My mother is 82 years old, and I’ve been caring for her since my father died a couple years ago. She insists on living on her own and refuses to move in with my husband and me, so each week I drive across town to check up on her. My daily visits typically entail the basic stuff – helping her clean up the house, making sure that she’s happy and healthy, giving her her medications, and cooking for her. When I first took on the caregiving responsibility, I found the cooking part to be the most difficult. My mom wasn’t overly interested in eating and had a hard time eating and enjoying a lot of the meals that I was preparing. After trial and error and many conversations, we figured out what foods work for her and what won’t.
I know many others caring for an elderly family member experience the same problem at some point or another. As we get older, our taste buds change and we no longer eat the same way we used to. Not to mention that with a more sedentary lifestyle, a reduced appetite is natural. Yet, it’s important to ensure that our loved one is getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned along the way:
This is one of the most important adaptations I’ve had to make. Since my mother, as well as many seniors, wears dentures and has teeth that are no longer that strong, I prepare meals that are easy to chew. Additionally, as people age, they don’t produce as much saliva, so it’s important to prepare meals that are also moist, like soups and stews. Usually I’ll cook up a large pot of stew, put some in the fridge for the week, and tightly package the rest into small containers in the freezer for future leftovers.
Let Them Choose the Recipes
This probably seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve spoken with so many caregivers who have no idea why their senior doesn’t like any of their meals. Maybe if they had a choice they would! I like to pick up a cookbook that I know has mostly healthy, nutritious meals, and then I look it over with my mom and we decide what I’ll make the rest of the week and how we can adjust some of the recipes to meet her needs.
Occasionally Include Comfort Foods
“Occasionally” being the key word here! Like many seniors her age, my mother isn’t always very interested in eating. Every now and then, just to pique her appetite, I like to cook her some of her favorite foods – even if it might not be the healthiest choice for her. She loves porkchops and mashed potatoes with butter and bread, and ice cream for dessert, so those are special treats that I put into the meal rotation.
Enlist Some Help
This has been especially important for my mother and me. When you spend most of your time cooking food, cleaning up around the house, and doing the laundry, you’re not left with much time to talk and catch up with your loved one. A year ago we made the decision to hire some additional help from a local Boynton Beach home care service. The caregiver comes by several times a week to help my mother, so I have more time to spend with her.
Caregiving can be a difficult responsibility, but it’s important to remember why you do it – out of love. When I cook healthy meals that my mother enjoys, I know that she’s not only benefitting from good nutrition, but also from my presence and care.