Food for thought - healthy eating tips for ageing palates
Home-style catering expert and fresh food advocate Janice Caluori offers advice on preparing nutritious meals that appeal to the changing tastes that come with age, and choosing ready-made meals tailored to our parents’ needs.
I’m a firm believer is using fresh, local ingredients in home-style meals. As people age their tastes and needs change, and it’s important to take this into account to make meals healthy and nutritious. A good meal can really give someone a lift.
In time there may well be medical issues to be considered, and those can be addressed to some extent with the right personalised diet. While obesity is a challenge at any age for many of us, older people can often be at risk of malnutrition if they are not eating well. Problems with teeth and dentures might mean chewy food should be avoided. The texture of certain foods can also have a detrimental effect on the digestion.
My mother lived with me in the last year of her life, before she died of cancer, and she just wanted to be at home with home-cooked meals and surrounded by those who love her. I truly understand the importance of a delicious meal that’s enjoyable for your parent to eat.
These are a few suggestions to help you easily create meals to be enjoyed:
- Flexibility. A willingness to be flexible and not to simply say “I don’t cook that”.
- Adaptability. Often you’re not cooking in your own kitchen and there are problems that may arise when you’re in an unfamiliar place – where does everything live? Dealing with “boneshaker” ovens and equipment that’s not up to scratch can be hard when you want to deliver a nice meal.
- Nutritional value. Think about portion size and also satisfaction. Elderly people often have lower mobility, which means they don’t need as many calories as the recommended daily allowance for adults - 2500 calories for men and 2000 for women.
- “Old-school” flavours. Opting for more old-fashioned, traditional food is a good idea. The way school dinners used to be is often the sort of menu older people relish.
- A soft touch. Softer meats such as chicken and fish are always good. If your parent doesn’t like fish, or chicken even, one dish that I make is Italian meatballs in tomato sauce, which is soft and appealing.
- Salt intake. As people age they can often have a reduced sense of taste. Foods with a stronger flavour such as smoked haddock or perhaps a fishcake are good.
It’s unlikely that we can always cook for our parents. An alternative is to order in ready meals. A good meal can be the highlight of a day for someone who spends a lot of time at home. Equally, a poor meal will be disappointing.
As a caterer, my whole philosophy is to make food in a home-style setting from fresh, local produce. I’ve always liked talking to people about their preferences and once I know what they want I relish the challenge of meeting that demand. I didn’t want to become a larger business as I felt that staying small meant I could provide meals tailored to each individual’s wants and needs. I believe the benefits of this approach are that:
- One size doesn’t fit all. A company that’s small and local can offer a personal service.
- Tailored cuisine. If meals are freshly made for your parent they can be tailored to their taste. I use a questionnaire with my customers about their taste preferences to make sure they receive menus to suit.
When you’re choosing a ready-meals company, it’s worth considering:
- Taste test. Whichever catering company you’re considering, order some of their food for yourself to see what it’s like before you have it delivered to your parent.
- Provenance. It’s good to know where the food is sourced, such as where the meat is coming from.
- Avoid artificial colourings, additives and preservatives. None of my food has any artificial elements in it - it’s fresh. You can’t always find food for your parents devoid of all of the above but you can at least be aware of what to try to avoid.
- Continuing quality. It’s important to ensure that the food is good quality every day, so it’s worth checking from time to time that your parent is still enjoying the meals they’re receiving.
Janice Caluori operates Mi Piace in Surrey, offering catering for events and dinner parties as well as personal cookery courses and ready meals. For more information visit the website or email Janice directly.
Have you found the secret ingredient to a balanced diet for your parent? Let us know what meals work for your ageing relatives and what foods simply don't pass the taste test. Comment below...