Learn more about planning healthy meals for older audits and tips on kitchen organizing and safety.
NOTE: The information in this article is provided to raise awareness. Always check with health care providers when planning for and serving meals.
Index of topics:
Tailor the Guidelines to the specific Care Receiver
Choosing appropriate Dietary Guidelines:
Physician’s/Dietitian’s guidelines, prescribed specifically for the care receiver
Ask if your elder care receiver should be on a special diet or avoid certain foods.
Guidelines from organizations for specific chronic diseases of the care receiver:
- Alzheimer’s Association
- United States Department of Agriculture Nutrition Guidelines for Americans –
www.usda.gov/cnpp or call toll free (888) 878-3256
Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans http://www.health.gov/dietaryguides
Note Any Food Allergies, Food/drug Interactions & All Other “Do Not Serve” Foods
- Common allergy-producing foods include eggs, milk products, peanuts, wheat products.
- Some foods reduce effectiveness of certain drugs.
- Care receiver may complain that certain foods cause gastric discomfort.
Determine Care Receiver’s Food Preferences
- Avoid serving foods the person dislikes.
- Substitute others to provided needed nutrients.
Adjust recipes for favorite foods to satisfy dietary guidelines.
From Appropriate Dietary Guidelines & Care Receiver Preferences:
- As you plan, remember that good nutrition can come from simple foods, simply prepared.
- Attach recipes (if any) for that day to the form.
- You may want to make copies of frequently used recipes; attaching a copy is easier than moving the recipe from form to form.
- Plan for one to two weeks.
- Look on the time required to do this planning as an investment in future time-saving & stress reduction.
- Prepare grocery list from meal plan form & recipes.
- Become familiar with the specific grocery store you use (& food safety practices).
- Prepare grocery shopping list in the order of the aisles as you will shop them.
- Use curbside or home delivery, when possible.
- File meal plans for use & rotating re-use (plan once, use over & over).
- File plans in loose-leaf notebook.
- Use a sheet protector to display the plan-of-the-day & to hold any recipes for the day.
- Mount meal plans on refrigerator door with magnets.
- Care receiver may prefer (or may be prescribed) to have several smaller meals, rather than the traditional “three squares.”
- Breakfast, lunch & dinner, plus mid-morning, mid-afternoon, bedtime snacks.
- Smaller, more frequent meals help keep blood sugar levels more constant.
- Mealtimes & snack times can become daily “events” to be anticipated with pleasure.
Whatever Dietary Guidelines are used to plan and serve the care receiver, adjustments are often required for optimum nutrition.
Reducing sodium (salt):
- Remove salt shaker from dining area.
- Use salt substitutes, lemon juice, herbs (as permitted).
- There are at least 18 different names for sugar that may appear on labeling: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup, table sugar. If any of these ingredients appear first or second on label – or if there are several in the list – the sugar content is deemed “high.”
- Non-sugar sweeteners (if prescribed or allowed).
Calories & Other:
Use both product labels and a reliable calorie counter to record calories on meal plans.
- Be aware of serving sizes.
- Be aware that some care receivers may need more calories, not fewer.
- Other Ingredients as prescribed.
Assess the kitchen for physical hazards Tripping/falling hazards:
- Slippery or cracked flooring
- Loose tiles
- Throw rugs
- Extension cords
- Electrical/fire hazards:
- Frayed electrical cords
- Overloaded plugs
- Natural gas leaks
After assessing, arrange for needed corrections and repairs.
- Should be charged and operational.
- Stress: “If there is smoke or fire – GET OUT!” (Plan and practice exit strategies).
Smoke Alarm/Carbon Monoxide Alarm:
- Batteries working (change them at least when changing clocks to/from Daylight Savings Time) Again stress “GET OUT!”
Hazardous Materials in the Kitchen: The kitchen does contain hazardous materials! To help keep the kitchen a safe place, ask, “What is the worst that could happen if this product were used inappropriately?” Then develop strategies to avoid this possible outcome.
- Read labels on all non-food products –especially cleaning products.
- Store all hazardous products in a separate cabinet away from foods Provide a lock for this cabinet if necessary for safety.
- Post Poison Control Telephone Number: 1-800-222-1222
Every care receiver is unique, with individual strengths and weaknesses. Caregivers need to assess the functional abilities of care receivers to identify the best possible care consult professionals, as needed.
Assess physical abilities and limitations:
- How much can s/he safely lift?
- How far can s/he comfortably reach?
- How much bending can s/he tolerate?
- Cognitive/memory abilities.
- Can s/he understand, remember and follow safety precautions?
Care receiver independence is a prime goal for caregivers
Since care receiver and caregiver may share the kitchen space, duties, equipment and food, reduce conflicts by
making all changes tactfully and with the care receiver’s participation.
- Make adaptations for mobility equipment such as wheelchairs & walkers.
- Use this collaboration as an opportunity to “chunk the junk.” De-clutter cabinets, shelves, drawers, pantries.
Since this may be a major job, take it one shelf or drawer at a time encourage care receiver to give away unneeded items to family or friends, give to a charity, or to have a garage sale.
Arranging the Kitchen
- Place items within easy reach of the care receiver.
- The caregiver adapts to the kitchen as laid out for the care receiver.
- When the care receiver no longer comes into the kitchen as a participant, it can then be arranged for the convenience of the caregiver.
- Arrange equipment & food packages by type.
- “Face” all food packages with labels forward for easy identification.
- Label cabinets, shelves, and drawers, using address labels and bold markers
”A place for everything and everything in its place” equals a stress reducer for the caregiver(s), especially if there are two or more caregivers.
After meals are planned, grocery shopping is the next step in providing good nutritional care.
- Choose fresh fruits & vegetables as often as possible.
- Less-than-perfect-appearance does not necessarily mean less nutrition – and those items may often be purchased for lower cost.
- Supplement fresh produce with canned and/or frozen.
Read Food Labels:
- Size of serving (NOTE: serving size noted on labels may differ from serving size noted in Dietary Guidelines; use Dietary Guidelines information).
- Nutrients contained (for a quick comparison, use the % of RDA information).
- Sell-by date (to avoid buying outdated or almost outdated foods).
- Avoid buying “empty calories” (“junk food”).
- Even if the care receiver needs extra calories, those provided should contribute to good nutrition.
- Special treats may add to quality of life, so when care is taken to satisfy Dietary Guidelines, they may become a part of the plan.
Grocery Shopping For Economy – Most households have food budgets
- Careful planning & shopping can help stretch the food dollars available.
- Shop from the list.
- Use the food dollars for the foods actually needed.
- Avoid shopping when hungry; hungry shoppers are prey to impulse buying.
- Avoid “Total” shock at the check-out stand, use a calculator to track total cost of items in the basket while shopping.
- Shop during less crowded times for a more pleasant experience.
- Shop for one or two weeks’ worth of groceries in a single trip Fewer trips to the store = fewer opportunities to over-buy.
- Use Coupons Wisely.
- Only use for nutritious foods on your meal plan.
- Be alert for combinations of store specials + coupons for extra savings.
- Choose to cook more “from scratch” foods.
- Initial time spent may be longer, but savings can be great.
- Use shelf labels to compare price-per-unit for best buys.
- Quality of lower priced items is often comparable to higher priced ones.
Grocery Shopping For Safety
Being aware of safety concerns while grocery shopping, especially when care receivers are shopping with them, can help caregivers provide better care.
Physical Safety; help care receivers avoid:
- Wet floors, mops and buckets.
- Produce and other merchandise on floor.
- Wrinkled floor mats.
- Unstable displays and stacked merchandise.
- On-floor advertising decals (which may be perceived as 3-dimensional and cause falls).
- Carts with protruding merchandise.
- Thoughtless shoppers & running children.
NEVER, EVER, LEAVE CARE RECEIVER ALONE IN THE CAR WHILE YOU SHOP!
- Shop in an order that will keep food at safe temperatures.
- Packaged and canned goods.
- Frozen foods
- Dairy and eggs
- Meats, poultry, fish
- To avoid long waits at check-out, avoid shopping when store is crowded.
- Use curbside pick-up or delivery, is possible.
- Take food directly home after shopping and put it away immediately to keep it safe to eat.
Many care receivers have weakened immune systems & are vulnerable to food-borne illnesses
Prevention of food-borne illnesses. Avoid infections by following safe food handling practices:
- Put away all refrigerated and frozen foods as soon as possible: meats, poultry, fish, dairy products.
- Use a thermometer to check temperature inside refrigerator.
- Temperatures from 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F are in the DANGER ZONE for bacterial growth.
- Refrigerate all leftovers promptly, a two-hour limit is often suggested, but shorter times are safer times.
Effective Infection Control – Hand Washing
- Wash hands frequently in warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds each time. -Singing “Happy Birthday” (silently if you wish!) is suggested as a good “timer” for hand washing.
- Frequently disinfect countertops, cutting boards and all other surfaces that come into contact with food.
- Wash surfaces and allow to air dry.
- Use a solution of 1 ounce of bleach to 1 gallon of water, Hypochlorite Solution. -US Department of Health & Human Service, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines
Avoid cross-contaminating other foods when preparing meats, poultry, fish and eggs.
Example: Do not use cutting board for chopping vegetables after it has been used for cutting meat –disinfect thoroughly first
“To spread the word about the importance of measuring food temperature, the USDA has created a campaign centered around “Thermy” Safe Food Handling
- Damp towels, sponges and dish cloths are breeding grounds for bacteria.
- Use paper towels or freshly disinfected-and-dried towels each time.
- Cook eggs, meats and other dishes to safe temperatures.
- Use meat thermometer and chart showing safe temperatures for “doneness” of various foods.
- Observe freshness dates on food packaging.
REMEMBER: “WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!”
Sickness can be caused by food that still looks, smells and tastes “OK” – and even a tiny taste can cause illness
Once a food has become contaminated with bacteria, it may not be possible to make it safe to eat – by any means.
After all the preliminary work is done (planning meals from appropriate Dietary Guidelines, shopping for groceries, being certain that the kitchen is safe) it’s finally time to prepare meals for the care receiver – in ways that are easy on the caregiver
Remember: good nutrition can come from simple food, simply prepared
- Plan ahead
- Use very simple recipes
- Cook once, serve several times
|Example 1 – BAKED CHICKEN – served as: Entrée|
Sliced in sandwiches
Chopped and served as chicken salad
Leftovers and bones simmered with vegetables & rice to make soup
|Example 2 – COOK IN QUANTITY – freeze in portions to serve over time: Beans (or beans and rice)|
Pasta and sauce
- Assemble meals and snacks for the entire day; put on trays & refrigerate (as needed).
- Use store-heat-and-serve containers.
- “Assemble” meals from what is available.
- It is not necessary to “cook” every meal!
- Be adventurous and creative in combinations of foods.
- Use prepared foods sometimes from a Deli or Restaurant.
- When cooking for the rest of the family, prepare and set aside an extra serving for the care receiver.
- Delegate tasks to: The care receiver (tailor the tasks to his/her capacities and interests) Family Friends
Making Meal Preparation Easier for the Caregiver:
- Play your favorite music to make kitchen tasks more fun.
- If care receiver is present, choose some favorite music of theirs, too.
- When friends ask what they can do – ask them to bring a meal now and then!
- Consider using Meals on Wheels for temporary caregiver respite.
Mealtimes are not just about food, they provide the opportunity for socialization, & mark the times of the day, they can be a meaningful, enjoyable activity to be anticipated with pleasure for the care receiver.
As needs change, mealtimes can become uncomfortable, frustrating and unpleasant. Caregivers can help avoid this by making thoughtful and appropriate changes.
Serve “favorites” often by adapting recipes to Dietary Guidelines. There may be a detectable difference, but often the care receiver will still enjoy the food.
- Provide choices to provide the care receiver with a sense of control.
- Adjust food consistency, texture and morsel size to the care receiver’s ability.
Chewing & Swallowing:
Serving some pureed foods may help care receiver become accustomed to them in case they are limited to that form of food later.
- Assemble meals that appeal to several senses.
- Aroma and contrasting colors, even foods of different temperatures, make dining more pleasant.
Avoid servings that seem too large to the care receiver, being presented with large servings can be discouraging to care receivers. For many care receivers, having smaller, more frequent meals can provide needed nutrients more pleasantly for them.
- Use solid-color plates and bowls that provide visual contrast with the food.
- Patterned china can be frustrating for those with low vision: is it food – or part of the decoration?
- Use easily grasped or adaptive utensils, cups and glasses suited to needs.
- The size and shape of the handles of flatware may be hard to hold; adjust to needs.
- Some cups may be too heavy or have handles too small for comfort; adjust to needs.
- Glasses with “waists”, or stemware, may be easier to hold and lift without spilling contents.
Assess all the place setting items frequently; adapt as needed.
- Adjust chair height, table height, chair-to-table relationship as needed.
- Having the tabletop at elbow height is usually comfortable.
- Provide cushions, pillows, footstools as needed.
- Support of the back makes mealtime more comfortable and relaxing.
- Some shorter care receivers may need a footstool to avoid pain and reduced blood flow to the legs.
- Brighter light is often welcome.
- For most people, brighter is more cheerful; for those with reduced vision, it is essential.
- Include care receiver in family meals whenever possible.
- But also realize that if s/he feels uncomfortable because of changing needs at the table, s/he may prefer to dine alone, joining the family, perhaps for just a beverage.
- Adjust to his/her needs.
- Take care of spills with tact; have a towel nearby but out of sight.
- Provide “shirt savers” or “dress savers” at every meal if spills are frequent:
- Do not refer to these as “bibs” – even though the care receiver may.
- Provide them in styles and colors that blend with the care receiver’s clothes.
- Allow enough time for the care receiver to eat at his/her own individual pace.
- This may become increasingly slower, but exhibit (and try to be sincere!) patience.
If The Care Receiver Dines Alone
- Family photos on or near the dining table can provide a sense of comfort.
- If possible, see that the photos are large enough to be easily seen by the care receiver.
- A pleasant video or a favorite television show may provide some “company.”
- Providing a system easily used by the Care Receiver may be challenging.
- A window view with a bird- or squirrel-feeder right outside can provide mealtime entertainment.
Realize that as the end of life nears, systems of the body begin to shut down. Coaxing a care receiver who is in this stage to eat and drink only causes them greater discomfort.
Follow the physician’s guidelines, and when this time comes, find the strength to let go. Seek other meaningful ways to provide care and comfort for the care receiver and solace for yourself.
- 2-1-1 throughout Texas Provides health and human service information for people of all ages.
- 1-800-252-9240 to get connected with the Texas Area Agency on Aging for your community.
- 1-800-677-1116 Elder Care Locator to find help in another part of the state or another state.
- Online: www.benefitscheckup.org – Helps determine what benefit programs are available.
What Assistance is Available through the Area Agency on Aging (AAA)?
- Information and Referral.
- Benefits Counseling.
- Assistance with caregiver respite.