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HomeA&EFood
Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2001

Cooking for seniors

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

The biggest eaters of candy are the elderly, one nutritionist says.

Too many older adults are overweight, adds another.

Too many seniors are underweight, says a retirement home manager.

Older adults are a diverse population. “There is not a consensus on what age is elderly,” says Jeanne Wright, who is writing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Toledo on nutrition for older adults. “Elderly is not fragile. Age does not equate to degeneration. There is much people can do for good health.”

But “there may also be deficits in senses,” says Mrs. Wright, who did research with Mobile Market, which provides a grocery store on wheels to community living units. “Vision may be impaired. There may be hearing loss, diminished taste buds, and the appetite may be affected. Smell is diminished, which is a natural process of aging. The thirst mechanism is impaired. Older adults are cautioned not to wait to drink [water] until they are thirsty because they may be dehydrated.”

Those who live in their own home often cook their own food. But if they live alone, they may feel no point in cooking just for themselves.

Others have semichronic conditions and mobility problems that may require assisted living or more care. Fortunately, the variety of options in community living units where meals are provided is increasing.

Be assured, caregivers and family members can spark interest in food and nutrition for older persons.

Last month, the dietary department at Sacred Heart Home for the Aged in Oregon held a homemade-soup recipe contest. Residents were invited to team up with a family member or a staff member and enter the cooked soup and recipe in the contest.

Residents prepared their recipes in the main kitchen or in kitchenettes near their apartments, coordinated by Becky Massey, food service director. The 22 entries were judged by Tom Cousino, an area restaurateur; Don Bright, a retired Bowling Green State University faculty member; and Robb Parmelee, culinary arts instructor at Clay High School. After the judging, guests were invited to sample the recipes.

There were two Hungarian soups, one made by resident Andy Orosz and the other by resident Helen Torda, who finished first with her authentic recipe. Sister Anna Maria Auxiliadora from the Philippines shared her recipe for Chicken Won Ton Soup with resident Julie Tarsha, who sat in the kitchen rolling won-ton wrappers around the minced meat. It finished second. Third place went to resident Dorothy Eversole, who had 13 children, for her Campers Specialty made with staff member Sister Jeanne du St. Esprit.

Ruth Garcia, a resident, made an authentic Mexican soup called Poor Man's Soup in her apartment with another resident, Mary Anne Surtman.

It took brothers John and Dick Mockensturm four hours to make their mother's vegetable soup. Their mother, Eleanora Gillman, 96, has been a resident since last fall.

Not only are special food events fun for everyone, “residents are passionate about food,” said Mark Holmes, executive director of West Park Place, a senior living center in Toledo, who is also a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. With 210 residents and two seatings for dinner, special requests are usually comfort food such as pudding and a recent request for banana splits.

“I didn't think we could serve 210 quality banana splits in the dining room setting, so we opted to make it an activity or social where each is custom-made,” said Mr. Holmes, who was the chef and, later, food and beverage director at West Park Place before being named executive director. Last Friday afternoon, residents enjoyed their custom-made banana splits.

Homemade soups are a daily menu item. Other lunchtime favorites are cole slaw, grapefruit halves, and cheeseburgers with steak fries.

Elderly people often have problems with chewing, Mr. Holmes said, so hard-crusted breads and tough cuts of meat should be avoided by the home cook. “Portion size is important,” he said. “Too big can be unappetizing. Frequently they ask for half-portions. Most appreciate comfort foods or traditional foods.”

“The first year I was here as chef, I made lobster bisque, lobster thermidor, boeuf au fromage - medallions of fillet with strips of blue cheese and parmesan cheese - redskin potatoes carved into mushrooms, and an elaborate dessert. The complaints I got were: they wanted lobster tail and fillet mignon.”

Last summer he planned a champagne, lobster, and steak dinner. During the evening, residents were photographed under a balloon arch and a strolling violinist provided music. Now “we do a steak dinner every month and incorporate themes such as Tony Packo night, pizza and beer night, and soul food night.”

Indeed, competitive health-care and retirement communities are trying to tantalize their residents with mouth-watering dishes. Thus, the Health Care Admissions/Marketing Directors Association, a trade group, is planning a Catering to Seniors Culinary Cook-Off at 6 p.m. May 31 at South Toledo Senior Center.

Businesses catering to the culinary needs of seniors throughout the region will show off their chefs' skills by sponsoring tables and serving samples from their kitchens. Admission is $20. (For information, call 836-2002.)

As for cooking those favorite recipes at home for elderly family members and friends, Mrs. Wright recommends nutrient-dense foods combined with vegetables, any low-fat dairy products for calcium, and foods that are tasty.

“Don't use extra salt,” she advises. Use different herbs. It's a myth that older people are not willing to try healthy recipes.”

For those persons who have swallowing difficulties, sticky food such as peanut butter can be too dry to swallow.

To family members, she says, “your presence is as important as the dish.”



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