significant for elders in your care.
Comfort Food Favorites
Include the elder in planning meals or preparing favorite recipes to make each meal truly personalized. Cooking together is an enjoyable and practical activity that can strengthen the care partner bond.
Below is a list of comfort food favorites that every caregiver should know how to prepare. For those less skilled in the kitchen Basic Cooking Skills training would benefit clients - as well as the caregivers themselves.
Breakfast foods-French toast, pancakes and eggs cooked in a variety of ways.
Hot cereals like oatmeal, grits or cream of wheat. Boost the nutrition by cooking with milk
instead of water and add fruit or nuts for variety and flavor.
Soup, whether it’s hearty beef and vegetable stew or creamy and comforting chicken and rice. Soup is an economical way to use up leftovers and less-than-fresh vegetables.
Grilled cheese or other simple sandwiches. Cut into bite-sized pieces to encourage independent eating.
Macaroni and cheese, pasta and rice dishes. Add extra sauce, vegetables or protein to boost calories and help maintain weight.
Mashed potatoes and gravy or roasted potatoes.
Tender and flavorful meats like roast beef, meatloaf and chicken.
Simple desserts like gelatin, pudding or quick breads and cakes.
Consider Culture and Traditions
Food is a part of one’s culture as much as their birthplace. Many clients enjoy sharing stories about their younger years with their caregivers. These conversations are a perfect opportunity for caregivers to learn more about the client’s food culture and history, too. Some clients would even enjoy the opportunity to teach their caregiver how to prepare their favorite traditional foods “just like mom did”.
Create a Food Journal
Consider putting together a personalized food journal for each client. It can include food likes and dislikes and favorite recipes. Note special dietary concerns like food allergies and if they require a special diet for chronic disease management. Include traditional family recipes to make it unique to each client and their family. The food journal is a great resource for any caregiver who works with that client. Caregivers Kitchen has created a free resource - Mealtime Preferences Profile – to start the conversation.
The taste, smell, texture and presentation of a food can be very reminiscent, bringing back memories of the places and events when the food was served. Food can prompt deep memories, feelings and emotions, reminding elders of happy times in their life. Consider special meals as souvenirs from an elder’s past and help them to honor those memories.
In Case of Chronic Disease
Nearly all elders suffer from one type of chronic disease or another. Those with diabetes, heart or kidney disease and high blood pressure may be asked to change their diets and limit some nutrients like sugar, sodium or fluids. While it’s important to help an elder stay on track with a special diet, caregivers can still serve many preferred foods with just minor modifications. Learn more in Cooking for Chronic Conditions from Caregivers Kitchen.
Mealtime is a perfect opportunity for caregivers to connect with their clients. Elders appreciate their effort to serve favorite foods. Caregivers can take pride in making mealtime an enjoyable experience for their client; strengthening the bond between client and caregiver. 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.