Guest Columns

Food for the aging soul

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Madison Hill
Madison Hill

Eating what my parents fed me when I was an infant was a labor of love. They patiently introduced me to sweet potatoes, peas, and peaches until I could eat meals based totally on solid food.  When I was in high school and college, inhaling a home-cooked meal that my mom or dad had worked on all day was an activity that I anticipated with ample amounts of salivation. Cooking for my own family brings a sense of adventure and triumph—I live for tackling a new recipe or incorporating a new ingredient.

Cooking for my mother, who has early-stage Alzheimer's, has not only totally turned the tables on our previous culinary relationship; it has, in fact, brought a steep learning curve that I am just now starting to get a grip on. Here are a couple of my favorite (and perhaps most relevant) discoveries I've made while becoming master chef to my mom.

Just Say “No!” to Salt

We should all say no to (most) salts. We need a relatively small amount of sodium on a daily basis—and most of us regularly consume far too much. If you're caring for a loved one that is on a sodium-restricted diet, then you are already painfully aware of the prevalence of salt in almost all processed foods. Fortunately, there are available alternatives!

  1. Many processed condiments (like ketchup and salad dressings) recognize the need for low sodium/sodium free products. I can almost always find a salt-free alternative when I'm shopping.  However, if you live in an area that lacks an abundance of choices, consider shopping online.  This website has over 100 delicious, sodium-free orderable options (Thai peanut sauce?! — sign me up!!).
  2. Substitution is my best friend. In lieu of using copious amounts of salt to “enhance” the flavor of my homemade soups or crispy baked chicken, I have discovered a plethora of spices, seasonings, and marinades that pack a bigger flavor punch (minus the sodium!). I've noticed that as my mom continues to age, her sense of taste changes. Introducing new flavors (like coconut curry soup with lemon ginger shrimp) satisfies our appetites while still supporting our health.

Go Green! (…and red, and orange, and yellow…)

I make a conscious effort to have at least half of my mom's mealtime plate occupied by a colorful combination of fruits and vegetables. Some of our favorites are bell peppers, sweet potatoes, blue berries, and spinach. Making a salad is the most convenient way that I've found to accomplish the half-plate goal. To ward off redundancy, I vary the components often (from iceberg to romaine, sunflower seeds to walnuts, strawberries to beets, etc.).  The possibilities are endless!  

If you can't buy fresh produce — don't panic! Frozen fruits and veggies are truly just as good as fresh since they are frozen at the peak of ripeness. If you can freeze your own produce in summer — go ahead! I freeze a huge amount of sweet corn every year so that I can enjoy a taste of sunshine in the winter months. Canned produce is also a viable option. Opt for no sugar added and low sodium options. 

Whole Grains

Eating whole grains is just the right thing to do.  I'm currently obsessed with whole grain fettuccini, and mom loves a piece of whole grain toast with some chocolate hazelnut spread for an afternoon snack. Whole grains contain vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants — essentially they are a health powerhouse! Consuming these delicious morsels also helps reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.  I usually try to make about a quarter of each meal (or plate) a whole grain based portion.  This can be rice, oatmeal, bread, or noodles. 

Feeding an aging loved one isn't easy, as evaluating what they want and what they need is often a delicate balancing act. These tips may offer options for those trying to encourage those with dementia or Alzheimer's to eat.

Madison Hill is a freelance writer with the most beautiful daughters in the world. When she's not ruling (yes, totally ruling) the Bingo! scene, you can find her scrapbooking and writing about homecare

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