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Menus and Recipes for Senior Citizens

The food at my mother's Senior Living Complex is so very mediocre. I understand their constraints - budget, trying to please everyone, nutritional needs/restrictions, etc.

They say are very open to suggestions and recipes, however.

I have had a few ideas, such as whole grain and vegetable salads. I want to convince then to stop buying preportioned solution-injected proteins; they are expensive, you are paying for water and therefore less protein, and it is difficult to control the sodium content. The baked goods are so light and white and sweet that they might as well be made from cotton candy. Challenges are ahead here.

There is pretty good variety, but all of the food is very old-fashioned; I say, this group of people might be elderly, but they are educated and financially successful individuals who can therefore appreciate a few more modern dishes. We should give them credit for this, not dumb down everything just because they're old!

Anyway, any menu or recipe ideas out there? Our efforts here might help others who make food for seniors, as well...

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  1. I'm dealing with this issue myself now. Fact of the matter is, our sense of taste becomes less acute as we age. In my father's case, the sense of smell has also diminished. Getting him to eat anything at all, especially given the mediocre food in his apartment building, is a challenge. The OT's and PT's, one of whom is my SIL, say that the ability to taste sweet remains long after others have gone. Taking that direction may be of some help.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rockycat

      My mom actually has a very healthy appetite still; I just worry about what she is eating there, regarding both health and enjoyment!

    2. Some changes may be dependent on what level of licensing her facility has: some levels have very strict requirements re: certain amounts of proteins, vegetables etc, for every meal and snack, so any menu changes must take that into account. Plus, some facilities, by license, must have a registered dietitian if not on staff, at least on consult--the RD could be a great source of information.

      Hope you and the staff can make some tasty changes!

      1. I interned with Alzheimer's and dementia patients in my last year of college. One residence I went to was a huge building with cafeteria. This is one of the high end ones but I don't recall the food, except that there were a few choices for each meal.

        Another residency was a home setting which had 4-6 elderly. There were 2 staff that I knew and they were Filipino. I got close to one of them and she said she'd even cook them Filipino adobo sometimes and they loved it. The residents there were all Caucasian and we don't have that many Filipino restaurants in north San Diego, so I'm guessing this may have been a first time for them.

        Of course this was within diet constraints, and cut up nicely by time of serving. They were of varying degrees in their illness. Some of them ate anything in front of them (which was pretty bad when one of the naughtier residents decided to put foam letters in another's plate) while others were a bit more picky.

        I guess I just wanted to say that they still love good food and a variety of it, so it is a pity and I hope you are successful in persuading them.

        Stews are pretty easy to cook and can be adjusted for differing diets. I don't know what the set-up is like, if there are even people there that can cook past reheating frozen items, but maybe ask them what sort of things they cook?

        At the home residence family were allowed to bring food as well. This was monitored obviously, but sometimes it would cause fights at the table! When one would get jealous about the others meal, hence the foam letters incident.

        1 Reply
        1. re: youareabunny

          You are a brave person to tackle that work!

        2. Have you looked at the recipe section of AARP? They have some wonderful menu ideas, recipe files and meal discussion on the site.

          1 Reply
          1. re: HillJ

            Good idea - I'll try that...

            I found that Cooking Lite (Light?) has some pretty good recipes for this situation, as well....not one of my normal go-tos for food ideas, but maybe it should be!

          2. I'd suggest before any changes are proposed, that the center conduct a poll and find out how the residents feel about the food they're currently being served and what, if any, changes they'd like to see. Serving them what they'll eat is more important, IMO, than serving them something perhaps healthier that they won't eat or won't eat as much of. I didn't see many obese residents where my late MIL lived. They need those calories :)

            1 Reply
            1. re: c oliver

              They try to get feedback from residents, but the results are not generally helpful. They complain, then the chef asks what they'd like to see changed, then they don't really know, then someone says, "hot dogs!".....you see how that goes. I'm hoping that I can find ideas that are feasible.

            2. 1) Seniors often have dental issues. 2) Some are adventurous about food but many are not. Someone suggested doing a needs assessment before changing anything. Yes. 3) Dietary restrictions are very real. Some people see their systolic blood pressure rise by 30 points if they eat too much salt in a meal. And keep watch. I chatted at a bus stop with the cook from a nearby seniors' facility who bragged to me about the clever ways she was foiling the dietitian because she herself thought that the low-sodium was silly.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Querencia

                Yeah, and they are so proud that their soup "base" says it doesn't have MSG; WELL, it has about four OTHER glutamates in it.....!

                They put ZERO salt on their lifeless vegetables, then they buy sodium-pumped meat portions. Sigh.

              2. My mother is at an Assisted Living place in Minnetonka. One of things they touted before she moved in was their fine dining, Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, etc.

                She absolutely hates their food. They use no seasonings at all and offer margarine at the table instead of butter. The protein offering is often dry, tough boneless skinless chicken breasts. How they offer that to seniors who have a hard time cutting and chewing meat is beyond me. They also don't put onions in anything. Imagine chicken salad with no celery or onions, mayo only and no salt. Blah!

                For two years, I have provided my mom with her evening meals which the CNA's reheat for her. She inspired me to cook when she was breaking new ground in the 60's and 70's with tacos, sopapillas, crepes and other 'exotic' foods. I figure it is the least I can do to provide her with flavorful meals.

                One of her favorites is my shredded beef or pork enchiladas. Fairly soft, but still tasty. I'm not shy about heat and she enjoys it. Another favorite is tuna noodle salad, an old standby, but comfort food that is easy to eat. And yes, it's loaded with celery and onions, hard boiled eggs and capers.

                You have inspired me. I may just have to have a chat with the chef. I'd like to gain some understanding about their non-use of aromatics and seasonings.

                2 Replies
                1. re: justalex

                  That sounds terrible. You are a hero.

                  1. re: sandylc

                    No hero. Just trying to honor my chow inspired tastebuds. I love her and bad food is not on my radar. At least she'll have one good meal a day.

                2. I cooked for my gram during her last months at home and she really enjoyed lentils with kale, a bit of bacon or ham, and diced carrots. I would also make a smooth seafood bisque with shrimp and crab, with a potato base and some zucchini and asparagus pureed in.

                  1 Reply
                  1. I had the same problem in the dementia facility where my parents lived. The menu was determined by the dietician who was lazy in my opinion--so everything seemed so mid-west bland for a place in So. Cal. All the women in the kitchen were Mexican and they would have their own lunch afterwards, wonderful enchiladas, braised pork and the like--I was delighted they few times they invited me to eat with them. I tried to make some changes in the menu, but the dietician balked. So I just brought my parents' favorite dishes when I'd come for lunch 2-3 times a week.
                    Gave up trying to solve the worlds' problems and stayed focused on my own.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: escondido123

                      Frustrating to take food when they are already being charged for food from the facility.

                    2. I just checked the website of the place MIL lived hoping there'd be a sample menu which there isn't. But here's a quote from their executive chef:

                      "What’s the secret to cooking for an aging palate?
                      Keep it simple. Many of our residents enjoy foods they are familiar with, Prepared fresh and served hot without a lot of fanfare. Cooking for the aging palate entails reaching the balance between flavors that will enhance the appetite while not causing discomfort to a sensitive digestion. Simple doesn't have to be bland. Consistency, having standardized recipes, is also a vital part of the puzzle. If a resident enjoyed a dish once, they expect it to be the same the next time they order it."

                      While nothing earthshaking here, he makes some good points.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: c oliver

                        The key word I picked out of your response is "fresh". Mom's place could use some fresh.

                      2. Here's a menu from a different place in our area. WE want to go there - in the distant future we hope :) - cause of the heated salt water pool and the bar with big screen tv and pool table :)


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: c oliver

                          That looks pretty darn good. I would try that food at least once....!

                          1. re: sandylc

                            We ate lunch there and it was quite tasty. Also ate at least once a week with MIL and liked it also. Yes, we wanted more flavor but she and her 'buds' seemed to like it just the way it was. But we're in the West so there may be a different emphasis. I also had to remind myself that long term health goals, i.e., fat, may not be that important for someone who's likely not going to live 20 more years. I hope that doesn't sound harsh. It's just something I've considered.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I have read that seniors need more fat. Whole milk is recommended, for example. It is a nutrient, after all.

                        2. Many seniors lose interest in food and so many have dietary restraints. It`s not easy to feed the masses. I make treats for my Dad, rice pudding, is a good one for him. He enjoys something with bread, hot cross buns, raisin bread, so I sneak in some cheese to go along with the bread.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Ruthie789

                            Rice pudding sounds great - brown basmati or jasmine makes great pudding.

                            The bread is just so terrible there; my mom likes homemade baked goods, too....

                          2. One easy-to-implement menu suggestion might be that they start offering berry smoothies every morning and a green soup every night. The soup could just be a varying puree of lots of green vegetables with some stock and cream, and the smoothie just frozen berries and yogurt. Wide appeal, nutritious, easy to digest and no chewing.

                            Also, is there a food co-operative where you live? I bet they'd work with you to come up with a cost-effective way to modify the existing meal plan by using more natural, fresh ingredients. They might even be able to broker a deal between local farmers and the complex, so they can start buying better food for the same prices they're paying now. And Edible Schoolyard might be able to help or to direct you to some local resources or inspirations. http://edibleschoolyard.org/ .

                            Best of luck.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ninrn

                              The smoothie and soup are great ideas.

                              We are co-op rich here; I think the sourcing is one of the biggest problems at the Senior Complex. They are just buying bags and boxes, opening them, combining then, and heating it all up.